AMT Reports Growth for Manufacturing in September

November 14, 2012

The Association For Manufacturing Technology recently released their September report on US manufacturing technologies, reflecting both a growth from the previous month and also from September of last year.

USMTO News Release for September Manufacturing

September U.S. manufacturing technology orders totaled $667.47 million according to AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology. This total, as reported by companies participating in the USMTO program, was up 40.7% from August and up 13.4% when compared with the total of $588.80 million reported for September 2011. With a year-to-date total of $4,282.11 million, 2012 is up 5.6% compared with 2011.

These numbers and all data in this report are based on the totals of actual data reported by companies participating in the USMTO program.

“In the 17 years that this data has been collected, there is only one other month that broke $600 million. Both of those were in months that reflected sales from IMTS, showing its strength as the largest manufacturing event in the Americas,” said Douglas K. Woods, AMT President. “It’s possible we could average $450 million a month for all of 2012 — the largest year ever for this program. This speaks to tremendous strength in the manufacturing industry, and is proof that IMTS 2012 was the strongest show seen in years.”

The United States Manufacturing Technology Orders (USMTO) report, compiled by the trade association representing the production and distribution of manufacturing technology, provides regional and national U.S. orders data of domestic and imported machine tools and related equipment. Analysis of manufacturing technology orders provides a reliable leading economic indicator as manufacturing industries invest in capital metalworking equipment to increase capacity and improve productivity.

Read the full report here at AMTonline. Was September a particularly good month for your business? Are you also noticing strong growth?

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North American Robotics Industry Up 20% in 2012

November 5, 2012

North American based robotics companies are in the midst of another strong year, with new orders up 20%, according to new statistics released by Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry’s trade group.

A total of 16,363 robots valued at $1.1 billion were ordered in the first nine months by companies in North America, an increase of 20% in units and 29% in dollars over the same period in 2011.  Including numbers from outside North America, the totals are 18,844 robots valued at $1.25 billion.

The automotive OEM and component suppliers remain the robotics industry’s biggest customers, accounting for 64% of the new orders through the third quarter.  Sales to these two segments rose 45% through September.

Other industries with increased robot orders include metalworking (up 13%) and life sciences/pharmaceutical/biomedical (up four percent).

“The strong automotive-related orders in 2012 are especially impressive given that sales to automotive tier suppliers and OEMS jumped by even greater amounts in 2011 (77% to automotive component suppliers, 59% to automotive OEMS),” said Jeff Burnstein, RIA’s President.

“The strong growth in 2012 continues to reinforce the significant value that robots provide as a productivity tool for major US manufacturing companies.  While automotive remains the largest market, interest across a wide range of both manufacturing and non-manufacturing companies continues to build and will provide the foundation for long-term industry growth,” said John Dulchinos, President & CEO at Adept Technology, who Chairs the RIA Statistics Committee and serves on the RIA Board of Directors.

RIA estimates that some 225,000 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, “and among those that have the most to gain from robots are small and medium sized companies.”

To help reach small and medium sized companies, RIA is one of the sponsors of Automate 2013, North America’s broadest automation solutions show and conference.  Slated for January 21-24 at Chicago’s McCormick Place, the event focuses on how robots, vision, motion control and related automation technologies can help solve challenges faced by companies of all sizes in every industry. The event is collocated with ProMat 2013, North America’s leading event for materials handling and logistics.

Drew Greenblatt, President of Marlin Steel, and Matt Tyler, President & CEO of Vickers Engineering will be among the business leaders discussing how automation helped make their small companies more successful global competitors.  They will participate in a special session following a free keynote address by Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor in Chief, Forbes Media, at 9 am on Tuesday morning, January 22. More than 150 companies will exhibit at Automate, including more than 30 complete system suppliers. For full show and conference details, visit www.automate2013.com.

Founded in 1974, RIA represents some 300 member companies, including leading robot manufacturers, 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.

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

See the original press release here.


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?


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 www.robotics.org or contact RIA Headquarters at 734/994-6088.


New Applications for Mobile Robots

April 6, 2012

by Bennett Brumson , Contributing Editor
Robotic Industries Association
Originally posted 04/05/2012

Mobility promises to be the next frontier in flexible robotics. While fixed robots will always have a place in manufacturing, augmenting traditional robots with mobile robots promises additional flexibility to end-users in new applications. These applications include medical and surgical uses, personal assistance, security, warehouse and distribution applications, as well as ocean and space exploration.

“We see increased interest in mobile robotics across all industries. The ability of one mobile robot to service several locations and perform a greatly expanded range of tasks offers a great appeal for specialized applications,” says Corey Ryan, Medical Account Manager at KUKA Robotics Corp. (Shelby Township, Michigan).

