RIA Launches Certified Robot Integrator Program

February 29, 2012

Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry’s trade group representing some 265 member companies, announced that it has launched a Certified Robot Integrator program.

“The idea for certification came to us from the system integrator community,” said Jeff Burnstein, President of RIA.  “We held focus groups and conducted surveys of integrators to identify ways RIA could provide more value to the integrator community.  Integrators explained that a meaningful certification program might help users identify integrators who had the capabilities and experience to meet their needs,” he noted.

“RIA, which was founded in 1974, is the largest robotics organization in North America, so it makes sense that RIA should be the group to undertake certification,” said Scot Lindemann of JR Automation, one of the integrators who helped RIA develop the program.

“The trade group has experience handling confidential data because it has been collecting and reporting statistics since 1983,” Lindemann noted.  “Also, RIA developed the American National Robot Safety Standard and safety training is a key element of the new certification program.”

Burnstein said that RIA contacted users early on in the process of developing the new program to make sure it would help them create a “short list” of potential integrators for their projects.

“It is important to note that the users who helped us establish the criteria for certification understand that RIA will not be guaranteeing performance, but rather that we will audit important data provided by integrators,” Burnstein explained.  “The users helped design the certification criteria so that it is meaningful to them.  Users will of course still conduct their own due diligence in the selection process, but certification could be a factor to get on their list of potential integrators,” he elaborated.

“The program is obviously going to be a big help to end users just getting their automation feet wet, but I believe it will be of great benefit to current end users as well,” said Curtis Richardson of Spirit Aerosystems.  “It is a convenient tool to help us identify established integrators in the industry, and it enables us to see at a glance the integrators who have met some basic but very critical criteria established by their professional peers.”

RIA is now taking applications from integrators interested in becoming certified. Full details about the program are available on our Robot Integrator Certification page on Robotics Online, the industry’s leading website or by calling RIA Headquarters at 734/994-6088.

For more information, you can read the original press release or view the RIA webinar “How to become an RIA Certified Integrator.”


RIA Honors Educator Sponsors

February 17, 2012

The Robotic Industries Association, the industry’s trade group, announced today that it is honoring fourteen member companies for their sponsorship of 23 institutions with an Educator/Researcher membership in RIA. Ten companies (ABB Inc.; Applied Manufacturing Technologies; ATI Industrial Automation; FANUC Robotics America Corporation; KUKA Robotics Corporation; Motoman Robotics division of Yaskawa America, Inc.; PaR Systems, Inc.; SAS Automation, LLC; SCHUNK Inc. and Stäubli Robotics) were recently joined by Dane Systems, LLC.; IPR Robotics, LLC; JR Automation Technologies LLC and KEBA Corporation to complete the listing.

RIA President, Jeff Burnstein, said, “We have reached a new high-water mark for company sponsor participation. We want to acknowledge the outstanding leadership that these RIA member companies have demonstrated.  Not only are they assisting in the development of some of our nation’s finest future automation engineers, technicians and personnel, but they are strengthening the institutions themselves through their participation.”

Catherine Morris, Senior Account Manager at ATI Industrial Automation, Apex, North Carolina and Chair of Robotic Industries Association, whose company is one of the educator sponsors agreed, “Participating companies have the opportunity to make inroads into the classrooms of the institutions they sponsor through presentations made directly to students and joint research projects, while the schools enjoy a pipeline to industry experts and support.”

Morris pointed to other benefits, “The sponsoring companies also obtain the advantage of having connections for job recruiting and for building brand awareness with the students.  It’s really a wonderful ‘win-win’ relationship for both sponsoring RIA member companies and for the educational institutions being sponsored.”

Burstein indicated, “The current sponsors are recognized on the association’s Robotics Online website through a special page designated for schools and their corporate sponsors.  And now, throughout the website’s pages, we are highlighting each company sponsor with a new RIA Educator Member Sponsor button ad. As additional member companies become sponsors, they will be inserted into the ad as well.

A complete list of all the sponsored institutions, benefits of membership sponsorship to both company and institution and additional details can be found on the association’s “Schools & Corporate Sponsors” website page on Robotics Online.

