Nabtesco Doesn’t Just Sell Mollywhite – Their Gears Move Robots, too!

July 28, 2011

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

Automation serves many purposes but no matter what market or industry you are in chances are you’ve heard of Mollywhite grease. However, did you know that Nabtesco, the company behind Mollywhite, also supplies gears for a vast number of industrial robots?

Fortune allowed me to visit Nabtesco’s open house and grand opening of its new Farmington Hills, Michigan facility on a hot summer day this year. As luck would have it, I was not able to get there until shadows were stretching far to the east so I missed all the big activities, but I did learn quite a bit in the short time I spent with Jason Lazar, Nabtesco’s North American Sales Manager.

My robot collection with Mollywhite grease by Rock 'Em Sock 'Em

Mollywhite soothes your achy joints (if you are an automaton)

I also got a new display piece for my robot collection – and fortune smiled again because there is candy in my Mollywhite container!

It turns out Nabtesco is bigger than just robotics. They provide motion solutions from brake systems on commercial trucks to servos that move and aim satellite antenna dishes. Their products are in space, on earth and below the seas wherever precision motion and reliability is needed.

Business is booming at Nabtesco. They expanded to handle the increased load which is why they moved to a new building. When I visited (on a 100-degree F. day!), top executives were in from Japan, including Nabtesco President, Chihiro Higuchi, who found time to greet and give me a warm welcome.

It was well after hours and I couldn’t stay long, but it was a good visit to have and if you get the chance, you should give them a call. We hope you always choose an RIA member. They truly know their business. (Nabtesco has been a member of Robotic Industries Association since 1999.)


Why I Want You to Follow Me on Twitter

July 27, 2011

By Jeff Burnstein, President, Robotic Industries Association

Nearly two years ago at the Robotics Industry Forum James Spellos, a social networking expert, said that if he could have just one social networking resource, it would be Twitter. At the time, I think just one hand out of 200+ people in the room said they had used Twitter. Today it is growing exponentially and I think I know why. It’s the best way I know to get information out in a hurry.

For instance, we are about to announce the first half robotics statistics results. I usually send an email to all of our members letting them know the stats have been posted online. This can take hours, especially if our webmasters are in the midst of a deadline. With Twitter, I can write a 140 character or less note, attach the link, and the word is out to every one of my “followers.”

The same is true for any information I need to communicate in a hurry, whether it be about events, new developments in Washington that impact the industry, or updates on robotics standards. You can get the “tweets” on your phone as well as on your computer — it’s as easy as can be.

Now, I know that many people are ignoring their emails because there are so many cluttering our inboxes. At the same Forum where he lauded Twitter, Spellos declared “email is dead.” At the time I thought he was crazy, but when I look at our open rates for mass emails, I think he’s correct. If not dead, email is certainly on life support.

By the way, we’ve invited Jim Spellos back for the upcoming Forum in Orlando, January 18-20, 2012. I know he’ll be full of great new insights on the fast-moving social networking marketplace.

So, I want you all to take a second to become a follower of my tweets. I am @jeffburnstein on I promise to keep the tweets relevant and interesting. In addition to business info, I’ll occasionally talk about my personal interests such as books, movies, sports, travel, and wine, to name a few. But I promise I won’t create “Twitter Litter” in your inbox!

Give Your Robot a Soul and Help Children Become Better Students

July 24, 2011

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

Robot art and novelties supports non-profit student tutoring in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Robot art and novelties supports non-profit student tutoring in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Robot souls are for sale in Ann Arbor, Michigan as I learned during the town’s annual Art Fair this year. But the real story is how the sale of souls (and kidneys and tears and other novelties) at the Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair Shop help support a free tutoring service run by non-profit 826michigan.

When Ann Arbor held its annual Art Fair this year, the staff of Automation Technologies Council took part of the day to explore its back yard which gave me the chance to visit this special institution. My colleague, Vice President, Dana Whalls, had preceded me there by several weeks and helped arrange the loan of a real robot from FANUC Robotics and it had arrived just in time for the Art Fair. It seems there is no end to the ways robots help inspire progress!

According to the parent organization, “826 National is a nonprofit tutoring, writing, and publishing organization with locations in eight cities across the country. Our goal is to assist students ages six to eighteen with their writing skills, and to help teachers get their classes excited about writing. Our work is based on the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.”

826michigan certainly offers an interesting way to attract attention. In this video you can see a collection of “Angry Tin Robots.”

Robot art at the Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair Shop

Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair Shop Storefront

A terrific underwater scene was depicted in the front window of the store.

