RIA User Membership Surges in 2011

May 30, 2011

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

Compared to a year ago, membership is up 24 percent at Robotic Industries Association, the only North American trade association dedicated solely to robotics. RIA has five categories of membership, including one for users which is up 39 percent. In all, more than 270 companies and institutions belong to RIA.

Users are vitally important to RIA and its members.

“RIA places great emphases on reaching companies that currently use or are considering using robots,” said Jeff Burnstein, RIA President. “Users join the Association to network with suppliers, integrators and experts who can help them find solutions to their challenges.”

Users help drive RIA activities through participation on committees as well as on the RIA Board of Directors. Among the Directors this year are representatives from the U.S. Postal Service, General Motors, Pepperidge Farm, Procter & Gamble and Spirit AeroSystems.

Where Procter & Gamble uses robots

Where Procter & Gamble uses robots

Those who attended RIA’s 2011 Robotics Industry Forum heard Mark Lewandowski, Corporate Engineering Machine Controls, Procter & Gamble, predict his company would see a five-fold increase in its use of robotics in the next three to five years. Many other companies are finding new uses for robots, too.

RIA has more than 30 new members so far this year. They include (users in bold):

Advanced Technology Solutions

Agile Planet

Argus Machine Company

BRIC Engineered Systems

C.F. Martin




Edgewater Automation

Florida Institute of Technology (sponsored by Stäubli)


George Brown College

Industrial College of the Armed Forces

JMP Engineering

Kellogg Community College

KL Automation Products

Klein Tools

Lanier Technical College (sponsored by Stäubli)

MPI Incorporated

Ohio University (sponsored by ATI Industrial Robotics)

Robotiq Gripper Company

Sommer Automatic

Stryker MicroDexterity

Tech-Con Automation


Unitec Innovations

University of Dayton (sponsored by SAS Automation)

University of South Carolina Upstate (sponsored by Stäubli)

US Callaway Golf

Visual Components

RIA’s mission is to improve the regional, national and global competitiveness of North American manufacturing and service sectors through promotion, education and enhancement of robotics and related automation.

A guide to suppliers, integrators, consultants and educators is provided by RIA in Robotics Online (www.robotics.org). The website includes a Member Control Panel (dashboard) used regularly by members who post information, respond to inquiries and gather intelligence on the industry. Every year, RIA holds the annual Robotics Industry Forum (January 18-20, Orlando, Florida) for members only. This high-level networking event takes place in conjunction with business conferences for Automated Imaging Association and Motion Control Association. These and other activities ensure members have an inside track on drivers and conditions that shape the industry.


CBS Report Finds Job Opportunities at Dow Linked to Robotics

May 26, 2011

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

Jobs in Michigan are as hard to come by as anywhere in the U.S., but people with engineering degrees and those with an aptitude for high tech are finding that where robots go jobs follow. CBS picked up on this recently in a story about Dow Chemical in Midland, Michigan, where people are finding work thanks to new opportunities driven by automation.

Dow has embraced robotics and automation in the making of new solar panel roof shingles, and the company now employs people who lost their jobs when the automotive sector downsized. That is part of the story depicted in a May 11, 2011, CBS report, “Dow Chemical’s solar-powered jobs plan.

What you won’t hear is that RIA member, JR Automation (based in Holland, Michigan), installed some of the robot work cells seen in the news footage.

Scot Lindemann of JR Automation at LSSU robotics lab with Staubli robot

Scot Lindemann, Vice President, JR Automation with Staubli robot at Lake Superior State University robotics lab.

“Trends in green and renewable energy have spurred new applications for robots because large volumes of products like solar panels need to be produced with automation to be cost effective,” said Scot Lindemann, Vice President, JR Automation. “Robots can handle delicate, expensive parts like solar arrays with speed and precision in a way that just can’t be done cost-effectively by hand.”

The appeal of robotics is well known within academia. It is the inspiration for the FIRST Robotics Competition with a reach of more than 50,000 K-9 students. Across the country, colleges and universities with robotics programs are churning out students with great job prospects as witnessed by local RIA members.

JR Automation has hired three graduates from Lake Superior State University just this year and now employs 14 LSSU graduates. Applied Manufacturing Technologies in Orion, Michigan is another RIA member with 16 LSSU graduates working in robotics.