About RIA

Founded in 1974, RIA’s 265 member organizations include leading robot manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, community colleges & universities, research groups, and consulting firms.  RIA is best-known for developing the ANSI/RIA National Robot Safety Standard, collecting quarterly statistics on the North American robotics market, sponsoring the biennial Automate show and conference, hosting the annual Robotics Industry Forum, and producing Robotics Online, the world’s leading resource for robotics information.

RIA is part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), formerly known as the Automation Technologies Council.  Other associations under the A3 umbrella are AIA, an association for vision & imaging companies, and the Motion Control Association (MCA).

For more information on RIA, visit Robotics Online or contact RIA Headquarters at 734/994-6088.

Robotic Training Proves Valuable with Job Security

February 15, 2012

In times of economic instability, those who think forward are the ones who can build a future. If you’ve invested in your robotics career, there’s good news for you.

Looking to Build a Robot? Hiring Demand for Robotics Skills Grows 44 Percent

PRWEB.COM Newswire

During January 2012, Corporate Recruiters and Staffing Firms posted over 2,100 online job ads for robotics skills, according to WANTED Analytics™ , the leading source of real-time business intelligence for the talent marketplace. Hiring demand for this skill set has grown steadily over the past three years. This growth represents a 44% year-over-year growth compared to January 2011 and more than double the volume of online job ads in January 2010.

Common wisdom says to pursue industries that have permanence,  but we say do one better and pursue the industries of future permanence. Healthcare has already proven its sustainability — add to that the growth of the robotics industry, and the future of your career looks strong. What other opportunities do you see for career paths in robotics?
Read more at the Digital Journal.

Students Take Environmentalist Robot to White House Science Fair

February 9, 2012

It’s not your average science fair — 40 teams, invitation-only by the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, and hosted by the White House. But that’s where Carlie Schulter and Matt Tompkins of Kell High School, Georgia, debuted their high school team’s environmentally-friendly robot, ORCA.

Students Exhibit Robot at White House by Lindsay Field

The two students were selected to display their team’s project, a remotely operated oil removal watercraft designed and built with funds from a $10,000 grant the school received in 2010.

Barker said the team, which consists of about 20 Kell students, has been working on the project for the last year.

Schulter, who joined the team while still an eighth-grader at Palmer Middle, said the robot is an amphibious, remotely operated vehicle that collects oil in shallow waters and estuaries. Most of the technologies for cleaning up oil in the open ocean are too big to be used in those hard-to-reach places, but their team’s robot is smaller, she said.

It’s an exciting moment in our industry when young students are not only interested in robotics but also in how to find socially conscientious applications that will help us take care of the resources we have.

Read the full article at The Marietta Daily Journal.

Basic EOAT and Tooling Trends for Consumers Goods and Beyond

February 8, 2012

by Bennett Brumson , Contributing Editor
Robotic Industries Association

Robotics have the speed, strength, and precision to accomplish an ever-widening range of tasks in the manufacturing and packaging of consumer goods, appliances and more. But, without a suitable end-of-arm tooling (EOAT), an industrial or service robot can’t manipulate a product. “End-of-arm tooling enables the robot to add value to the end-user’s process. Without an EOAT, the robot can do very little,” says, Tim DeRosett, Director of Marketing at the Motoman Robotics Division of Yaskawa America Inc. (Miamisburg, Ohio).

The Basics of Tooling

Power in Hand
End-effectors are actuated electrically, hydraulically, mechanically or pneumatically, and are available in a variety of styles, including angular and parallel. Selecting the proper EOAT for an application is usually based on end-user’s needs and the familiarity of the robot integrator. As EOAT, robots and their controllers become more powerful and capable, random bin picking is emerging as a mainstream application.

“Advantages and disadvantages of each type of end-effector vary relative to power consumption, size, complexity, weight and requirements. Pneumatic end-effectors accommodate most applications in the packaging industry due to their weight-to-power ratio,” says Samir Patel, Director of Sales and Engineering at Kawasaki Robotics (USA) Inc. (Wixom, Michigan). “When compared to electrical end-effectors, installation of pneumatic end-effectors is relatively simple and components are easy to find.”Variable pick head, courtesy PHD Inc.

