Industry Pros See Positive Outlook for Robotics in 2013

January 8, 2013

December always wraps up with a look at the past year and January always starts with a look towards the future. What will 2013 bring for the robotics industry? Bennett Brumon checks in with several top industry professionals to see what trends and market shifts they’re predicting.

Robotics Industry Expected to Thrive in 2013
by Bennett Brumon , Contributing Editor

Most players in the robotics industry are sanguine on the prospects of nearly all applications in 2013. “I think 2013 will be awesome. General industry is historically two years behind the rebound of the automotive industry, following an economic downturn. The automotive industry did not buy anything for a few years then came on strong,” says Edward Minch, Automotive Group Director of Sales and Engineering at Kawasaki Robotics (USA) Inc. (Wixom, Michigan). “General industry is taking care of capital investment it ignored during the recession.”

Likewise, Mick Estes, General Manager at FANUC Robotics America Corp. (Rochester Hills, Michigan) says, “I expect to see continued growth in the automotive industry with increasing investment of robotics in the power train sector. Tier Two suppliers continue to invest in robotics to remain competitive on the world market.”

Estes also anticipates strong growth in general industry. “Packaging and palletizing applications as well as assembly for the general industrial market will increase.”

John Bubnikovich, Executive Director of Marketing and Business Development at ABB Inc. (Auburn Hills, Michigan) speaks of the continuing role of the automotive sector within the robotics industry. “The automotive sector still accounts for 65 percent of the North American robotics market. Automotive’s revitalization has been very influential in the great bounce-back the robotics industry has seen recently.”

Bubnikovich goes on to say, “Robotic laser cutting is emerging as an optimal means to cut and trim hot-stamped steel, a light weight, high strength material increasingly used in the automotive industry to reduce the overall cost and weight of cars while improving passenger safety and fuel economy.”

Bin picking is one application several leaders in the robotics industry have high hopes for in 2013. “I see rapid expansion of three-dimensional bin picking, the ability to retrieve randomly arranged products from a bin,” says John Burg, President of Ellison Technologies Automation (Council Bluffs, Iowa).

Terry Zarnowski, Director of Sales and Marketing with Schneider Packaging Equipment Co. Inc. (Brewerton, New York) has a similar outlook for the prospects of bin picking in 2013. “Bin picking is now a viable reality.”

Minch sees advancements in vision technology combined with improved force sensing, as one of numerous bright spots for the robotics industry. “These advancements will help the robotics industry penetrate into new markets, such as consumer electronic equipment and automotive component assembly and random bin picking. Robots can ‘see’ and have a sense of touch. Force sensors use feedback from servomotors to tell how hard the robot is pushing on a part during assembly processes such as driving a screw.”

Read more at Robotics Online. What trends do you see for the robotics industry in 2013?

To see more of the latest robotics technology, come to Automate 2013, Jan. 21-24 in Chicago. See live demos, talk with industry pros, and find your automation solution! We’ve designed Automate 2013 with small and medium sized businesses in mind so start the new year off right — register for your free show pass today!


The Automate Show Opens Soon — Get Your Free Show Pass Today!

January 2, 2013

We are just weeks away from the opening of the 2013 Automate Show in Chicago! If you’re considering automation to improve and grow your company this year, come to Automate to see live demos, talk with industry professionals, and find the solution that’s perfect for you! Read the press release below for more information or register for your free show pass here.

(Ann Arbor, Michigan) Conference registration is now open for Automate 2013, North America’s leading automation event that takes place January 21-24 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

“The 2013 Conference is the strongest we’ve ever put together,” says Jeff Burnstein, President of the Association for Advancing Automation, the main organizer of Automate 2013.

“We’re gearing many sessions to small and medium sized companies who are new users or considering using robotics, vision, motion control, and other automation technologies,” Burnstein asserts. One of the featured sessions highlights small company executives who have successfully automated in order to become stronger global competitors. Speakers include Drew Greenblatt, President, Marlin Steel, Torben Christensen, President, Wiscon Products and Matt Tyler, President & CEO, Vickers Engineering.

“I think companies considering automating will find this session fascinating because it will provide real-world examples of companies who would have had to either go out of business or send manufacturing offshore but instead succeeded by automating,” Burnstein said.

Other key topics covered in the conference include the fundamentals of robotics and the fundamentals of vision, new developments in industrial robot safety, new motor and drive technologies, robotics system integration, motion control technology for increasing throughput, and practical applications using vision guided robots.

More than 75 industry experts from around the world will give presentations at the five-day conference (ending January 25). Keynote speakers include Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media and Henrik Christensen, Director of Robotics at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Professionals in the vision industry can take special classes that are required to earn the highly-coveted Certified Vision Professional (CVP) designation. The CVP is offered at both the Basic and Advanced Levels, with testing also offered at Automate 2013.

The Automate conference is accompanied by a four-day trade show featuring exhibits from some 150 leading automation companies. It offers a broad-range of automation solutions for packaging, welding, assembly, material removal, inspection, painting & coating, and other leading applications.

