Robots Give Solar Power Competitive Edge

October 31, 2012
With countries and companies looking for ways to utilize alternative energy sources, technology has made some significant leaps. However, new technology can take time to catch on, and alternative energy is often still an expensive endeavor. A company we recently highlighted, QBotix, reappears alongside German robot Momo, both making long strides towards keeping solar energy production cost effective and efficient.
Behind a high fence in Menlo Park, Calif. a gray, tuna-shaped robot glides on a monorail around 20 solar panel arrays attached to steel poles, like WALL-E on a Disneyland ride. The Solbot, made by startup QBotix, stops at each array and extends a cylindrical arm to adjust the angle of the photovoltaic panels so they capture the most amount of sun as it moves across the sky and through the seasons.

Meanwhile, in Germany a giant robotic arm that looks like it escaped from an automotive factory and mated with an Army tank rumbles through a field, plucking 300-pound solar panels from a pallet and installing them on steel racks. The robot is called Momo, and two of them can do the work of the 250 laborers needed to build a 100-megawatt photovoltaic power plant, its creator claims.

Solar power’s race to become competitive with fossil fuel has been aided hugely by the steep price drops in recent years for photovoltaic modules. Down 40% in the past year, PV modules now account for only about a third of the cost of a power plant. That has left developers scrambling for other ways to cut costs. “To be honest, there hadn’t been that much innovation happening,” says Martin Simonek, a solar analyst with research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance in London. “There’re only so many ways you can put panels on the roof or the ground.” So attention turned to such things as streamlining permitting and other paperwork and reducing the number of nuts and bolts needed to assemble a solar array.

Boring. It’s time to welcome our new robotic overlords, as startups like QBotix exploit advances in sensor technology and automation to cut solar power plant costs.

Read the full article at Forbes. How do you see robots helping alternative energy gain a competitive edge in their industry?

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Same Day Delivery will Alter Retailer Supply Chain

October 29, 2012

With the first choice for purchasing consumer goods tends to be from online retailers with cheaper prices, the one thing that gives many people pause is the immediacy of need. Able to wait a week for your package to arrive? No problem. But when someone needs a purchase today, their business usually goes to physical retailers.

Or maybe not. Online retailers and package carriers show a growing interest in “same day service.” With many online retailers utilizing more and more automation techniques, such as warehouse robots, a change in the supply chain could have an influence on the automation industries.

Get ready to say goodbye to the supply chain as we know it
by Mitch Mac Donald

As for what the future holds, Forrester predicts that online sales, which hit $200 billion in 2011, will grow 60 percent over the next five years. Business-to-consumer transactions already make up more than 40 percent of all parcel traffic, a ratio that’s bound to increase.

Given these trends, it seems clear the supply chain of 2020 will look radically different than it does today. Truckload carriers will be running at less-than-truckload distances. Multiple air and ground hubs will spring up. Warehouses and DCs will be designed and located strictly with the direct-to-consumer model in mind, and they will operate in round-the-clock-mode with robots breaking down pallets into small shipments at a pace manual labor can’t match. Regional parcel carriers who’ve long labored in the shadow of UPS and FedEx will thrive as demand spikes for the short-haul, flexible delivery services that are their specialty. And there will be new job opportunities as shippers, carriers, third parties, and warehouses create high-level positions dedicated to running e-commerce.

Most, if not all, of the strategy and execution will be aimed at satisfying a new class of power broker: the end user.

Read the full article here at DC Velocity. What are your predictions for how the supply chain will evolve? How will this effect the automation industries?


Robot Dances “Gangnam Style”

October 26, 2012

Sometimes a pop phenomenon makes a bigger splash than ever anticipated — this robot, designed for firefighting fighting on US Navy vessels, has picked up the “Gangnam Style” dance craze.

Read the full article on the military capabilities of this dancing king at NBCNews.com.


Packaging World Reports on Robot Trends

October 24, 2012

There have been a lot of new trends in the robotics industry in the past year, from additive manufacturing to Baxter. Industry magazine Packaging World recently reflected on four trends it’s seeing particularly in packaging and handling robotics.

Trends in robotics and best practices for buying and specifying
by Brian Kelly

1. Sanitary design. Certain robots have recently been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for handling meat and poultry products. As meat and poultry processing is a messy business, these robots are now being built with sophisticated coatings, seals, and parts to withstand all the substances involved. Many improvements were made to pass the strict hygiene requirements: from using food-grade grease, to manipulators engineered to be completely clean and smooth, hollow arms to keep all cabling and wiring protected, and joints constructed without crevices where mold or bacteria can build up.
2. Flexibility due to more powerful controls. Today’s robots use more powerful controllers that interface more easily to other equipment on your line. With this added power comes the ability to better respond to variations in packing and palletizing patterns demanded by different retailer customers.
Read the full article, along with some tips on buying robot equipment, here at Packaging World. What trends or tips would you add to the list?