Pneumatic EOATs are well understood and have been available for many years, making them the majority of tooling, says Walter Hessler, Vice President of Sales with PHD Inc. (Fort Wayne, Indiana). “In the past and the near future, the majority of EOATs are pneumatic. Pneumatic EOATs are readily available and can apply significant forces at high speeds in a small package. Pneumatic EOATs are an effective medium for generating force and motion.”

Hessler goes on to talk about the drawbacks of pneumatic EOATs. “Pneumatic end-effectors provide for less control over grip forces and are less flexible than electric EOATs. Until recently, manufacturers considered pressurized air to be free of cost. Everyone is now looking at the costs of air compressors.” Compressed air is no longer “free as air,” as once was the conventional wisdom in manufacturing.

Hydraulic EOATs are able to generate very high clamping forces and to actuate quickly. “Hydraulics are fast and precise,” says Chris Blanchette, National Distribution Sales Account Manager with FANUC Robotics America Corp. (Rochester Hills, Michigan). “Broken hydraulic lines can be extremely messy and can destroy tooling or parts. Hydraulic EOATs are expensive because of the need for large compressors to run the fluid.”

Agile Power
In conjunction with the source of an EOAT’s power, end-users and integrators also must decide which style of tooling best suits the needs of a particular application.Adaptive gripper, courtesy Robotiq Gripper Company

“Integrators select end-effectors to deal with a high mix of consumer products that might change frequently by adding fingers capable of adapting to different products. Two or three articulated fingers encompassing a product has enough contact points to form a stable grip,” says, Samuel Bouchard, President of Robotic Gripper Co. (St-Nicholas, Quebec, Canada). Adaptive grippers facilitate consumer goods production and packaging due to the fact that these EOATs automatically adjusts when manipulating a high mix of products, says Bouchard.

Parallel EOATs work well when wielding well-defined non-compliant products says William Townsend, President and Chief Executive Officer of Barrett Technology Inc. (Cambridge, Massachusetts). “Parallel jaw grippers with two or three fingers do a good job of handling well defined objects. These grippers work well if parts are organized upstream before entering the robot’s workspace.” If the product is susceptible to changing shape, the end-user should consider an EOAT with more flexibility, says Townsend. “With delicate objects, the gripper needs to sense the forces, so as to not damage the component.”

Angular tooling is compact, says Blanchette. “Angular grippers are very fast and small which is an advantage for end-users. The disadvantages of angular grippers is the relatively limited part mix they can pick because of the angle they run in.”

Hand in Hand
The robotics market is trending towards hybrid tooling, where an end-effector has several tools to perform a wider range of tasks. “Robotic layer grippers for de-palletizing in supermarkets and warehouse distribution centers deal with thousands of stock keeping units. One technology cannot handle that variety so end-users need an EOAT with a combination of technologies. Designers of EOATs are becoming more comfortable with hybrids, combining different technologies,” says Dr. Volker Schmitz, President of Schmalz Inc. (Raleigh, North Carolina). Engineers are no longer wedded to one tooling technology when designing a solution to meet end-users’ needs.

Motoman Robotics’ Software and Controls Technology Leader, Greg Garman, concurs. “The robot is able to pick multiple parts with the same gripper. End-effectors might have a parallel jaw gripper on one side, an angular gripper on another, and have suction cups on another side. Each tool can pick up different parts.”

Light Hand
Many consumer items and appliances, among others, require a light touch during the manufacturing or packaging process. “Vacuum is not an invasive grip and the strength of vacuum cups is well beyond their physical size. The air pressure of pneumatic grippers can be adjusted to dial-down the force of the grip,” says Robert Dalton, General Manager of SAS Automation LLC (Xenia, Ohio). Coating a gripper’s jaws with polyurethane or silicone is another way to deal with delicate parts without causing deformation.

Like Dalton, Tom Herdon, General Manager at FIPA Inc. (Cary, North Carolina), advocates operating vacuum tooling at a lower power level. “Turning down the vacuum or using different materials such as a soft rubber enables end-users to handle sensitive products. Rather than grabbing a product, surrounding and handling it from the outside works better,” Herdon says.

