RIA Member, WPI, Has Robotics Program that Makes Winners of its Students

October 21, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

Worcester Polytechnic Institute, an RIA member since 2007, has produced a student whose talent for robotics engineering led to a first-place, $500,000 prize in NASA’s Lunar Excavation Challenge. WPI offers a bachelor’s degree program in robotics engineering and a new master’s-level robotics program. These majors are designed to prepare a new generation of engineers with the skills and imagination to develop intelligent machines that go beyond today’s reality.

Universities, colleges and technical schools around the nation are focused on robotics programs that cultivate interest in science and engineering for real-world jobs. NASA’s ambitions for a manned flight to Earth’s moon continue to be dragged down by fiscal and other concerns, however robotic exploration is alive and well. Clearly, WPI offers programs that can lead students to very rewarding results and high flying careers.

If you would like to sponsor an RIA Educator member and cement ties with winning programs like WSI, please contact Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, for Robotic Industries Association (734/994-6088).

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KUKA “RoboCoaster” is Sum of All Thrills at Disney’s Epcot

October 19, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

Until recently, few people could boast they had strapped themselves to a robot and gone for a ride (although quite a few did this at 2005 International Robots & Vision Show when KUKA brought an early version of their RoboCoaster). Now you can go to Epcot for the most intense version yet: “The Sum of all Thrills.”

KUKA teamed up with Disney to develop a unique version of their robot thrill ride that takes the experience, which is already unparalleled, to a whole new level. You are immersed in a 4-D simulator attached to a KUKA robot that heaves you around in space, surrounds you with high-definition video, stereo sound, and blows air at you to enhance the sensation of speed and momentum.

Each ride is designed by the rider who can choose from a trip on a roller coaster, bobsled or jet plane. The aim of this endeavor is more than to thrill you. Disney and KUKA want to cultivate an interest in design and engineering concepts by offering simple, interactive, math-based tools with a touch screen to let riders program their own custom experience.

Innovations like the RoboCoaster (an attraction at many parks around the world) keep KUKA on the cutting edge of robotic technology. Their industrial robots, renowned for sleek design lines and PC-based robot controllers, are as attractive and reliable on the manufacturing floor as they are in a theme park. KUKA is one of the elite Platinum Members of RIA and has been part of the Association since 1995.


Market Trends for Robots in the U.S. and Abroad

October 15, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

According to consultant Jeff DePree, principal of Halcyon Development, one trend in today’s economy is that more companies are finding ways to improve or re-deploy existing robots. Another force at work is price competition from OEM’s who are trying to compete with used systems. As a specialist in export and overseas distribution, he sees a growing market for used equipment in developing countries.

Robots are famous for reliability and flexibility, and these attributes can be a bane to makers of new robots and a boon to new and existing users. New robot orders for the first half of 2009 are down by more than a third as reported by Robotic Industries Association (through June 2009). Somewhere in that equation is the used robot market (which is not tracked by RIA).

Among the beneficiaries of these trends are companies like Servo Robot, a company Mr. DePree holds in high esteem. “Their seam tracking software is a good upgrade to welding robots already on the floor, regardless of make or age,” he said. “Software and tooling upgrades are smart investments and a good way to manage tight budgets.”

New robot users are popping up just as economic pressure forces integrators to find more non-automotive customers. DePree helped an aerospace company in Mexico deploy robots to blast engine turbines before recoating them. He also sees growing acceptance of robotics in the wind turbine market. He commends RIA for its white paper on new market opportunities in the wind turbine industry.

“Robots are used very effectively in the fabrication of long, complex parts like carbon fiber blades for wind mills,” said DePree. “The RIA white paper is very timely and does a good job looking at the diversity of applications.”

One of the attributes that makes Halcyon successful is its own diversity. DePree sees about 50 percent of his business outside of robot applications. His knowledge of the paper and converting industry allowed him to set up a network of reps in India for a client. So happy were they with the database and marketing work that they now lean on him for direct sales and marketing support.

Halcyon Development is a “niche” International Business Development consulting firm that provides strategic marketing and sales channel development, new product commercialization planning, strategic planning, mergers and acquisitions services to international clients in the industrial and life sciences automation markets.

In today’s market, it is good to have a company like Halcyon on your side. A member of RIA since 2006, the company excels at helping clients navigate through difficult economies and into new markets abroad.


Motion Controls Robotics Handles Economy and Material

October 12, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

Demand is up at Motion Controls Robotics, an RIA member since 2005. Unit volume is up, especially for used systems, while revenue is holding its own and may well rise above last year’s mark according Testimonial Sidebar: Motion Controls Roboticsto President, Scott Lang.

We were chatting about new content he had posted on Robotics Online (see their video), and he mentioned his company’s expertise in lights-out warehouse design. This includes the integration of automated guided vehicles and automation of the process all the way to truck loading.

Motion Controls Robotics’ customers range in applications from paper to food and beverage, and in many cases the common thread is material handling. They also have a reputation for arc welding systems which leverages their design strength for complex path planning.

President Lang takes solid aim at improving a customer’s bottom line through gains in efficiency and quality. He is on a mission to “keep North American manufacturing competitive” and he backs it up with a successful company stocked with plenty of talent and design resources.

It is hard to argue with success. Business is good for this Ohio-based company and solid results keep their customers strong and happy.


RIA Wants You . . . to Sponsor a School that Teaches Robotics and Create More Jobs

October 8, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

Graduate to a better job with training from RIA Educator members.

Graduate to a better job with training from RIA Educator members.

