Omni-directional Spider Robot Climbs, Dangles, Does Cartwheels

December 23, 2011

Wishing your robot was a little more flexible? This group at Osaka University has developed a spider-like robot with incredible mobility–even the ability to do cartwheels. Watch the video to see the robot “rescue” a plush stuffed animal.

A research group at Osaka University, led by Professor Arai, is developing a six-legged robot, with features of the design borrowed from insects. This robot walks on six legs, and it can use two legs as arms when needed, so it can pick things up and carry them.

The research team envisioned the robot as a tool for rescue operations and building maintenance. What other applications do you think could benefit from this robot?

Continue reading the article.




Finding Hidden Treasures in Manufacturing

December 21, 2011

Visual Components Posted 11/04/2011

Planning ahead for short- and long-term growth is a basic strategy for business in any economic environment in all industries producing any kind of product. Industry looks for proven solutions that may assist in improving the bottom line regardless of which domain within the enterprise takes on the responsibility of implementation and deployment. These solutions are chosen and based on trends (what others have heavily invested in and boasted success in) or selected based on the sales perception that it will significantly alter the current business practices into a better paradigm.

There are many business solutions that have been developed, re-developed, combined or renamed to support the strategic plans and business goals of any company that looks to the future for continued success. Some of the most common are: Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Manufacturing Execution System (MES), Product Data Management (PDM), Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Design Anywhere Manufacture Anywhere (DAMA), Engineering Change Management (ECM), Electronic Data Management (EDM), Knowledge Based Engineering (KBE), Time Critical Management (TCM), etc.

While each and every one of these business systems has benefits and a defined place within an organization decisions have to be made as to the implementation time (3-5 years in some cases), cost of investment and cost of ownership. There exists not only the initial investment but since these systems are ongoing processes they must be maintained at a cost, be it updates, contract consulting or modifications to meet new requirements. Additionally, there are enterprise-wide requirements to prepare for the change shift in business practices each system has to offer. Remarkably when backed into a corner to justify the initial investment and ongoing costs it is challenging because of convoluted factors involving various domains to associate any direct savings to the bottom line. Careful and total verification and validation must be exerted to determine if implementing a Business System really improves an enterprise’s bottom line or becomes another hidden expense.

However, there is an immediate method to discover and recover available monies that exist today in most manufacturing applications without having to invest in one or any of the Business Systems mentioned. It is a less radical move, can be activated concurrently with a Business System and will have an almost immediate payback based on the cost of these solutions (treasure search tools) versus the return (treasure).

Current Production Optimization
Most products have been in production for various periods of time depending on the product and market. Automobiles with a comparatively short production period (12 months) to electronics with even shorter periods of production (1-3 months) to those products “we’ve been making forever.” Each have factors that directly reflect hidden revenue (the treasure) that could be applied in a variety of ways within an enterprise from new construction, new product innovation research, competitive pricing to direct savings to the consumer.

To find these hidden monies (treasure) a role of a “productionologist” must be adopted to study the cycle times, material flow/handling and manufacturing processes used in existing or previously designed production. In the examination of those current and possibly future systems lay the hidden factors that govern the waiting returns. It used to be that manufacturing optimization search tools were unaffordable and challenging to use. In many cases, special skills sets were required to produce efficient and effective value in their use.

Here comes 21st Century technology that now provides affordable and “so easy a salesman can use it” solutions to discover and recover those dollars left behind on the conveyor belt or manufacturing floor. In applying these simple and cost effective solutions to existing manufacturing processes, operation cycle times can be reduced, and improvement to material flow can be identified to increase production throughput. That is where the treasures lay i.e. Manufacturing Optimization.

Manufactured part cost $20 (including non-value added costs)
Current production rate of 100 parts per hour
Ref: Part Sell price $60

Optimization increases production by 5%

(According to an Industry Analyst (CIMdata) report entitled “The Benefits of Digital Manufacturing,” organizations using digital manufacturing technologies can realize tremendous production improvements and reductions in resource waste, including a 30 percent reduction in lead time-to-market; a 40 percent reduction in manufacturing process planning; a 15 percent increase in production throughput; a 13 percent decrease in overall production cost; and a 40 percent reduction in equipment costs.)

Optimized production rate of 105 parts per hour
5 more parts per hour = 5 more parts sold with $40 profit ($60 sell – $20 cost)
$40 profit x 5 parts per hour more x 8 hours x 5 days x 4 weeks x 12 months = $384,000 / year…

             …all by improving production by 5% or 5 parts per hour.

