Tech Valley New York SolidWorks User Group Meeting

April 29, 2011

The Tech Valley SolidWorks Users Group serves Albany and the surrounding areas is a network of SolidWorks users dedicated to sharing  ideas and knowledge of SolidWorks in all types of engineering.

They hold regular meetings where a selected topic(s) is presented by a guest speaker(s), and group members have the opportunity to ask questions and share their answers. All users, advanced to beginner, are welcome and encouraged to share what they already know, and what they would like to learn.

SolidWorks user meeting with Applied Robotics

The next meeting is Thursday, May 12th, 2011.

Time: 5:30pm – 9:00pm

Where: Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School CAD Labs

88 Lakehill Road

Burnt Hills, NY 12027

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Robots for Food and Drink

April 21, 2011

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

Robotic systems are used extensively for handling bags, flow packing and packaging multi-component products like meal kits. It is common to see robots in palletizing and de-palletizing operations, and the ability to store many program variations allow users to have multiple mixed pallet specifications for their customers. In the food and beverage industry, those who most efficiently pack and ship specialty orders win.

Robot makers have responded with new products and approaches that are flexible and take the hassle out of specialty orders. The trend is so pronounced in food and beverage packaging that it is one of the top five growth areas for robotics according industry statistics from RIA. Orders in this sector (which includes consumer goods) increased 47% in 2010. (Full year statistics are available in from RIA.)

“Retailers especially like to differentiate themselves by offering unique combinations of goods on their shelves,” said Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR for Robotic Industries Association. “Volumes may rise and fall seasonally further complicating matters. Robots are designed specifically to handle variations in product and volume.”

Robot for humid food processing environments (freezers, food processing)

Robot designed for humid food processing environments, courtesy Stäubli Corporation

Robots are usually more affordable and use less space than fixed automation, plus their deployment helps eliminate repetitive motion injuries for tasks other automation can’t handle. Return on investment can often be measured in months, and unlike most dedicated machines robots can adapt easily when the product changes.

“Now we see new tooling that allows a robot to change gripper size on the fly, and many innovations in man-machine interfaces to make the robots easier to program and operate,” said Huse.

Safety concerns have driven some of the advancements in robot design. Robot makers are now producing robots that have the control reliability needed to eliminate some physical barriers. This means work cell setup is less complicated and less expensive.

“A new national robot safety standard is in the pipeline and some robot makers already have products that comply,” said Huse. “Customers will benefit from cost savings and more flexibility.”

Workplace safety is always important, but sometimes people worry more about the effect robots have on jobs. With an economy still tainted by high unemployment, why should the food industry invest in robotics?

When labor is cheap and there is no concern about staff turnover a robot may not make sense, but improvements in safety (and sanitation) often help offset those issues. For that matter, it is quite common to hear that employees are shifted to better jobs (running or maintaining robots for instance). More importantly, better efficiency and quality (hallmarks of robot systems) create a competitive advantage that can be leveraged into more business. More customers can lead to steady or increased staffing.

“Food and beverage applications will continue to grow at a dramatic pace,” said Dean Elkins, RIA Chairman and Senior General Manager of Motoman Robotics. “Also, case packing and palletizing will shine.” He predictsChina,India,BrazilandSouth Americaas hot spots for more robot sales – places not traditionally known for labor shortages or high wages.

In any country, employee turnover is one factor that helps drive demand for robots. Then there is the upside that robots can handle large loads without physical injury; robots don’t tire or call in sick, and they are used often to increase production at the end of the line. Robots also minimize risk of food contamination.

Not all countries emphasize worker safety like the U.S. The cost of injured workers in America can be very high and robots help minimize that by taking on the heavy lifting of pallets or large, heavy, awkward items. People don’t do so well in damp, cold environments like freezers, so that is another great place for robots.

Some countries merely discard injured workers. In places where the penalty is high for on-the-job injuries the decision to use robots is another way to protect workers and their employers from harsh working conditions and liability.

Best of all, robots are good at handling custom orders and different pallet configurations, plus there are many choices in tooling that allow companies to respond quickly when a customer changes an order. Robots are merely tools but they solve many problems in the highly competitive food processing market.