Autonomous mobile robot on the job, courtesy Adept Technology Inc.Mobile Apps
Mobile robots are proliferating says Rush LaSelle, Vice President and General Manager with Adept Technology Inc. (Pleasanton, California). “In the industrial space, mobile robots are redefining the playing field for autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) in that modern mobile platforms are capable of operating in areas without requiring alterations or investment into existing infrastructure. Mobile robots overcome a historical impediment of AGVs, their inability to dynamically reroute themselves. Mobile robots are outfitted with advanced sensory and enhanced intelligence systems.”

Reduced costs enable deploying both large and small fleets of vehicles in warehouse distribution and line-side logistics applications, LaSelle adds.

Mobile robots can be particularly useful in painting and de-painting applications, says Erik Nieves, Director of Technology in the Motoman Robotics Division of Yaskawa America Inc. (Miamisburg, Ohio). “Mobility is a force multiplier for robots and I see that in de-painting very large structures such as C-130 aircraft. Two fixed robots cannot de-paint an entire aircraft between them because they cannot reach everywhere.” More than two fixed robots constitutes too much hardware with very little throughput. “Each robot is painting a little piece then sit idle, parked more than moving,” says Nieves.

Nieves suggests that rather than adding additional fixed robots around the aircraft, end-users needs a way to have two robots deal with an entire aircraft. “To de-paint an entire aircraft with two robots, those two robots need to move.” Putting the robots on servo tracks or a gantry is unfeasible due to aircraft’s geometry. “Putting two seven-axis robots on mobile platforms and driving them around the aircraft” is a better solution, Nieves says.

Mobile robot working on aircraft wing, courtesy Southwest Research InstituteLikewise, Paul Hvass, Senior Research Engineer with the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI, San Antonio, Texas) says mobile robots facilitate cost-effective paint removal from large aircraft. “The motivation behind the development of our Metrology-Referenced Roving Accurate Manipulator (MR ROAM) was to demonstrate high-accuracy, industrial-grade mobile manipulation for very large workspaces, an enabling capability for applications like aircraft paint stripping. SwRI has a 25-year history of developing, deploying, and supporting custom robots for fighter jet paint stripping and other large scale applications.”

Hvass goes on to say, “To economically strip paint from larger planes, mobile automation is needed. In the future, we envision mobile robots developed for large-scale tasks including aerospace, off-shore, and road, bridge, and building construction. These robots will initially undertake light-duty tasks such as painting, cleaning, and inspection before moving on to heavier-duty tasks as mobile robotic technology matures,” Hvass concludes.

Medical/Surgical Applications
Corey Ryan talks about potential uses of mobile robotics in medical and other life sciences applications. “Medical applications are always a growing field with huge untapped applications like drug delivery, or the development of mobile treatment systems for specialized equipment.”

People and mobile robots working collaboratively, courtesy RMT Robotics Ltd.Autonomous mobile robots (AMR) can play a role in assisting doctors in surgical procedures, says, Bill Torrens, Director of Sales and Marketing with RMT Robotics Ltd. (Grimsby, Ontario, Canada). “AMR technology is applied in surgical applications. Based on inputs, the robot arm assists the surgeon to perform a task. Path-planning algorithms move the robot autonomously.”

Sean Thompson, Applications Engineer at MICROMO (Clearwater, Florida) sees an increase use of robotics for automated prosthesis fabrication. “Minimizing motor size helps make prostheses more related to the natural human form. That comes down to applying power to build prostheses that more closely emulates the body’s natural capabilities.”

Danger Seeker
Mobile robots can access areas dangerous to humans, says, Andrew Goldenberg, President of Engineering Services Inc. (ESI, Toronto, Ontario, Canada). “Mobile robots are used to reach inaccessible areas such as nuclear power plants. Mobile robotics are very useful in nuclear environments with high levels of radiation, particularly during a disaster or threat of a disaster.”

Goldenberg goes on to say, “Some companies are using robotics underwater while others want to develop robotics for military applications, shoreline exploration of mines, and for repairing a ship’s structure.” ESI is involved with mobile robots for space exploration, such as rovers remotely moving on Mars.

Mobile robot bristling with sensors on tracks, courtesy Engineering Services Inc.As a caveat, Goldenberg says, “Current robotics are not quite sufficiently designed to withstand high radiation affecting their electronic circuitry. Some attempts to design mobile robotics specifically for use in this environment have been made.”

Wireless communication with mobile robots is still a challenge, says Goldenberg. “If mobile robots go underground or in areas of low connectivity like subway tunnels, control of the robot could be lost.”

Hvass also talks about communication to and from mobile robots. “If the robot communicates with infrastructure over a wireless link, that link is vulnerable due to bandwidth sharing, variable distances between radios, obstructions, and non-deterministic protocols.”