Training tomorrow’s workforce to use robotics and related automation is one way to help the U.S. and other industrialized nations maintain and improve their standard of living. Low-tech jobs have a way of migrating to low-wage countries which is why so many people believe America is losing its manufacturing base. However, if companies can hire more people skilled in robotics, it could sidetrack the “inevitable” shift to a service economy and lower wages.

Traditional manufacturing techniques often can’t compete with cheap labor which is one reason off shoring has thrived in recent years. Japan has long proven that robotic automation is an effective equalizer, and has done quite well economically despite close proximity to several low-wage countries in Asia. Japan has a culture of providing jobs for life, yet are (and long have been) leaders in the development and implementation of robotics for manufacturing.

A major pillar of Japan’s ascent to economic success is the automotive sector where robots are employed extensively. The same is true of the U.S. Workers in both countries have enjoyed the benefits of good wages for employees that operate, maintain, install, sell and make robots. Today, openings for work in the robotics field is a driver for retraining and academic pursuits.

Educational institutions in both countries use competitions (such as FIRST Robotics in the U.S.) to create interest in robotics. Students in elementary through graduate schools have many opportunities to work with robots and in robotics labs. As the world economy slumped in recent years, government stimulus money has in part been applied to retrain workers for jobs related to robotic automation.

Robotic Industries Association recognizes the importance of the educational sector’s role in growing the robotics industry. RIA’s Membership Committee is guiding the Association toward more involvement with academia, especially institutions that focus on practical robot applications and training.

Contributing time and talent to that committee is Jim Devaprasad, Professor in the College of Engineering, Technology and Economic Development at Lake Superior State University. His school has a $1 million robotics lab which is expanding this year.

“We are excited about a project that is underway now, where we will be installing four Stäubli robots that we acquired this summer for a new flow line with a continuous conveyor system and controlled by an Allen Bradley PLC system using DeviceNet,” said Devaprasad. “RIA and academia have mutual interests and it is essential for the Membership Committee to engage educators and facilitate partnership between the automation industry and relevant academic programs.”

RIA now offers a sponsorship role that allows corporate members to partner with academia. When an RIA industry member sponsors an educational institute, the Association enhances recognition for both members, and facilitates an integration of corporate and academic interests.

“It is up to the partners to decide how the sponsorship will manifest, and there are many well established ways to accomplish that with RIA as a catalyst,” said Devaprasad. “The goal is to strengthen ties between academia and the corporate world where skilled workers are needed.”

An RIA member can sponsor an educator member for only $350 and gain valuable recognition for their alliance, according to RIA’s Director of Marketing & PR, Brian Huse. “There can be signage in the labs, internship arrangements, a direct pipeline for hiring graduates, and special opportunities to lecture to students and faculty so they have information on the latest needs and technology.”

In addition to the benefits of having a connection with an industrial sponsor, Educator members of RIA profit from publishing opportunities and worldwide exposure through RIA’s website (www.robotics.org). These are just some of the factors that enhance student recruitment and placement efforts. (Faculty and staff are invited to submit papers for professional review and publication on Robotics Online.)

Educator members can attend RIA events and workshops at significantly reduced fees and have access to numerous association resources including the Ask the Experts forum on Robotics Online. Membership benefits extend to all faculty members and full-time students of their curriculum.

America needs a workforce that is ready to use and apply robotics in the business sector. RIA estimates that more than 190,000 robots are now being used in the United States, placing the U.S. second only to Japan in overall robot use. It is estimated that more than one million robots are being used worldwide, with countries such as China, Korea and India rapidly expanding their investments in robotics.

“The world economy will recover, but right now it is a tough job market and the stakes are getting higher when it comes to job skills,” said Huse. “We have members that tell us the educational sector is making a strong investment in robots and robotics training. We want to help foster this activity so that more U.S. jobs open up for workers with skills in robotic technology.”

To learn more about education sponsorships, membership and benefits, contact Brian Huse at 734/994-6088 (bhuse[at]robotics[dot]org.)

See Educator Member information on Robotics Online.


Robot Company Builds Big Reputation on Batches of One

October 7, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

If you looked for 10 years to find a robotic solution for welding structural steel and couldn’t find one suitable for low production runs you might conclude this is not a good application for robots. Unless you are Waiward Steel Fabricators, deemed one of Canada’s 50-Best Managed Companies – then maybe you would persist until you finally found it: SmartTCP of Farmington Hills, Michigan.

SmartTCP, an RIA member company since 2007, specializes in robotic welding for batches of one. But how do you justify a robot system for such low runs? It helps if the system is off the shelf and can be installed in six weeks and be run by two operators instead of eight.

Waiward Steel is a big company with big jobs and stakes its reputation on quality. They supply beams, heavy plate work and other steelwork where piece count may be high and often no two fabrications exactly alike.

SmartTCP is a small company that takes on big jobs that other robot companies don’t want. Winning a job from Waiward Steel is a credit to SmartTCP’s reputation. See Robotics Online for the press release about how Waiward Steel chose SmartTCP for a job 10 years in the making. (SmartTCP Chosen by Waiward Steel to Automate Structural Steel Welding Processes.)

If this blog was of interest, you might want to read another blog about SmartTCP: Fabricating Big, Complex Parts with SmartTCP Robot


Parallel Robot from FESTO Parts

October 5, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

Parallel (a.k.a. Delta) robots have been around for years but they have such an unconventional look many still consider them to be new in the industry. They are fun to see in action which is no doubt a factor in why FESTO made one entirely from their own components.

Making novel devices, from mechanical jellyfish to flying penguins, is one way FESTO shows the range of possibilities for their products. I had the good fortune to visit the FESTO Road Show and see their proof of concept for a parallel robot. Dennis Adams, who showed me around, said they don’t plan to get into the robot making business, but are (once again) demonstrating how far you can take their products. See for yourself…