Here’s what 826 National says about its business model, “To raise funds, inspire creativity, and advertise our programs to the local community, most of our centers include a street-front retail store filled with unusual products, entertaining signage, and, of course, our books for sale. San Francisco’s pirate supply store sells glass eyes and one-of-a-kind peglegs, 826NYC’s Superhero Supply Company offers custom-fit capes, Seattle’s Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company sells all your space commuting appurtenances, 826michigan’s Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair Shop specializes in must-have mechanical conveniences, while 826LA features a time travel store, there’s a secret agent supply store in Chicago, and the Cryptozoology shop in Boston is now open!”

That is a slice of what is happening in Ann Arbor, Michigan where Robotic Industries Association is located (a trade association of the Automation Technologies Council). It was nice to get the chance to see how robots help young humans improve their lives through the artful combination of education and science – and maybe find a soul for a mechanical friend.

Industrial Robotics Market Opportunities in Russia

July 21, 2011

Is It Time to Expand Market Presence?

By Paul Kellett, RIA Director – Market Analysis

Spanning nine time zones and more than 17 million square miles, Russia is not only the largest country in the world, geographically, but also the richest on a per capita basis of the so-called “BRIC” countries (Brazil, Russia, India Industrial Robotics Market Opportunities in Russiaand China).   Its $1.465 trillion economy is forecast to grow at 4.5 percent this year, and industrial production and manufacturing continue to increase.   (Last year industrial production grew 8.3 percent, and through the first four months of 2011 year-over-year growth has run 5.6 percent.)  With economic indicators like these, what’s not to like about the Russian market?

These statistics become especially compelling, when you consider that the Russian economy is underserved by robotics with comparatively few companies with a major presence in this market.  But this may Real GDP % Change - Russiasoon change.   Russia’s top leaders, including President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, have acknowledged the need for economic modernization.  If Russia is to compete globally and insure a level of national income largely independent of oil exports, it must deploy automation technologies such as robotics that enable the necessary cost efficiencies, productivity and product quality.

The size of the Russian economy, its performance, and the fact that it is generally underserved by automation companies suggest that it is an attractive target for robotics sales.  But is it?

In a recent study entitled “Market Opportunities for Automation Companies in Russia, available free to RIA members and for sale to non-members in RIA’s online bookstore, RIA addressed this issue.    For its analysis of the robotics market, the study considered not just the economy and robotic sales volumes but also the ins and outs of doing business in Russia.  The picture that emerged from the study is of a country in great need of robotics technology but lacking in the basic underpinnings and protections of business that are taken for granted elsewhere.   In short, while the Russian economy has made great strides in its transition from a centralized, publicly-owned economy, it still has a ways to go in creating fertile ground for businesses to flourish.

There are several reasons why the legal/regulatory framework in Russia is not yet conducive to business.   Corruption is rampant and legal protections of business are generally weak.  Intellectual property is poorly safeguarded.  Approval processes in customs for the importing of goods and the establishment of businesses are cumbersome.  Legal resolution of disputes is often lengthy and labyrinthine, as the consequence of overlapping jurisdictions, unclear laws and regulations and overwhelmed judges.

Additionally, the lack of a business culture, monopolization of some sectors by “oligarchs” and insufficient transportation between different points in this vast country can also hinder commerce.  Contributing to the unfavorable climate for business are also high custom duties and the fact that certain strategic segments of the economy are off limits to foreign direct investment (FDI).  In this regard it is telling that, FDI, which is viewed as a barometer of business trust in the Russian federation, fell off sharply in 2010, despite the recovery in the economy.

The Russian bureaucracy is a major cause of some of these problems.  Too many contradicting regulations are creating a lot of opportunities for local and mid-level bureaucrats to intervene.
Net FDI Inflows to Russia in $ Billions (USD)
Other causes are the underdeveloped infrastructure in Russia (with a few exceptions like Moscow and St. Petersburg) and the lack of investment in their own country by Russian businesses, which lessens the confidence of foreign investors.

President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have repeatedly emphasized the importance of improving Russia’s business climate and attracting foreign capital, but  despite the problems of bureaucratic interference, infrastructure problems and low domestic rates of investment-structural reforms have been slow and past government actions, such as politically motivated investigations into business, have made foreign businesses increasingly risk adverse.

Robotics companies, however, appear to be somewhat less tentative than other types of automation companies in their approach to the Russian market.  Of the eight major robotics companies that were found to be addressing this market, only three sold exclusively through domestic distributors (of which seven were identified), while the remaining five operated in-country through a sales or service office.  Of these five, three appear to be wholly-owned Russian subsidiaries.

To gauge the extent of market involvement, however, it is also necessary to consider sales volumes.  According to the statistics of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the most robots sold in any one year in Russia were 268 in 2009.  In 2010, despite the general recovery in the Russian economy, the sales count dropped to 232. These sales volumes indicate the existence of a market that must be regarded as nascent, given the size of the Russian economy.  They also suggest that the roots of foreign robotics companies are not yet sunk deeply in Russia.