Mobile robots for use in inaccessible areas is also on the mind of Sean Thompson. “We see more interest in undersea robotics with smaller non-tethered robots used by research facilities. Aerial robotics tends to go either way, smaller platforms and larger platforms, depending on the mission. Camera packages have gotten smaller which allow aerial robots to roam at lower altitudes in shorter distances on smaller aircraft. These remote-controlled aircraft are collecting highly-detailed and accurate video.”

Thompson speaks of other military applications of mobile robotics. “Troopers could carry heavier loads with robotic pack dogs and exoskeletons. This technology is different from replacing a service dog but will be commonplace in five to 10 years.”

LaSelle also sees mobile robotics utilized for patrol and monitoring applications. “Another key expansion of mobile robotics has been in monitoring, security and patrolling. Patrolling applications provide users with the ability to monitor intrusion, thermal and other environmental conditions. A key area of activity has been the monitoring and patrol of vacant properties as well as warehousing spaces.” This increased ability is due to the reliability and low costs attributed to autonomous vehicle patrol capabilities, LaSelle says.

Thermal monitoring is of special interest to Internet server farms and other sensitive electronic or mechatronic systems. Water ingress is also commonly monitored by way of mobile robotics, LaSelle notes.

Mobile robots are finding their way into other non-industrial applications. “The reduced cost of deployment and ownership mobile robots have extended their reach into non-factory applications. The current generation of smart vehicles is leading hospitals, laboratories, and some offices to employ mobile robots to alleviate the use of skilled labor for mundane transport tasks.”

Continuing, LaSelle adds, “Mobility is already the norm in service applications and this sector is primed for tremendous growth. Service robotics is expected to overshadow the industrial robot sector in a matter of a few years. Adept believes mobile robots will be an exciting area in coming years,” reports LaSelle.

Mobility=Lean
The vision of truly lean manufacturing is being realized through mobile robotics says Torrens. “Mobile robotics connect islands of automation. The last frontier of lean manufacturing facilitates the connection between manufacturing work cells. Mobile robots are now used for transporting materials from donation areas and taking these raw materials to a work cell.”

Torrens says mobile robotics provides a much higher level of flexibility for manufacturers. “For example, a manufacturing facility normally delivers a bin of 100 parts for a machine to work on. This is an example of batch processing, not lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturing embraces a piece-work philosophy, or a smaller batch philosophy. If taking one piece at a time to a machine, manufacturers have more flexibility with robotic transport between manufacturing cells. That approach is lean manufacturing as originally intended.”

Torrens believes “mobile robots have finally achieved the goals of what the factory of the future was supposed to look like. The machines were in place but the transport logistic was not.” Mobile robotics provides that logistical support, argues Torrens. “To realize lean manufacturing, robots must be highly intelligent and able to autonomously deliver parts from any random origin to any random destination. Mobile robot technology up to this point has been unable to deliver materials in a just-in-time way.”

LaSelle anticipates mobile robotics serving the ends of lean manufacturing through processing of optimal batch sizes in warehouse and palletizing applications. “Adept sees the combination of mobility and manipulation as a powerful combination as evident in the increasing demand for case-picking applications. Companies want to move smaller batch sizes throughout their facilities.” End-users want to move less than a full pallet from a warehouse to a production line, concludes LaSelle.

“Companies look for solutions to pick cases or parts individually within a warehouse as compared to pulling a full rack. As this trend continues, expect to see more demand for systems encompassing mobility, manipulation, and vision. Given the rate of technological advancement and drive for smaller batch sizes in manufacturing, we will see mobile robots become a staple in a large cross section of manufacturing within the next six to seven years,” foresees LaSelle.

Autonomous Locomotion
Genuine independent mobility is necessary for robotics to add significant value to manufacturing says Erik Nieves. “Mobility moves robots from being machines to production partners. The robot has to move to the work but if the robot is bolted to the floor and has no work before that robot, the robot is adding zero value to the production process.” Bringing a mobile robot to where production is rather than bringing production to a fixed robot is the philosophical underpinning of mobile robotics, Nieves says.

Any mobile platform must address issues relating to power, navigation, and calibration, says Nieves. “Instead of mobile robots tethered to a source of power through an umbilical, the robot will dock to a power source when reaching a point of interest, to recharge while working.” On-board power simply keeps the robot mobile during transit.

Nieves turns his attention to navigation, or “How the robot gets from A to B autonomously. Using simultaneous localization and mapping, the mobile robot can go from one station to the next largely on its own with without many changes to the facility. To change the mobile robot’s path, [a number of guidance] labels are put somewhere else,” describes Nieves.

Calibration, the final element in Nieves’ approach, is a measure of how close the robot gets to it intended destination. “The robot must calibrate itself to the machine in front of it every time it arrives at one. Calibration is done by some means, such as touching off on three points or using a vision sensor to allow the robot to determine its location.”