Courtesy Visual Components 3D Digital Manufacturing OptimizationIn many production applications where new or similar products are manufactured Set-Based Design methodologies are used. Set-Based Design is the process of duplicating what has already been designed and applied in the manufacturing process while changing only what is required to meet the new product requirements such as tooling, fixtures and or specific processes. What is not done, especially if these changeovers occur frequently, is to revisit the original Set-Based Design entities to evaluate potential optimization. If 3D Digital Manufacturing Optimization was not introduced or used in the initial Design, these areas of “revenue thieves” (hidden treasures of time and cost) are replicated without consideration.

There are many reasons these conditions occur and until recently, product manufacturers accepted these types’ of hidden or truly unknown profit reducers, knowing that initial designs are imperfect with the first concept. Product design in this context can be a product or a manufacturing system that produces products. It is still a fact that designing a product as well as a manufacturing process is a chain of events that may require several iterations before getting right or accepted as close to right. This is not just for complex products but simple concepts as well. Even after “final acceptance” the product may incur several if not hundreds of ECN (Engineering Change Notices).

Traditional Approach to Product DevelopmentThe typical process in the life of a product is to throw the design “over the wall” to engineering. Engineering may inform designers that some part of the design would be costly, challenging or impossible to produce. The designs would be given back (over the same wall) to design to modify and redesign. With both design and engineering in agreement, the designs would be given over to manufacturing to determine out how to make the product i.e. tooling, fixtures and processes. There is still no assurance the design is ready for market even after reaching product release and production.

Ultimately, so much time and costs have been applied to the product that it is accepted. There may be known design issues and flaws but the launch date will be met. There are many, many cases of this that come to mind such as the gas tank design and placement on the on a small hatch back vehicle where the company knew of the flaws but elected to let it go to market and have litigation deal with the results which was thought to be a far less expensive solution.

The Treasure Map
To find the treasure you can revisit your existing manufacturing designs and production processes to discover the constraints in your design. Considerations like material, configuration, manufacturing method, production environment, quality specifications, etc. are easily examined using 3D Digital Manufacturing solutions (the Treasure Map) by simulating your existing concepts and optimizing them. Siginificant amounts of time and money are being wasted by inefficient designs or adopting the attitude that “it’s good enough” or “if it’s running don’t fix it.” Now, with affordable simulation solutions to identify these negative conditions it is no longer an acceptable attitude to “let it run.”

CAD and CAE solutions allow manufacturers to alter product and plant designs in seconds, and see how every change will affect the entire process. “What if” scenarios using 3D Digital Manufacturing solutions are used in how parts interact with manufacturing methods, proper layout and positioning functions and incorporate acceptable ergonomic standards. That is how the major OEMs use (or how they should be using) current technology to streamline the flow of revenue to the bottom line.

OEMs may not have taken these steps to confront their previous systems designs but that would be time well invested to find undiscovered treasure. Many of these same OEMs are creating “Live Models” of new systems for new product production, that is, 3D Digital representations of the manufacturing process. The advantage is that they can test out various theories or scenarios of improvement without disrupting production and be better prepared for “change over” when the time is right knowing ahead of time what to do, where to do it and what the result will be.

All companies regardless of location, industry or product are attempting to capitalize on the demand of the consumer (i.e. “Faster, Cheaper and Higher Quality”). Asset Management, Product Lifecycle Management, Flexible Production, Agile Manufacturing or Digital Manufacturing all are methodologies that provide insights and solutions to all stakeholders throughout the product process, which leads to a reduced time-to-market (and considerably less confusion and in-fighting).

While these companies are meeting the demands of the market / consumer so are the companies that provide the technology to produce the products. New innovations in materials, tooling, machines and production equipment are continually being improved or developed. These innovations may be worthy of review and applied to existing systems opening up the chest of treasures.

“It is essential to hold on to your values but wise to evaluate their worth from time to time as dynamics influence change.”

International Disaster Could Mean Local Disruptions

December 20, 2011
Planning the most efficient and cost-effective supply chain means assuming a best-case scenario. But what happens when disaster strikes?

The Global Supply Chain: So Very Fragile by Bill Powell

[…] Because of the interconnected nature of supply chains, the economic impact of these disasters will be felt well beyond Asia — and for many months to come. Computer hard-drive maker Seagate (STX), which operates two factories in Thailand, predicts disruptions to its customers (Seagate supplies hard drives to makers of PCs and servers) through 2012, and CEO Stephen J. Luczo says the industry won’t “be back to normal” until 2013. iSuppli, a market research firm, says the computer industry is in need of 175 million hard drives but suppliers can deliver only 125 million units — a shortfall of 29%. Apple (AAPL), Hewlett-Packard, (HPQ) and most recently Intel (INTC) are among the companies that have told investors that the flooding will have an impact on future earnings.