Burnstein said the front of the show is dedicated to exhibits from system integrators, the ideal starting point for users just beginning to investigate automation or those looking for new ideas. “The integrators are the ones who put successful solutions together, so they are extremely important to the user community,” he noted.

Another show-floor highlight will be Expert Huddles, small group discussions on key topics of interest to users. “These huddles will feature industry experts leading the discussion – among the topics will be return on investment, the best first tasks for automation, and how to select a system integrator. We expect to have more than 75 huddles throughout the show and all of them are free to show and conference attendees.”

Trade show attendance is free (16 and over required). Fees are required for the Automate 2013 conference. Full details can be found at www.automate2013.com. Automate 2013 is collocated with ProMat (sponsored by the Material Handling Industry of America). ProMat is North America’s premier material handling and logistics show. “Having both of these shows together gives attendees a chance to explore the state of the art in automation solutions as well as seeing what’s coming next for both the automation and material handling industries,” Burnstein noted.

About the Organizer
Automate is organized by the Association for Advancing Automation, the not-for-profit umbrella corporation of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), AIA – Advancing Vision + Imaging, and the Motion Control Association (MCA). Together these associations represent nearly 700 member companies from 32 nations. Members include suppliers, system integrators, end users, universities, consulting firms and others involved in automation.

For more information on RIA, visit www.robotics.org. For AIA, visit www.visiononline.org. For MCA, visitwww.motioncontrolonline.org. Automate show and conference information can be found at www.automate2013.com. To reach Association Headquarters, call 734/994-6088.


Google’s Driverless Cars Will Take to the Road

September 28, 2012

It’s a different kind of automotive robot. This week California became one of the few states to pioneer the path of the autonomous car. CBS does a short feature on the California governor’s decision.

Read the New York Times article “With a Push From Google, California Legalizes Driverless Cars” here. Will you be one of the first to ride an autonomous car off the dealership lot?


Robot Safety Trends in Automotive

September 12, 2012

by Jeff Fryman , Director, Standards Development
Robotic Industries Association
Posted 09/10/2012

Jeff Fryman, Director, Standards DevelopmentThere are vibrant new activities related to industrial safety in robot applications around the country today, and none more so than in the automotive industry.  Recovering from the last recession, our nation’s industries are stronger and more competitive than ever, and much of that competitiveness can be credited to new and innovative applications using industrial robots safely.  The auto industry has been a leader in applying robots to save time, improve processes and assure consistent quality of products; and continues to be a leader in assuring the safety of their workers.

A key word in manufacturing today is “lean”; a reduction of waste – wasted time, wasted energy, wasted effort and wasted cost.  Eliminating these wastes means thinking “out of the box”.  Elimination of fixturing (fixed stands and clamps) is probably the biggest trend toward lean manufacturing.  Taking time, effort, and cost out of manufacturing processes is the key to lean manufacturing and competitiveness.  We refer to robot applications as “flexible” automation, and that can mean flexibility in design, capabilities and not just motion.  Designing lean robot applications is important to achieving innovative solutions to ordinary manufacturing tasks, and with new robot features this can be done while also achieving enhanced worker safety.

Let’s look at an “old design” application; maybe a spot welding assembly process.  Each step in the flow has a fixture for each part; and if I want to run different parts, each has its own fixture.  After the initial parts are loaded to the fixture, a robot carrying a spot welding gun moves in and makes the welds.  To move to the next step in the process the part is unloaded from the fixture, placed on a conveyor and moved to the next position where it is again loaded to a fixture.  Maybe at this step a robot picks the part off the conveyor and loads it to the fixture.  Another robot picks up a part from another loading fixture and adds it to the assembly.  Then a robot carrying a spot welding gun moves in and makes more welds.  At this point the completed assembly is unloaded and racked.

Now let’s analyze this application from a “lean” perspective.  Where are there wastes in this example that can possibly be eliminated?  This design limited the process to the specific part being worked on, or a possible compromise of the fixturing to accommodate multiple parts.  Transferring parts entailed additional motions and a conveyor of some type.  Three fixtures and clamps to hold parts in place while the robot slung the heavy weld gun and positioned for each weld.  This also requires a large capacity robot to handle the weight and bulk of the weld gun.

So what would a new “lean” method look like?  A robot with light weight end-effector designed to accommodate variations in parts is loaded and moves into position at a fixed weld stand, moving and properly positioning the part for each programmed weld.  It then presents the part to another robot that has already picked up an additional part to be added to the assembly from a bin using machine vision guidance.  This robot than takes the assembly and presents it to a robot with a servo-controlled spot welding gun, and then both robots move in coordinated motion to position the part for each of multiple complex welds.  The part is then placed in a rack by the robot.

Where are the savings?  Direct transfer of the part between robots has eliminated the conveyor and one fixture completely.  The vision guided bin-picking application has totally eliminated another fixture, and the end-of-arm tooling is lighter weight and floor space can be saved without fixed location fixtures.  The stationary stand and use of servo-controlled spot welding guns allows for lighter capacity robots to be used in the application, hopefully saving costs as well.