Robots Prep 1 Million Doses of Medicine

October 22, 2012

Medicine strives not only to cure our sicknesses and make us feel better but also to prevent us from getting sick in the first place. The pharmaceutical industry has employed robots to help fill and package medicine, taking extra care to make sure the doses are prepared in a sterile environment and using automation to safe guard against contamination.

Robotic IV Automation (RIVA) System Has Provided More Than 1 Million Medication Doses Safely and Accurately

RIVA eliminates cross-contamination and errors in delicate medication preparations. The exacting robotic system not only automates crucial compounding processes that are vulnerable to human error, but uses UV pulse disinfection for medication bags and vials to eliminate bacterial and fungal contamination. The device’s advanced technology also provides clean air flow that is critical to ensuring a sterile environment for compounding. RIVA’s safety record has been demonstrated by more than 50,000 routine quality control checks at 27 RIVA sites that have found no contamination in compounds produced by the machines.

RIVA systems have been installed in hospital pharmacies and compounding pharmacies, both of which need to produce high volumes of made-to-order medications safely and accurately. RIVA allows pharmacies to prepare compounded medications in compliance with the most stringent pharmacy regulations, with the added benefits of significantly reducing the cost-per-dose and reducing vulnerability to medication shortages. The system provides a complete electronic audit trail that identifies every product being used, weighs the medications pre- and post-mixture and labels every dispensed product.

Read the full brief here at Robotics Tomorrow. What are other ways you see robots being used to increase the safety and productivity of the pharmaceutical industry?


Robots Bring in the Harvest

October 18, 2012

Even though farming is perhaps one of the oldest professions, modern farmers are anything but behind the times when it comes to agricultural technology. Horse-pulled ploughs are a nostalgic memory for farmers who ride GPS-guided combines. Still, there are some aspects of farming that require a gentler touch. Now robotic technology is being developed to help bring in the fruit harvest, a labor that requires a little more love.

Agricultural Robots Face The Next Frontier: Harvest
by Owen Fletcher

Orange groves, too, have been targeted for automation. Energid Technologies Corp., of Cambridge, Mass., is working on a truck-mounted prototype with a large hydraulic arm. As the arm maneuvers around the orange tree, two forked pickers move in and out like a frog’s tongue. Cameras locate the oranges, and the pickers knock the pieces of fruit loose. The oranges, destined for juice, are picked up from the ground by hand, but another machine could be developed later to do this as well.

Machines already exist that grab orange trees and shake their fruit loose. But Energid’s approach is designed to do less damage to the trees and doesn’t require low branches to be removed before use, says James English, president and chief technical officer of Energid.

Read the full article at The Wall Street Journal. Interested in learning more about agricultural robotics? We’ll be discussing them at the RIA 2013 Robotics Industry Forum.


Automating the Lab

October 16, 2012

Lab work is a delicate job, but robots are proving that they have the gentle touch that’s needed. From sorting to cell culturing, automation helps satisfy the demanding nature of developing medical work. Robotics Online’s contributing editor Bennett Brumson explores the recent trends in various industries that require lab work and how robots are meeting the challenge.

Robots in the Lab
by Bennett Brumson

Henry Loos, Application Engineer with Applied Robotics Inc. (Glenville, New York) says “Laboratory, life science and pharmaceutical robots perform many mundane and error-prone tacks such as mixing, picking, placing and sampling. More importantly, robots perform tasks in environments hazardous to humans, either biologically or pharmacologically.”

Error-proofing is also on the mind of Stäubli’s David Arceneaux, who says, “Humans can make mistakes. Taking the human element out of the equation and utilizing robotic automation is a viable solution” to preventing errors in medical device and pharmaceutical production.

The inherent flexibility of robotics lends itself to pharmaceutical, biomedical and life science applications, says, Joseph Fox, Vice President of Marketing and Sales at Systematix Inc. (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada).

“Flexibility, the ability to use capital over again for different kinds of elements in a product family or different products all together, is the biggest trend in laboratory, pharmaceutical and life science applications. In the next three years, the robotics industry will build on that flexibility,” says Fox. “Flexible systems are the norm not the exception in life sciences, pharmaceutical, biomedical applications. The ability to reuse capital equipment has become much more important. Manufacturing costs in the life sciences business are more focused on mutual manufacturing activity.”

Flexibility of capital equipment has become vital in the life sciences industry, Fox says. “Flexibility is necessary, especially in medical device manufacturing because those devices have become more complicated, smaller and utilize very sophisticated materials that have very precise requirements. The industry continually drives towards flexibility, to spread costs of robots over many different kinds of products.”

Read the full article at Robotics Online. What other extra-care-required applications do you see robotics growing into?