But the fact that most of the largest robotics companies have established a market presence strongly suggests a widespread perception that Russia will eventually represent a large market opportunity. Supporting this perception is the fact that manufacturing in general and machine building and the manufacture of automobiles in particular play a central role in the Russian economy, but are greatly underserved by robots, as evidenced by the low number of robots shipped to Russia.

When the comparatively large economy and underserved industries of Russia are considered, it is clear that this vast country represents a sizeable market opportunity, but one that is contingent upon the establishment of a conducive business climate.   Until Russia’s political elites take concrete actions to create this climate, robotics companies should limit their exposure to risk, while remaining well-positioned to expand their market presence, once improvements occur.  In short, companies should proceed with caution by limiting the size of their operations in Russia and by restricting their physical presence to large cities, such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, before sinking more permanent and extensive roots in this great country.

DARPA Appeals to Roboticists for UAV Competition

July 20, 2011

Hello, from Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

The site administrator for contacted Robotic Industries Association with details about the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) competition offered by The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic (SSC Atlantic). With so much  growth in social networking, it was suggested that individuals interacting with our online community might be interested.

According to the information we received, “The ‘UAVForge challenge’ uses crowdsourcing to build small UAVs through an exchange of ideas and design practices. The goal is to build and test a user-intuitive, backpack-portable UAV that can quietly fly in and out of critical environments to conduct sustained surveillance for up to three hours.”

The grand prize is $100,000 and the winning team is given an opportunity to demonstrate its design in a military exercise. The UAV must be suitable for transport by backpack and able to sustain surveillance for up to three hours.

Sponsors of the competition believe that “to be successful we need innovators of every kind; scientists, engineers, citizen scientists and dreamers to collaborate and compete.”

If you visit the site, you’ll find a mix of content and a wide range of examples of technology for drones and other autonomous flying machines. It is quite a mashup of concepts and videos.

Get Searched on Robotics Online

July 19, 2011

Join RIA and get searched on Robotics Online – it is a great website for everyone! Searchers find RIA members which have the bona fides to help solve the biggest challenges. Members that get searched are at the forefront of what real-world users want.

Find out how you can sponsor searches on Robotics Online.

Order your own non-home button ad for only $435 (members only).

Call Brian at 734/994-6088.

Educating Congress about Robots in Manufacturing

July 18, 2011

By Jeff Burnstein, President, Robotic Industries Association

Jeff Burnstein, Drew Greenblatt and Curtis Richardson

Left to right: Jeff Burnstein, Drew Greenblatt, Curtis Richardson

Last week (July 14) a group of key industry leaders joined me in Washington DC for a meeting of the Congressional Robotics Caucus. I presented some key facts about the current state of robotics in the U.S., while RIA Board Member Curtis Richardson of SpiritAerosystems and Drew Greenblatt of Marlin Steel Wire gave real-world examples of the importance of robotics to manufacturers of all sizes.

The Robotics Caucus, chaired by Congressman Doyle of Pennsylvania and co-chaired by Congressman Gingery of Georgia, plays an important role in helping educate Congress about robotics. And it’s not just Congress they help educate, but also several government organizations and other Washington-based trade groups. We were very happy to have in attendance Chuck Thorpe, the Assistant Director for Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). OSTP is the driving force behind the new National Robotics Initiative and we look forward to working with Chuck as the program takes shape.

Education is one of the most important roles RIA plays. I am amazed at some of the misperceptions about robotics that I encounter on a daily basis. While at a meeting in Washington during my trip, I was asked why it was necessary to educate people about robots since they clearly were being used everywhere already. I explained that robot sales in the US, despite a recent rebound, still hadn’t returned to their all-time highs, in part because of continuing perceptions that they only make sense for large companies. Fortunately, some small business owners like Drew Greenblatt are willing to come forward to help dispel that myth.

Congressional Robotics Caucus

Congressman Gingery of Georgia, co-chair of the Congressional Robotics Caucus, gathers with Jeff, Drew and Curtis

Today I read an article in Newsweek about robots stealing the jobs of American workers. Though I’m quoted saying that robots save jobs, I actually also explained to the reporter that robots create jobs, too. Curtis Richardson and Drew Greenblatt helped hammer home this message in their presentations to the Robotics Caucus. Without robots, their companies would be far less competitive, meaning they would not be able to win the business necessary to expand their workforce.

We will continue to do our best to educate Congress and the rest of the world about robotics. The technology is too critical to our success as a nation to back down now. It’s gratifying to see that we are making headway, as the National Robotics Initiative demonstrates.