North American Robotics Industry Posts Best Quarter Ever

July 30, 2012

North American Robotics Industry Posts Best Quarter Ever, According to New Statistics from RIA

Ann Arbor, Michigan – North American robotics companies sold more industrial robots in the second quarter of 2012 than any previous quarter in history, according to new statistics released by Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry’s trade group.

A total of 5,556 robots valued at $403.1 million were sold to North American companies, a jump of 14% in units and 28% in dollars over the same quarter in 2011.  Orders in the first half of 2012 totaled 10,652 robots valued at $747 million, increases of 20% in units and 29% in dollars over the same period last year.

“Obviously, we’re thrilled about the great results so far this year,” said Jeff Burnstein, President of RIA.  The strong sales reflect increased demand for robotics in industries such as automotive, plastics & rubber, and metals.  However, as the economy slows, it’s not clear that these numbers will remain as strong heading forward.”

Orders for spot welding robots, used primarily in automotive solutions, jumped 68% in the first half of 2012.  Other big jumps were seen in coating & dispensing (+42%), arc welding (+20%), and assembly (+19%).  Material removal orders, a smaller application area, rose 364 percent.

Automotive related orders accounted for 65% of units and 64% of dollars in the first half of 2012.  This represents sharp gains of 44% in units and 56% in dollars over the opening half of 2011.

“It’s great that the auto related numbers continue to post huge gains, but as we know, automotive industry purchases are cyclical,” Burnstein explained.  “However, we were disappointed to see non-automotive related orders fall eight percent in units and one percent in dollars in the first half of the year, with even sharper declines in the second quarter alone.”

RIA estimates that some 220,000 robots are now used in the United States, placing the US second only to Japan in robot use.

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

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


3D Printing Creates Yoda Model

July 27, 2012

Happy Friday! To end our week on 3D printing, we wanted to find an example of it in action — it may not be a manufacturing application, but it’s still a pretty fun demonstration!

The Possibilities of 3D Printing

July 26, 2012

It’s one thing to talk about how 3D printing and additive manufacturing will influence the automation industry — it’s another to see the products of a new technology. Now the production of these particular objects will probably have little impact on the market, but they all demonstrate new applications for 3D printing that could soon be making waves in traditional manufacturing.

10 3D printed objects that defy traditional manufacturing
by Chris Waldo

Gyro The Cube
This design by Shapeways user Virtox isn’t new, but it is more than explosive within the 3D printing world. Not only does this model offer high detail, hollowed sections, and a complex center – but it is a functional object. If you haven’t seen it “in action,” I highly recommend that you watch this video. Gyro The Cube is an exceptional example of a fully functional object coming straight from a 3D printer. Details here.

3d gyro the cube
Objet’s 3D Printed Toddler
At least to my knowledge, not a single style of manufacturing can do something similar to what Objet did with this print. This “child,” with visible internal bone structure, is composed of multiple materials, all created layer-by-layer. Look at the levels of intricacy for yourself. Traditional manufacturing can’t even attempt something like this. Detail here.

3d printed toddler

Take a look at all ten objects at 3D Printer. Is the production of a transparent doll going to send shock waves through the industry? No, but the possibility of multiple material 3D printing might. How do you see 3D printing’s capabilities impacting traditional systems?

3D Printing – Two Sides of the Story

July 25, 2012

There’s no question that 3D printing has become a main talking point in the manufacturing industry — but is all the noise worth the headache? Technology Review recently ran two articles that took opposite stands on the spectrum of 3D printing. Christopher Mims’ begins by arguing that 3D printing has no long-term place in manufacturing — and that the problem is conceptual.

Why 3-D Printing Will Go the Way of Virtual Reality

This isn’t just premature, it’s absurd. 3-D printing, like VR before it, is one of those technologies that suggest a trend of long and steep adoption driven by rapid advances on the systems we have now. And granted, some of what’s going on at present is pretty cool—whether it’s in rapid prototyping, solid-fuel rockets, bio-assembly or just giant plastic showpieces.

But the notion that 3-D printing will on any reasonable time scale become a “mature” technology that can reproduce all the goods on which we rely is to engage in a complete denial of the complexities of modern manufacturing, and, more to the point, the challenges of working with matter.

Let’s start with the mechanism. Most 3-D printers lay down thin layers of extruded plastic. That’s great for creating cheap plastic toys with a limited spatial resolution. But printing your Mii or customizing an iPhone case isn’t the same thing as firing ceramics in a kiln or smelting metal or mixing lime with sand at high temperatures to produce glass—unless you’d like everything that’s currently made from those substances to be replaced with plastic, and there are countless environmental, health, and durability reasons you don’t.