“There were more than 60 job offers for the 15 engineering and engineering technology students graduating with the robotics option this year,” reports Jim Devaprasad, Professor, College of Engineering, Technology and Economic Development at Lake Superior State University. Located in Sault Ste. Marie in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, this RIA Educator member is producing students with job prospects in a state that has recently added more manufacturing jobs than any other according to the CBS report.

click to enlarge - Prof. Jim Devaprasad at LSSU robotics lab

LSSU robotics lab with newly installed (May 2010) Staubli robots using a Bosch-Rexroth conveying system and ATI tool changers controlled by an Allen Bradley PLC. Prof. Jim Devaprasad, LSSU, in the foreground and Prof. Dave McDonald, LSSU, in the background - with the two engineering students teams who were involved in the design and implementation of the 4-robot line.

“An engineering degree with a robotics option from LSSU makes you particularly well prepared for the automated manufacturing industry,” said Devaprasad. He explained that the robotics option focuses on systems integration, “which allows students to hit the ground running because they already are trained in real-world technologies.”

Forty institutions belong to Robotic Industries Association in a special membership category for educators. RIA corporate members participate in sponsorships that bind their companies with institutions that help train or re-train people for jobs in robotics.

Founded in 1974, RIA represents leading robot manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, educators, research groups, and consulting firms. The association sponsors the biennial Automate Show and Conference plus many regional events, and is secretariat of the ANSI/RIA R15.06 Robot Safety Standard. RIA also serves as North America’s representative to the International Federation of Robotics and provides detailed quarterly North American robot statistics. Full information on RIA activities is on Robotics Online (www.robotics.org), the world’s leading robotics resource on the Worldwide Web.

After 50 Years of Robotics What is Happening with PLC’s?

May 23, 2011

Robotiq, a new member this year with Robotic Industries Association, takes a perspective on robotics from the end-effector up, and in a recent blog of theirs they also look at robot technology for PLC’s from the past, present and future. Thank you, Samuel Bouchard, President, Robotiq, for adding new levels of insight into robotics based on RIA’s tribute display to 50 years of robotics (special display during Automate 2011).

In the words of M. Bouchard. . .

50 Years of Robotics Tribute at Automate 2011

50 Years of Robotics Tribute Booth at Automate 2011

“The teach pendant is the most common interface to program an industrial robot. (PLC’s from generations ago were on display) in the Tribute to 50 Years of Industrial Robotics at Automate 2011. I was impressed by how rudimentary the first pendants were compared to what they look like today. Even more impressive were the memory devices upon which the robot programs were recorded. Looking at the magnetic tape tells me that early roboticists must have been very patient people…”

See full Robotiq blog…

Robot Pecks Away at Angry Birds while Simulation Gives Hindsight in Advance

May 10, 2011

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

Angry Birds Game AppApps are creating cottage industries where a little game can turn into a hot T-shirt and even spawn toys and movies. Now application engineers with linear robots in Finland are probing this cultural shift with a Cartesian coordinate robot that plays Angry Birds. I wonder if their Finish brothers at Visual Components will simulate that one day?

Finland is well represented in the robotics market. RIA is happy to welcome Visual Components (based in Espo, Finland) as a new member. Bob Axtman is their representative in the U.S. and he tells me they have digital manufacturing (a.k.a. simulation) technology that is a game changer.Angry Birds T-shirt

It may not be as cheap as Angry Birds, but capital expenditure for their simulation software is far less than what many are used to according to Bob. Ease-of-use is another attribute of Visual Components products, he says.

In robotics and automation, simulation is used to eliminate problems before they happen. That is where Visual Components comes in – they allow you to prove out new automation and processes before committing. They give you near 20/20 hindsight in advance and save you from headaches you never knew you would have.

Meanwhile, OptoFidelity is another Finish company with ties to the robotics industry. Their role is “testing and analyzing the quality of video image as well as different characteristics of displays.” They even have a “two-fingered robot” that “simulates” human gestures so of course they trained it to play Angry Birds.

See the YouTube video for more on the robot that plays Angry Birds.

See more about Visual Components on Robotics Online.

As more people come to realize the versatility and affordability of robotics they will find more applications for this technology. Affordable simulation is a tremendous advantage for anyone selling an idea for better manufacturing.

Welcome to RIA, Visual Components. . ! Keep up the good work, Finland!

See the Making of OptoFidelity “Man vs Robot”. . .

Volvo Cars Uses ABB Robotics Integrated DressPack to Decrease Life Cycle Costs

May 6, 2011

As seen in Robotics Online by ABB Robotics

Wear and tear of spot welding hose and cable assemblies can greatly affect life cycle cost in robotic spot welding lines. Now Volvo have found a way to considerably reduce those costs by installing an Integrated DressPack solution from ABB Robotics

With an eye toward the total life cycle costs of a robot’s cable and hose package, Volvo Cars’ component factory in Olofström, Sweden chose ABB Robotics’ Integrated DressPack option for its IRB 6600 and IRB 6640 robots.