Obtaining information about delicate parts goes a long way in alleviating end-users’ reluctance to accept robotics in the production process says Brandon Schmutlzer, Design Engineer at the Vaccon Company Inc. (Medway, Massachusetts). “We get samples of the part from the end-user. If the end-user worries about lightweight glass cracking, we design our system around that concern by using adjustable pumps so not to pull too high of a vacuum on the part.”

Manufacturers are increasingly making use of radio frequency identification (RFID). Herdon says, “Integrators put RFID tags on the EOAT and the product being manufactured to ensure the correct tool is used for that product.”

Bin Picking
Random bin picking is the ability of vision-guided robots with appropriate tooling to pick haphazardly arrayed parts or components from a bin and place them for the next step in the manufacturing process. It is seen by many integrators and robot end-users as the ultimate application, not only in consumer goods and appliance manufacturing, but other industries as well.

Adil Shafi, President of ADVENOVATION Inc. (Houghton, Michigan) says, “Bin picking has come a long way. Random bin picking was difficult to implement in the past but has become easier to implement. I predict that by 2020, a number synonymous with perfect vision, bin picking will be mainstream in manufacturing.”

Shafi says some engineers define bin picking as simply removing parts arranged in one layer a form of bin picking, while others believe a robot is not bin picking unless parts are entangled together. “Bin picking is not a monolithic application but has many subclasses,” says Shafi. For more information about bin picking applications, view past Robotics Online feature articles on the topic (How to Implement Bin Picking… and The Pervasive Relevance of Bin Picking…).

Shafi will lead a webinar, The Basics of Robot End-Effectors, on Thursday, February 16, 12:00 PM through 1:00 PM EST. “I will cover the basics of each type of gripper and focus on compliant gripping,” previews Shafi.

To successfully execute random bin picking or combining more than one application in a single robotic work cell, integrators of the EOAT should consider how the entire production process is organized. “A good integrator should ask where the part came from before entering the work cell. If the part has a known orientation, a good integrator will try to prevent loosing that known orientation,” says Tom Sipple, Material Handling Technology Leader at Motoman Robotics.

The container from which parts are picked could also pose a challenge to integrators of bin picking applications, says Rick Bobzener, Engineering Manager at Tech-Con Automation Inc. (Burlington, Ontario, Canada). In one example, Bobzener says, “The design of the actual container was a challenge. Our robots could find [the parts], their angle, and interface the tool…to pick it up. The biggest problem was overhanging lips, deformed bins, and other features that created interference when bringing the part out of the bin.”

Pure random bin picking is still a “holy grail” of robotics and is not 100 percent yet, concludes Bobzener.Cake gripper, courtesy Applied Robotics Inc.

Robotic tooling covers a wide range of consumer goods and other products and processes. “Applied Robotics (Glenville, New York) has looked at grippers for everything from cups of gold nuggets to bundt cake pans to robotic bartenders,” says Gerry Morris, Application Engineer at Applied Robotics. “Design and implementation comes down to an object’s material, shape and required motion, as driven by a combination of the robot and end-effector.”

More Tools, More Apps Throughout All Industries
As tooling becomes more sophisticated and capable, new applications will open for robotics. “Because a greater variety of end-effectors are available now, robots are used in a wider range of applications, such as packaging and food processing and other wash-down applications,” says Hessler. “In the past five years, robots have been used in a wider range of applications than ever before because end-effectors can now function better in those environments.” Look to see this trend of robotics equipped with tooling of greater sophistication continuing and expanding, not only in the manufacturing of consumer goods and appliances, but throughout all industries.

2011 is Record-Breaking Year for North American Robotics Industry

February 6, 2012

(Ann Arbor, Michigan) North American robotics companies sold more robots in 2011 than ever before, according to new statistics from Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry’s trade group.

A total of 19,337 robots valued at $1.17 billion were sold to companies in North America, beating the previous record of 18,228 robots sold in 2005.  When sales by North American robot suppliers to companies outside North America are included, the totals are 22,126 robots valued at $1.35 billion.

Compared to 2010, North American orders were up 47% in units and 38% in dollars.  Helping fuel the increase was revitalized demand by the automotive industry, said Paul Kellett, Director of Market Analysis for RIA. “Robots sold to automotive component suppliers in North America jumped 77% over 2010, while robots sold to automotive OEMs increased.59%,” he noted.