However, on the other side of the aisle, Tim Maly argues that — like so many technologies before it — 3D printing’s beginnings don’t matter as much as that 3D printing began. Every advanced technology that we have today only exists because of its overwrought, clumsy inception. Now that we have a point of beginning for 3D printing, the technology has the chance to evolve from there.

Why 3-D Printing Isn’t Like Virtual Reality

Chris is right that 3-D printing as it stands isn’t a replacement for the contemporary industrial supply chain. It’s clearly a transitional technology. The materials suck. The resolution is terrible. The objects are fragile. You can’t recycle the stuff.

Maybe early home 3-D printers use only plastic and can only make objects that fall within certain performance restrictions. Maybe it starts out as, like, jewelry, the latest model toys, and parts for Jay Leno’s car. But there’s no way that lasts. People are already working on the problem. They are working especially hard on the materials problem.

Is there a moderate position on 3D printing? Or is there only the partisan all-or-nothing approach?

Read the full articles at the Technology Review here:
Why 3-D Printing Will Go the Way of Virtual Reality
Why 3-D Printing Isn’t Like Virtual Reality

Manufacturing Evolves with 3D Printing

July 23, 2012

Traditional manufacturing is a complex system of many moving parts, robots, belts, scanners, and more. The finished product that is delivered to customers has gone through many processes, from cutting to molding to welding. But what if instead of a complicated system with different task assigned to different machines, there was just one machine that could do it all?

How 3D printing will change the world
by Duncan McLeod

The Economist, in an April cover story, suggested that 3D printing, also sometimes referred to as additive manufacturing, would lead to the digitisation of manufacturing and bring about the third industrial revolution.

“The old way of making things involved taking lots of parts and screwing or welding them together,” the magazine wrote in a leader. “Now a product can be designed on a computer and ‘printed’ on a 3D printer, which creates a solid object by building up successive layers of material… In time, these amazing machines may be able to make almost anything, anywhere — from your garage to an African village.”

[…] The Connex printer seen by TechCentral this week has eight print heads and can print from more than one cartridge, with more than 100 source materials available.

Kleynhans explains that the applications for 3D printing are almost limitless. “It’s applicable to any industry that wants to do fit, form and function testing,” he says. “If you take a computer-aided design, or whatever you’ve designed, be it toys, consumer goods, packaging or engineering goods, you can create prototypes and, in some rare instances, final product.”

Perhaps one of the most intriguing things about 3D printing is its accessibility. Startups no longer need their own factories — all they need is enough capital to get their product to a 3D printer.

3-D printing: the shape of things to come
By Matthew Knight

Lispon says the commercial 3-D printer market is now growing exponentially, likening the change to the switch from mainframe computers to desktop during the 1980s.

You can now buy printers for $1,000 going up to around $500,000, he says. But you might not need one at all.

“If you’re interested in, say, making iPhone covers and you wanted to make them high quality, you could send the file online and it could be shipped overnight to you or your customer. So, essentially there is a cloud manufacturing model that is happening that is allowing people to do this,” Lipson said.

It’s not too soon to start considering the impact 3D printing will have on the manufacturing industry, robotics, and automation as a whole. How do you see 3D printing changing your industry?

Read the full articles at:
How 3D printing will change the world at TechCentral.
3-D printing: the shape of things to come at CNN.

This Robot’s No Pushover

July 20, 2012

This robot may be a little top heavy, but it still manages to tackle those stairs with great tenacity.

While an amazing leap in robot technology, robots used in automation rarely share such physical similarity with humans. How could we apply this sort of technology to our businesses and industries?

Read more about the project here.

Robots to Refuel Satellites in Zero Gravity

July 18, 2012

Robots are used to working in extreme or dangerous conditions, but this is a new challenge — one which will cause engineers to rethink all the axioms they’ve come to associate with a standard environment. NASA is hoping to find a solution to the growing space clutter in our atmosphere by using a robot to refuel dying satellites. However, satellites were never designed to be refueled — making an already unique challenge even more difficult.

NASA Tests Robotic Gas Station Attendant for Outer Space
By Katharine Gammon

The agency’s Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office has identified 242 end-of-lifers destined to run out of gas in the next five to six years. The challenge is that, for now, before a satellite leaves the ground, technicians fill its fuel tank and seal it—for good. “No satellite in orbit was designed to be serviced, because no servicer exists,” says Ben Reed, an engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Head over to Wired to read the full article and watch the concept video. What sort of special considerations will the engineers have to take into account when designing a robot to work in zero gravity?