Stefan Axelsson, overall responsible for robots at the Volvo Car Corporation, explains “When exterior cables break from wear and tear, as frequently as every three months, it becomes very expensive for us. Now we are looking at a lifetime of several years. From a life cycle cost perspective, the additional investment made a lot of sense. We also save an enormous amount of time.”

ABB articulated robots

With ABB’s IRB 6600ID and IRB 6640ID robots, water, air, electricity, welding power and signal and process controls are routed inside the arm of the robot to substantially reduce wear and tear when compared to having external cables and hoses. As a result of this, the common problem of weld splatter, which can seriously damage external cables, is solved.

“It was pretty easy for us to justify the Integrated DressPack option on our robots,” says Stefan Axelsson,

Smaller robot footprint in crowded places

The Integrated DressPack option allows for a more compact footprint in crowded workspaces. Its modular design allows for a quick and easy 20-minute cable change if, and when, necessary. “Floor space is money,” says Rikard Olsson, Robot Technician at Volvo Cars in Olofström. “And the less of it we use, the better.”

The process wrist requires less space than a solution with external cables and hoses, allowing it to enter narrow parts of a car body, for example.

“Floor space is money and the less of it we use the better”

In many cases without the Integrated DressPack option, the cable and hose set-up would be tweaked on robots individually to maximize their lifespan. “But one of the big advantages of the Integrated DressPack option is that it is standard and optimized” says Torbjörn Albertsson, Automotive Product Manager at ABB Robotics.

In Volvo, a relatively small area the size of several soccer fields, 90 robots are divided into four cells that work on the doors for various Volvo models. In the first cell, 22 IRB 6600 robots with Integrated DressPack technology (out of a total of 65 used in Olofström) work the XC60 model. More recently 50 new IRB 6640IDs also with Integrated DressPacks were installed in two new cells by German ­integrator Nothelfer.

Robots in Consumer Goods

May 3, 2011

As seen in Robotics Online by Bennett Brumson

As robots and their control systems become more powerful and flexible, robotics are moving from heavy industrial applications into producing consumer products we all use in our daily lives. Fickle consumers demand products in new forms, which plays to the strength of robotics’ inherent flexibility to change while keeping production local. Vision-enabled robots are also used in warehouse distribution systems and to test consumer goods for quality control.

“Robots are used in a very broad swath of consumer products, from food and beverage, to office supplies, to building materials. Robots are gaining broad acceptance in the consumer arena for primary packaging in the food sector through palletizing at the end of the production line,” declares Dean Elkins, Senior General Manager at the Motoman Robotics Division of Yaskawa America Inc. (West Carrollton, Ohio)

Range of Products, Range of Motion

Consumer products vary much more than automobiles or aerospace items and manufacturers require flexibility to keep up with ever-changing customer demand. These demand changes could occur over the course of a single production run, presents Philip Baratti, Applications Engineering Manager with EPSON Robots (Carson, California) “EPSON integrated an application for an energy drink, where the robot received four different types of product. The packaging and size were the same but the labels were different. The robot identified the product’s type and orientation,” expresses Baratti. “We singulated the product into its individual package.”

Unlike automotive applications, Baratti explains that EPSON’s drink packaging application was both high mix and high volume. “The differences are the environment and payloads. Consumer products are lighter, have higher cycle rates and are made in greater quantities than heavy industrial applications,” Baratti adds.

Elkins also talks about the rise of robotics in the food industry. “We see broader acceptance of robotics in food applications. Manufacturers must meet sanitation standards and robots are more compliant to meet those standards, particularly where the robot is directly touching the food prior to primary packaging.” Elkins says food-handling robots must use food-grade grease and have high quality paint to withstand cleaning requirements in these facilities. “Additionally, robots in the food industry must be designed to insure the safety of the product being produced.”

Likewise, John Schwan, Director of Sales and Marketing with QComp Technologies Inc. (Greenville, Wisconsin) sees both openings as well as challenges for robotics in the food industry. “The biggest opportunity I see for robotics is in the food industry. Inconsistency from product to product is a challenge but I see progress in getting right sized robots into direct food contact applications. Some food processors have welcomed the robots and see the advantages robotics can bring while others are very skeptical due to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors not allowing certain robots in food zones.”