Network with RIA members who share your interest in automation for the food industry. Join RIA today.


KUKA Robot Video of Automotive Spot Welding

April 4, 2011

Spot welding continues to be a robot application mainstay. This video from KUKA Robotics – one of the major brands seen at Automate 2011 – reminds us how this traditional application still matters today and how new developments happen in old categories.

Now KUKA has a new arc welding robot, the KR 5 ARC HW (Hollow Wrist) that takes the rugged design of through-the-wrist cabling to a new level.

The 50 mm opening in the arm and wrist, for example, allows the arc welding dress package to be routed in the protective interior of the arm. This not only shields the dress package from mechanical influences, but also prevents undesirable whiplash motion during reorientation of the robot. Both torsion-type dress packages and infinitely rotating arc welding dress packages are possible. For the user, this means not only improved component accessibility and optimal protection of the dress package, but also simplified offline programming.


Service Robots and their Rapid Rise in Multiple Markets

April 3, 2011

by Adil Shafi, President, ADVENOVATION, Inc.

Industrial robots are characterized by their use in factories.  Almost always they work in a fixed area or move about a linear axis or on a gantry structure; all of which are enclosed by a safety fence.  Industrial robots are defined by the International Federation of Robotics through an ISO 8373 document as: “An automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes, which may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications.”6-axis robot from ABB

  • Reprogrammable: whose programmed motions or auxiliary functions may be changed without physical alterations.
  • Multipurpose: capable of being adapted to a different application with physical alterations.
  • Physical alterations: alteration of the mechanical structure or control system except for changes of programming cassettes, ROMs, etc.
  • Axis: direction used to specify the robot motion in a linear or rotary mode.

Service robotService robots on the other hand are mobile, uncontained and extremely diverse. The International Federation of Robotics has a provisional definition for them: “A service robot is a robot which operates semi- or fully autonomously to perform services useful to the well-being of humans and equipment, excluding manufacturing operations.”

With this definition, manipulating industrial robots could also be regarded as service robots, provided they are installed in non-manufacturing operations. Service robots may or may not be equipped with an arm structure as is the industrial robot.

Often, but not always, service robots are mobile. In some cases, service robots consist of a mobile platform on which one or several arms are attached and controlled in the same mode as the arms of the industrial robot. Because of their multitude of forms and structures as well as application areas, service robots are not easy to define.

Service Robots: The Upcoming Profound Impact on Human Life

The advent of service robots for personal human use is a profound new development in the 21st century. Like the industrial revolution, which began to power machinery, and electricity, which began to power devices for personal human use, there have begun, in the last 30 years, two new revolutions, namely computers and robots, to extend the mental (from computers) and physical (from robots) capabilities of human beings, and they are destined to become widespread and pervasive to human life on planet earth.

Google's self-driving autonomous carRobots will, like computers before them, fulfill the quote from Henry Ford: “The true end of industry is to liberate mind and body from the drudgery of existence by filling the world with well-made, low-priced products.”  It is interesting to note that an analogy exists between the transition of mainframe computers to personal computers and between the transition of industrial robots to personal robots.

There are similarities in price and volume curves, third party development and a focus on commercially beneficial solutions; and like the personal computer revolution, the service robotics revolution is now well underway.

Rapid Rise: Opportunities and Challenges

The financial opportunities in these markets have already exceeded several billion dollars, and for components within them e.g., machine vision and mobile platforms, in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and yet these markets are still in their infancy.  Entry points into these markets are accelerating from a variety of corners and initiatives in industry, government, academia, large corporations and small startups.Lockheed Martin underwater autonomous vehicle

There are ample opportunities to form partnerships and coordination amongst these various sectors; each of which brings with it its own strengths and needs to partner with another. Already, hundreds of organizations are involved within these efforts. The attraction for organizations in industry is to extend their expertise from factory applications to a more diverse set of markets that can deliver higher volumes in sales.