Sales to non-automotive customers grew 27%, led by metalworking industries (+56%) and semiconductor/electronics/photonics (+24%).

In terms of applications, big increases were seen in spot welding (+78%), arc welding (+66%), assembly (+63%), coating & dispensing (+42%) and material handling (+30%).

The fourth quarter of 2011 was the strongest quarter ever recorded by RIA (the association began reporting data in 1984) in terms of units ordered with 5,721 robots valued at $317.5 million.  The fourth quarter was up 61% in units and 40% in dollars over the same period in 2010.

“The growing interest in automation combined with the strengthening of North American manufacturing industries, particularly automotive, contributed to a great year for the robotics industry,” said Jeff Burnstein, President of RIA.

“We sensed this early in the year when we had a very strong Automate 2011 show in Chicago in March.  Current users were telling us they were looking to purchase more robots, vision systems and related products and people who had never purchased a robot were showing strong interest in near-term purchases,” Burnstein added.

“Robot suppliers and integrators told us they were running full-out to meet customer demand and one of the limiting factors was a shortage of qualified application engineers and other technical people needed to develop and integrate new applications,” Burnstein noted.

“I think another factor we saw in 2011 was the decision by many US manufacturing companies to keep manufacturing at home by automating, and in some cases, bringing back manufacturing that had previously been sent overseas,” said John Dulchinos, President & CEO at Adept Technology, Pleasanton, California and Chair of RIA’s Statistical Collection Committee.

RIA estimates that some 213,000 robots are now at use in United States factories, placing the US second only to Japan in robot use.  “Many observers believe that only about 10% of the US companies that could benefit from robots have installed any so far,” Burnstein said.

Founded in 1974, RIA represents some 265 companies, including leading robot manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, research groups and consulting firms.  RIA’s quarterly statistics report is based on data supplied by member companies representing an estimated 90% of the North American market.

What will 2012 hold?  Burnstein said RIA does not make robotics sales forecasts but he believes that if the economy remains strong we should be looking at another good year for the robotics industry.

“Companies in every industry are now recognizing more than ever before that robotics provide unique benefits in terms of  improved quality, productivity, flexibility, time to market, and overall cost savings,” said Burnstein.  “We believe the future for robotics is very bright.”

For more information on RIA and the robotics industry, visit www.robotics.org or call RIA Headquarters at 734/994-6088.

Read the press release here.

RIA Members Explore Methods of Robotic Palletization

February 2, 2012

Occam’s Razor suggests that sometimes the simplest answer is the best answer. However, as industry professionals know, in the world of robotics it’s just as often that the easiest solution is not the best solution. In the case of Consumers Co-operative Refineries Ltd., the standard robotic vacuum palletizing system wasn’t going to work with their product. In order to solve CCRL’s palletization predicament, RIA Integrator Flexicell manufactured a different system of palletization.

Robotic Palletizing is a Slick Operation

Jack Mans, Plant Operations Editor — Packaging Digest

After investigating conventional palletizers, the company decided to go to a robotic system. Their palletizing system needed to be capable of handling two different products-cases and 5-gal plastic pails-simultaneously.

The robotic palletizer handles different size cases and 5-gal plastic pails— simultaneously. When changing case sizes, the operator selects the proper case size from the menu on the HMI, which adjusts the individual vacuum zones to match the case size.ereas cases are typically picked up by vacuum because their surfaces are flat, the pails have multiple fixtures on the lid, which disrupt the vacuum. This meant that another method would have to be used, such as mechanical jaws.

Also, the cases come in varying sizes. While only one case size runs at a time, CCRL could not afford any downtime between different products. A changeover had to happen quickly, meaning that the robot’s gripper needed to handle different case sizes on demand, while still being capable of moving the pails. This flexibility required a sophisticated end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) design.

To read the rest of the article at Packaging Digest, featuring RIA Integrator Flexicell, RIA supplier FANUC Robotics America Corp, and MCA Supplier Rockwell Automation, click here. When have you had to look beyond the standard answer to find a solution for a difficult problem?