The effects of Mother Nature’s wrath still are being felt in the U.S. Auto assembly workers in Ohio saw their hours cut in November because Honda (HMC) couldn’t get parts from Thailand. (In late November, Honda returned those plants to normal production levels.) On the other hand, a factory in Decherd, Tenn., that normally makes engines for Nissan cars sold only in the U.S. suddenly had to ramp up production after the Japan earthquake; Nissan had the American plant ship engines to Asia for use in cars sold both in Japan and in Southeast Asia. […]

Has your company suffered from a disrupted supply chain? Is it just an inevitable crisis, waiting to happen? Or are there steps you can take to safe guard your business?

RIA Publishes New Safety & Compliance Page on Robotics Online

December 19, 2011

Robotic Industries Association Posted 12/14/2011

(ANN ARBOR, Michigan USA) Robot safety is a topic of extreme importance to Robotic Industries Association, the only North American trade association dedicated solely to robotics. RIA is the secretariat of the ANSI/RIA R15.06 National Robot Safety Standard and recently published a new page for safety and compliance on Robotics Online, the Association’s website.

“This new page compiles an extensive library of information about robot safety that is available from RIA,” said Jeff Burnstein, RIA President. “Safety is profoundly important to the continued use and acceptance of robotic technology. We are happy to report the industry has a very good track record for safety, and we devote substantial resources to help keep it that way.”

A webinar on Robot Safety Awareness is showcased on the new Robotics Online safety and compliance page, as are case studies, articles and links to resources about training. To access the page directly, go to

“It is easier than ever to find the ANSI/RIA National Robot Safety Standard from our new page,” said Burnstein. “Plus, Robotics Online enables RIA members to login for discounts on publications, request training, and take advantage of member rates for the National Robot Safety Conference (September 24-26, 2012, Indianapolis, Indiana).”

A new RSS “safety feed” is available to help people keep track of all the news about robot safety: (Note the “XML” extension; you will need an “RSS reader.”)

About Robotic Industries Association
Founded in 1974, RIA represents more than 260 corporate members of 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 (, the world’s leading robotics resource on the Worldwide Web.

A Robot’s Place in the Kitchen

December 16, 2011

Robots have always been important to the manufacturing field, and have continued to make tremendous progress in new markets, but what about the personal robot? Ever wanted a snack but haven’t wanted to leave your comfortable couch? Enter James and Rosie, the helpful bots.

James and Rosie, a lovely robotic couple at the Technical University of Munich, are well known for their delicious pancake and sausage breakfast rituals. Now their skills have expanded to include both sandwiches and popcorn.

Read more at IEEE Spectrum.

Sandwiches aside, James and Rosie illustrate some important advances in robot technology, like the diminishing need to pre-progam robots for every step in a complex process. How do you see ability to act autonomously affecting robotics in your field?

John Hopkins to Send Robots to Space

December 15, 2011

From the operating room to the stars? NASA recruits John Hopkins to help with a telerobotic satellite fuel tanker.

A remote-controlled robot may stop satellites in space from running on empty.

As part of a NASA project, researchers at John Hopkins University have modified a robotics console normally used in surgery so it could be used to operate a filling station in space. By refueling aging satellites, their owners can get more useful life out of their expensive hardware. If it works, satellites can be repaired or refueled without having to send out human repair crews.

John Hopkins was tapped to address the problem of operating the fuel tanker in space from Earth because of its experience in robotically-enhanced surgery. To pump in more hydrozene fuel, a device would need to slice the tape that holds down an insulating blanket on satellites. After loading the fuel, the cut tape would need to be reapplied to secure the blanket–steps that are similar to performing surgery with robots. […]

The above excerpt from CBS News comes on the heels of the recent launch of ‘Curiosity,’ the newest Mars Rover. ‘Curiosity,’ besides being a resilient little robot, employs sensors from AIA member e2v and motion technology to handle the most hostile conditions. Since there are no ‘do over’s in space, what sort of things should the John Hopkins team be mindful of as they adapt the technology?

Robots Link At-Home Patients to Hospital Staff

December 14, 2011

Medical robots have already begun to find a niche in hospitals and at healthcare facilities. Now they’re traveling to continue assisting in the recovery process — but in the comfort of the patient’s own home.

When Erin Tally took Aidan, her 2-year-old son, home from Children’s Hospital Boston on the day after his urinary surgery, she brought along a new friend: a 4-foot-6, 17-pound, two-wheeled robot that would help deliver care to her recovering child.

Over about two weeks that included five video consultations, the robot, made by Vgo Communications Inc., of Nashua, eliminated the need for Tally to drive Aidan into Boston every three days for post-surgical checkups.

With cameras, advanced audio gear, and a video screen on its “face,’’ the robot allowed Aidan and his parents to talk with nurses and doctors in Boston. They could see and communicate with Aidan and his parents, take close-up photos of his surgical scars for doctors to review, and help determine what type of medications he needed.

Continue reading Jay Fitzgerald’s article at

EDIT: ABC News picks up the story.