Government organizations want to strengthen their research and operations as well as provide dual use benefit, via participating organizations, in the commercial market.  Academia wants to strengthen the quality and appeal, and thereby enrollment, for their technical programs while using their innovations in service robots to extend their financial strength through partnerships with organizations that need their high end intellectual property or technical expertise.  Collectively these interests form a confluence of mutual interest to further the field of service robotics and its widespread adoption.

Stereo camera on mobile robot from University of TorontoAs an example, machine vision and image processing products and technologies play essential roles for these robots, enabling them to capture, store, and interpret data about the world around them, and perform actions based on this data.

Traditionally, the robotics and machine vision industry has excelled at manufacturing, integrating and supporting solutions in factories in static, controlled environments.  Now, with the aid of 3D machine vision and sensor fusion, these capabilities can be extended to mobile, less controlled environments.  These are the opportunities and challenges on the road ahead.

Multiple Markets: Classification and Diversity

Service robot markets can be classified in an extendable manner that guarantees future inclusion in an easy structure, even for applications that we may not have identified yet, in three categories: aerospace, land and water applications. This is so because these are the three major substances that surround our planet and will continue to embody the human experience for at least the next few centuries.  Within these three, the following twenty markets are emerging:

Aerospace

  • Spacecraft – to explore other planets and to collect samples for analysis
  • Satellites – for commissioning in orbit, work aboard stations and maintenance
  • Aircraft – for surveillance, strikes, operations support, cargo, and unmanned use

Land

  • Defense – for bomb threat disposal, combat and transport support, and law enforcement
  • Farming – for tree based fruit retrieval, weather adroit unmanned tractors, and farm work
  • Wildlife – for wildlife identification, tracking migration patterns, and zoo operations
  • Food – for dairy milking, meat tracking and processing, and poultry handling
  • Transportation – for assisted or autonomous driving, lane safety, clearance and security
  • Outdoor Logistics – for construction, demolition, maintenance, and use at gates and docks
  • Office and Warehouse – for mobile telepresence, safer forklifts, AGVs, and mobile ASRS
  • Health: Care – for logistical deliveries and tracking, help on wheelchairs, medical scanning
  • Health: Rehabilitation – for limb locomotive strength, balance, and post trauma retraining
  • Health: Surgical – for minimally invasive, precise operations with reduced adverse effects
  • Entertainment – for education, toys, kiosks, social help, coasters, concerts and filmmaking
  • Home Convenience – for cleaning indoors and outdoors, home chores, and tele shopping

Water

  • Defense and Security – for pirate patrol, ship to ship crane transfers, and threat control
  • Research and Exploration – for exploration in depth for long times, studies, fishing, salvage
  • Preventive Maintenance – for oil rigs, buoys, bridges, dams, pipes, tunnels and sewers
  • Rescue and Recovery – for spill containment and cleaning, search and rescue, DSRVs
  • Entertainment – for simulators, customized tours and submarine tourism

Service robots in the aerospace categories are the most sophisticated with applications that combine high speed vision with high definition and fusion of GPS and satellite data.  Land based applications are the most diverse and highest in volume for human use. Water based applications are probably the most underutilized, yet of great use and potential.

As populations age around the world, service robots will play critical roles in compensating for limited human assistive staff, improving outcomes, extending physical abilities, and enabling many people to live comfortably,  independently, with human and / or pet animal, and / or social robot companions, longer.

Learn and Profit

Obtain “Vision for Service Robots,” an in-depth report that describes emerging innovation, challenges, solutions, opportunities and active companies, universities and government organizations in the Service Robots industry. http://www.vision-systems.com/research-reports.html. The report quantifies financial opportunities in various markets and provides a detailed description of initiatives underway in each of them.

Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by Adil Shafi, a professional innovator and President of ADVENOVATION, Inc., with more than twenty years of experience in the robotics and machine vision industry.  He and Conard Holton, Editor-in-Chief, Vision Systems Design are co-authors of the “Vision for Service Robots” market report described above.  For additional information, please contact ADVENOVATION, Inc. at 734-516-6761, or visit www.advenovation.com.