This application can be done today, within the guidelines of the current robot safety standard.  The soon to be released new robot safety standard takes this ability to innovate even further!

New safety features available with new robots (not existing ones) will allow for the reduction of robot application footprints on the order of 30%.  How would you like to have 30% more floor space in your existing facility?  And there is more – the re-introduction of man-in-the-loop production techniques; where in the example above the operator directly loads the end-effector during the robot operation.

To learn more about these exciting developments, join us for the National Robot Safety Conference XXIV, September 24 – 26 in Indianapolis, Indiana. We will delve into these and many other robot and machine safety topics during 3 days of outstanding workshops, conference sessions, tabletop exhibits and more.  Complete information on the conference can be found at http://www.robotics.org/safety12 or call RIA at 734/994-6088.

NRSC 12 - Register Now

Be safe, and I hope to see you at this year’s robot safety conference in Indy later this month!


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.


GM, NASA Jointly Developing Robotic Gloves for Human Use

March 21, 2012

Robonaut technology coming to the factory floor or space station soon

GM RoboGloveHOUSTON – General Motors and NASA are jointly developing a robotic glove that auto workers and astronauts can wear to help do their respective jobs better while potentially reducing the risk of repetitive stress injuries.

The Human Grasp Assist device, known internally in both organizations as the K-glove or Robo-Glove, resulted from GM and NASA’s Robonaut 2 (R2) project, which launched the first human-like robot into space in 2011. R2 is a permanent resident of the International Space Station.

When engineers, researchers and scientists from GM and NASA began collaborating on R2 in 2007, one of the design requirements was for the robot to operate tools designed for humans, alongside astronauts in outer space and factory workers on Earth. The team achieved an unprecedented level of hand dexterity on R2 by using leading-edge sensors, actuators and tendons comparable to the nerves, muscles and tendons in a human hand.

Research shows that continuously gripping a tool can cause fatigue in hand muscles within a few minutes. Initial testing of the Robo-Glove indicates the wearer can hold a grip longer and more comfortably.

“When fully developed, the Robo-Glove has the potential to reduce the amount of force that an auto worker would need to exert when operating a tool for an extended time or with repetitive motions,” said Dana Komin, GM’s manufacturing engineering director, Global Automation Strategy and Execution. “In so doing, it is expected to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injury.”

GM Robo-Glove video

For example, an astronaut working in a pressurized suit outside the space station or an assembly operator in a factory might need to use 15-20 pounds of force to hold a tool during an operation but with the robotic glove only five-to-10 pounds of force might need to be applied.

“The prototype glove offers my space suit team a promising opportunity to explore new ideas, and challenges our traditional thinking of what extravehicular activity hand dexterity could be,” said Trish Petete, division chief, Crew and Thermal Systems Division, NASA Johnson Space Center.

GM RoboGlove developed with NASAInspired by the finger actuation system of R2, actuators are embedded into the upper portion of the glove to provide grasping support to human fingers. The pressure sensors, similar to the sensors that give R2 its sense of touch are incorporated into the fingertips of the glove to detect when the user is grasping a tool. When the user grasps the tool, the synthetic tendons automatically retract, pulling the fingers into a gripping position and holding them there until the sensor is released.

GM and NASA have submitted 46 patent applications for R2, including 21 for R2’s hand and four for the Robo-Glove alone.

The first prototype of the glove was completed in March 2011 with a second generation arriving three months later. The fabric for the glove was produced by Oceaneering Space Systems, the same company that provided R2’s “skin.”

The current prototypes weigh about two pounds and include the control electronics, actuators and a small display for programming and diagnostics. An off-the-shelf lithium-ion power-tool battery with a belt-clip is used to power the system. A third-generation prototype that will use repackaged components to reduce the size and weight of the system is nearing completion.

“We are continuously looking for ways to improve safety and productivity on the shop floor,” Komin said. “Our goal is to bring this technology to the shop floor in the near future.”

NASA and GM have a long, rich history of partnering on key technologies, starting in the 1960s with the development of the navigation systems for the Apollo missions. GM also played a vital role in the development of the Lunar Rover Vehicle, the first vehicle used on the moon.

About General Motors
General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM, TSX: GMM) and its partners produce vehicles in 30 countries, and the company has leadership positions in the world’s largest and fastest-growing automotive markets. GM’s brands include Chevrolet and Cadillac, as well as Baojun, Buick, GMC, Holden, Isuzu, Jiefang, Opel, Vauxhall and Wuling. More information on the company and its subsidiaries, including OnStar, a global leader in vehicle safety, security and information services, can be found at http://www.gm.com.

About NASA Johnson Space Center
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research. Since February 2006, NASA’s mission statement has been to “pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.” The Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center is the NASA’s center for human spaceflight training, research and flight control in Houston, Texas, USA. Johnson Space Center is home to the United States astronaut corps and is responsible for training astronauts from both the U.S. and its international partners.


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.