Schwan contends that relatively few small size robots meet USDA sanitation requirements. “Robot manufacturers are making progress in designing robots for the food area. Food manufacturers must work with inspectors to determine how robots can be used safely in their industry.”

Robotics help save time and energy in the food industry. In a commercial bread baking example, Dick Motley, Senior Account Manager for FANUC Robotics America Corp. (Rochester Hills, Michigan) recalls how. “An end-user in the baking industry manually loaded and unloaded ovens. Bakeries are not an ergonomic place to work due to bending and burn hazards. A robot is able to fill all slots, realizing an 80 percent increase in the oven’s capacity,” Motley reports. “Ovens are no longer wasting energy on empty air slots so the end-user saw a 50 percent increase in energy savings.”

Keeping pace with erratic consumer taste is on the mind of Kenneth McLaughlin, P.Eng, Automation Systems Director at JMP Engineering Inc. (London, Ontario, Canada) “Products vary from day to day. Producing a particular product is simply a matter of selecting the right program on the robot and the vision system’s camera. If manufacturers get a new requirement due to fickle consumers, end-users have a system that is reprogrammable and re-deployable. If the product becomes a different color, size or shape, robotic technology is flexible enough to handle those changes.”

McLaughlin uses chainsaw manufacturing as an example of the ability to reprogram robots on the fly, an impossibility with hard automation. “Compared to cars, the volume of chainsaw production is much less but with much more variability. A big chainsaw is much larger relative to a small chainsaw compared to large and small cars.” A large car is not three times the size of a small one, but a large chainsaw can be three times the size of a smaller model, McLaughlin argues.

Manufacturers of personal care products increasingly use robotics in their facilities. “Electric shavers are an example of where robots act as an enabler to production. Electric shavers have a complex assembly, consisting of a large number of small components,” points out Rush LaSelle, Global Sales and Marketing Director at Adept Technology Inc. (Pleasanton, California) “To enable the production of a wide range of electric shavers, one manufacturer elected to use robotics to bring loose or randomly orientated parts to the assembly area. Using a vision system, the robot identifies parts and does inspection in some cases.”

LaSelle notes that robotics are also used more and more in the cosmetic industry. “Cosmetics manufacturers look to offer greater flexibility in marketing and how their products are packaged. The demand to satisfy more stock keeping units (SKUs) and faster package changeovers drive producers of cosmetic products to employ robotics in applications previously served by conventional or custom machinery.”


Robotics are not only producing commodities but also palletizing items for store-specific distribution and delivery, submits Motley. “Robots are moving into warehouses for supply chain distribution and getting products to market. Stacking order-specific loads onto pallets for shipment to the point of sale involves a complex set of decisions that were notoriously difficult to automate. Due to breakthroughs in software algorithms, a robot can now build a stable three-dimensional puzzle of dissimilar products of different sizes and shapes for shipment.”

Continuing, Motley postulates that building order-specific pallet loads were unfeasible until recently. “Robotic customized pallet loads are feasible and currently in production, an exciting advancement.”

Motoman’s Dean Elkins also envisions great potential for robotics in warehouse distribution applications. “I see robots used more frequently at the distribution level for mixed load palletizing. Robots load several different products onto a pallet for delivery. Controls systems and software must understand case attributes and delivery sequences of a particular load.” These attributes include weight and size of merchandise on the pallet. “The robot places light-weight products on top of heavier ones to prevent crushing. Case sizes are arranged to ensure the robot is building a stable load on the pallet.”

Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) will become progressively more important in automated warehouses, anticipates LaSelle. “I see more activity immediately adjacent to packaging and manufacturing lines, which is why Adept has invested in AGVs. Manufacturers incur a lot of cost in moving parts around within a plant. Companies use AVGs for intralogistics to increase throughput and traceability.” AGVs for bringing subassemblies to the production line represents a big growth area for robotics, maintains LaSelle.

Pushing Buttons

Robotics play a key role in quality control and the testing of consumer products prior to packaging and shipment. Baratti cites an example of robotics used to test touch screens for hand-held electronic devices. “Manufacturers use robots to test touch screens and use a peripheral device to determine the reaction of that screen. A robot loads a light-emitting diode (LED) screen into a tester to measure if the backlight is giving off the proper lumen output.”

According to Baratti, robots are also used to test car stereo systems. “The robot will measure the amount of pressure required to push stereo buttons.”

Motoman robots are also used to test consumer goods, including electronics. “Robots are used to repetitively push buttons to determine the life expectancy of electronic devices. Robots are used to load products into fixtures for testing,” describes Elkins. “Robots sweep a human-like form over fabric to look at the durability of the fabric over time.”