Kiva Systems’ (North Reading, Massachusetts) automated warehouse system is an example of mobile robots quickly and efficiently fulfilling customers’ orders. The robot-based system impressed on-line retail giant Amazon.com (Seattle, Washington) enough to acquire Kiva in March 2012.

Going Mobile
As with any new, cutting-edge technology, mobile robotics has yet to become the norm in manufacturing. “In heavy or unusual payload applications, mobile robotic platforms are becoming increasingly common along with a great deal of interest in small mobile platforms. Given the current level of technology already used in mobile platforms, these products will likely become very common within the next five to 10 years,” says Corey Ryan.

To do so, the robotics industry will need to continue educating end-users on the potential of mobile robotics. For more information on service robots, check out the 2011 feature article on Robotics Online: Service Robots and their Rapid Rise in Multiple Markets.

To read the original posting, click here.


Robotics in Michigan – Recharging Our Future!

April 5, 2012

Robotics Luminaries from Around the State Converge on U of M to Promote Michigan as a Global Leader in Robotics and Autonomous Vehicles

ANN ARBOR, MI – March 28, 2012. The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS), in partnership with the University of Michigan, will host the Second Annual Michigan Robotics Day on Monday, April 9, 2012.

This event is open to anyone who wants to learn about the incredible advances made by Michigan’s robotics technology sector with a strong emphasis on companies who would like to do business in Michigan. The event also highlights Michigan’s vibrant science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) community and its outstanding research universities. Robotics industry experts will meet with University researchers and students to promote the State as a global force in robotics and autonomous vehicles.

“Michigan is positioned to lead the world in robotics innovation,” said NCMS President & CEO Rick Jarman. “Consider the massive talent and infrastructure that already exists here in the state. Design and deployment of robotics technology will ultimately depend on advanced manufacturing – exactly the kind of capability in which Michigan companies excel.”

The daylong event will highlight the promise of robotics in Michigan, and confirm the field as an economic development engine for the State. The highlight of the event will be a keynote by Professor Lawrence Burns, a noted expert on next generation vehicle technology, including autonomous vehicles, transportation energy, and connected vehicles. Professor Burns is working with Google’s autonomous vehicle project and formerly served as Vice President of R&D for General Motors.

The day will include demonstrations of autonomous vehicles from leading automakers, robots from many state research institutions, and FIRST high school robotics teams demonstrating the next generation’s commitment to the technology. Student teams will have the chance to meet leaders in the robotics world, garner feedback for their work, and begin networking within the industry.

“Robotics represents a cradle-to-career opportunity for Michigan students,” said Phil Callihan, an Executive Director at NCMS. “They can start in high school, competing with FIRST robotics teams, do cutting edge research at our universities, and then work at Michigan companies who are global leaders in their field. This is an opportunity for long-term job growth, innovation, and success.”

The event takes place on April 9, 2012, starting at 9:00 a.m. Attendance is free and the public is welcome, with lunch provided for those who register by April 2. Registration, agenda and speaker bios for this event are available at: http://www.mirobotics.org/

Read the original press release here.


American Manufacturing — the Comeback Kid?

March 20, 2012

After an economic downturn, it’s always a relief to see industries buoy back to its pre-recession numbers. If you’re looking for good news in the manufacturing industry, there’s a lot of it. And while it’s nice to see some recovery, there are ways to bolster manufacturing’s rise.

American manufacturing is on the rise. According to the latest figures from the Labor Department, the nation’s factories added 50,000 jobs in January—their strongest showing in a year—on top of 32,000 jobs in December.

Overall, employers added 243,000 jobs in January, the most in nine months. Manufacturing was the second-biggest gainer, behind professional and business services.

Employment numbers aren’t the only indication that manufacturing activity is picking up. According to the Institute for Supply Management, growth in new factory orders rose to a nine-month high in January. And, vehicle sales in January rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 14.2 million, the briskest pace in several years.

However, U.S. manufacturers are not out of the woods yet. Although the sector added 404,000 jobs from January 2010 to January 2012, it’s still down 3 million jobs from January 2003. And, the 11.8 million manufacturing jobs tabulated in January 2012 is still a fraction of the peak level of 19.5 million in 1979. […]

Keeping the U.S. manufacturing sector on the upswing will require the coordinated action of business, labor, academia and government. Just such a plan was published in December by the Council on Competitiveness. Based in Washington, DC, the council is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to elevating U.S. productivity and leadership in world markets and raising the standard of living for all Americans.

What are your thoughts on the manufacturing market? Do you agree with the article’s five points of action? Or is there something you would add?

To read the full Assembly Magazine article, click here.