FANUC robots are also used to test a fabric’s longevity. “We installed a system that simulated a person getting in and out of a seat thousands of times a day to test fabric wear,” Motley says. “That application is typical of repetitive life testing, putting a product through its paces to ensure everything works as the consumer expects.”

Kenneth McLaughlin of JMP Engineering recites the value of vision-equipped robots in testing and quality control. “A robot used in conjunction with vision can check quality in every step of the manufacturing process to prevent adding value to a bad product. The vision system catches the problem early so as to not make many bad products.”

Domestic Production

Robots play an important role in keeping production at home rather than offshore. “Manufacturers face many risks of moving offshore, including delivery time and quality issues. If engineers encounter a quality issue but already have six boats on the ocean full of bad product, the problem was caught too late,” says Motley. “Robotics ensure quality, flexibility, and efficiency.”

Peter Cavallo, North America Robot Sales Manager with DENSO Robotics (Long Beach, California) has a similar take on the role of robotics in bringing manufacturing back home. “The production pipeline is five to eight months long if manufacturing is moved offshore. Engineers have difficulty making changes quickly and the substitution of materials as well as poor quality control are problems,” Cavallo remarks. “With robotics, production is local so engineers have more control over it. Robots are precise and do exactly what programed to do and changes take affect immediately.”

What’s New

Due to mercurial consumer tastes, products seem to change monthly. Robots can keep pace with this constant change, unlike hard automation. “Consumers are constantly looking for the next new thing, what is exciting. Robotics are about flexibility and change. The ability to change fits nicely with consumer product manufacturing because flexibility is what robots are all about, the ‘What’s Next’ syndrome,” concludes Peter Cavallo.

Additional coverage of robots in consumers goods can be found in this ABB consumers goods packaging case study: Quick Makeover – Packaging Hair Color Products

Pick-and-Place Applications for Robots

May 1, 2011

As seen in Robotics Online compliments of Food & Beverage Packing magazine

Pick-and-place applications comprise both primary handling—putting individual pieces of product into a tray or carton—and case packing. Advances in materials of construction, controlling software and hardware, vision systems and other aspects have made robots, of various types, an increasingly viable option for pick-and-place.

The type of robot most appropriate for a given pick-and-place application depends on the speed required, the size of the payload and other factors. For most applications, only one type of robot will be appropriate. But there are many borderline applications where more than one type could be used, and the end user (or his/her system integrator) must prioritize the factors.

One of the most significant developments in pick-and-place robotics has been improvements in servo motor design. Today’s servo motors pack more power into smaller sizes, maintaining or increasing output and payload capacity.

Another development is refinements to motion control software and hardware. Motion control is the essence of robotics. It’s needed to find objects, to guide the robot arm in picking them up and releasing them, and to coordinate with equipment upstream and down.

In the past, operating a robot would have required integration between the robot’s motion controller and the programmable logic controllers (PLCs) that coordinate the robot’s actions with the rest of the line. But the trend has been to combine those functions, as much as possible, into common controllers. This eliminates software coding that would otherwise have been required to coordinate the separate controllers.

Several kinds of robots can be used for upstream pick-and-place:

• Delta-style robots that operate from overhead with three or four long, thin arms that meet at the effector head;

• SCARA (selective compliant articulated robot arm) models, which are fixed-base robots with three vertical-axis (horizontal-motion) rotary arms; and

• Multi-axis articulated robots, which can have up to six axes, with joints that can rotate in any direction.

Choosing among these three kinds of robots depends largely on speed and payload size. (The payload includes the weight of both the product or package and the end-of-arm tooling needed to grip it.) Generally speaking, delta-style robots go twice as fast as SCARA robots, which in turn go twice as fast as six-axis articulated robots. Conversely, six-axis robots can handle the heaviest payloads, followed by SCARA robots and delta-style models.

As with most aspects of packaging, end users want pick-and-place to run as fast as possible. But some applications have practical limitations. Fragile products like baked goods have to be handled gently, which means slowing down.

Other applications have complex pattern requirements. When objects are being deposited in single layers at a time, especially when they’re relatively light, a delta robot arm can work fast. But in case packing or other applications that require extra precision, delta robots may not have the versatility to put the primary packages where they need to go. Articulated robots can work better in such applications, because they can rotate what they’re holding and also because they can pick up entire layers of primary packages and drop them into cases.

Pick-and-place applications are fertile ground for robotic equipment. As technology and other developments make such equipment increasingly viable, end users who pick the right machines will find themselves in a good place.