New RIA Article: The Intricacies of Industrial Robot Design

February 11, 2013

In a new RIA article, Bennett Brumson looks at how application influences the interplay of design and software architecture for industrial robots. He talks with industry pros about how the needs of the user influence design — and how that will affect the future of industrial robots.

Robot Design, Integrated Controls and Software Architectures of Industrial Robots
by Bennett Brumson

The software architecture of industrial robots, the “brains” of an automated work cell, enables the robot to perform assigned tasks quickly, repeatedly and accurately.

“Robotics are all about the requirements of an application, such as reach, speed, payload, inertia, joint rotation and performance. Robots look different because they can be used for many different applications,” says Claude Dinsmoor, Material Handling General Manager at FANUC Robotics America Corp. (Rochester Hills, Michigan). “Software and controls generally have a baseline architecture but have a built-in unique architecture on top of that aimed at an application.”

As computing power increases and software becomes more sophisticated, robot design architectures evolve to keep pace while maintaining robotics’ inherent flexibility.

Read the full article at Robotics Online. Want to learn more about robot architecture? Sign up for RIA’s free webinar — “Robot Design, Integrated Controls & Software Architectures of Industrial Robots” on Feb. 28 at 12 noon EST. And don’t forget to leave your thoughts on our website at the end of the article!


Robotic Grinding, De-Burring and Finishing Applications

July 3, 2012

by Bennett Brumson , Contributing Editor
Robotic Industries Association
Posted 07/02/2012

De-burring a casting, courtesy ATI Industrial AutomationManufacturing just about anything requires material removal in one form or another. Due to the dangers involved in manual grinding, de-burring and finishing, robots are increasingly called on to do these operations. Getting and retaining people to perform material removal tasks on metals and plastics as been difficult for many manufacturers. These difficulties will only increase as workers who carry out manual material removal retire while younger workers decline to fill these positions.

“Manual material removal is a tough job. The work is hard, heavy, dirty and nasty. Getting younger people to do essential grinding, de-burring and finishing is not easy,” says James Morris, President of Automated Cells and Equipment Inc. (ACE, Painted Post, New York).

With more robust and less expensive vision and force control systems, robotic grinding, de-burring and finishing applications are more attractive to manufacturers.

Force Control
Successful robotic grinding, de-burring and finishing applications means applying the proper amount of force onto the part. Insufficient force wastes time and valuable abrasive media while too much force potentially ruins parts. “As the robot twist and turns, it affects compliance of the tooling. Force feedback enables the robot to constantly put the proper pressure on the proper area on the part as the robot’s position changes,” says Robert Little, Chief Operating Officer with ATI Industrial Automation (Apex, North Carolina). “With force control, the robot ‘feels’ when it goes around a part’s corner while maintaining a constant force.”

Little uses a human analogy to illustrate his point. “Force control is like a person with closed eyes and a hand on a part. When feeling your hand going around a corner you put more pressure to keep your hand on the part. You cannot see the part but never loose contact with it.” The robot does the same with force control, says Little.

Likewise, Joseph Saad, Director of Sales with the Acme Manufacturing Co. (Auburn Hills, Michigan) says, “Force sensing has proven more reliable for de-burring and buffing cells than grinding systems. The next five years should produce a more reliable ‘active’ force sensing technology.”

Advancements in robot controllers facilitates better force control for grinding, de-burring and finishing applications says Morris. “High-speed force control is one of the biggest developments in the past five years. With increased computing power of the robot controller, end-users can take advantage of force control devices to control the material removal process better.” Robot operators are more confident and have a more robust material removal solution as a result, Morris concludes.

Robot transferring a welded box to a material removal station for finish polishing, courtesy FANUC Robotics America Corp.Foundries
Robotics play important functions in foundries, points out Saad. “Robots are now utilized in the foundry industry to first cut off castings from the main casting tree, then grind the gates flush to the surface. Robots utilize high-speed carbide tools to de-flash trim or excessive material.”

Virgil Wilson, FANUC Robotics America Corp.’s (Rochester Hills, Michigan), Material Handling Product Manager, says grinding, de-burring and finishing robots equipped with force sensors are a good fit in foundries. “Forces sensors are not only capable of controlling the cutting forces being applied but can also control the speed of the robot by sensing changing cutting conditions and dynamically adjusting the robot’s speed. A good example can be found in foundries where flashing conditions can change dramatically not only from part to part but also within the same part.”

Wilson goes on to say, “Force sensors uses a six degree load cell that provides force data to the robot planner in a closed loop system. The force data controls and adjusts the robot’s position to maintain the commanded force.”

In short, “Gate removal must happen in foundries. Gate removal is why a particular end-user company was looking at robotics,” recalls Morris.

Big Burrs
Robotic finishing of paper rolls, courtesy ABB Inc.When a robot performing grinding, de-burring or finishing chores encounters a particularly large burr on a part, successfully removing that burr can be tricky. “If the robot runs into a big burr, the robot should slowdown to prevent breaking the material removal tool. Force control can sense when the burr is so large and the tool cannot handle it,” says, Nicolas Hunt, Automotive Technology Support Group Manager at ABB Inc. (Auburn Hills, Michigan). “The robot is repositioned to take off smaller amounts of material automatically, until the burr gets down to a manageable size and maintain the surface finish.”

Similarly, Morris says, “In a known shape such as castings, burrs or gates are handled with simple compliance devices. If the part has a lot of variation, force control tells the robot to make a path adjustment.” Morris cites an example of a material removing robot encountering an especially large gate. “The robot senses the large gate and adapts its path to successfully remove the material.”

Removing on the Move
Grinding, de-burring and finishing robots can do their job at an impressive rate. Max Falcone, Product Development Supervisor at Kawasaki Robotics (USA) Inc. (Wixom, Michigan) provides a glimpse at robotic material removal throughput. “Using 36 grit grinding media at 5,000 revolutions per minute, a grinding robot can remove about 15 cubic millimeters of material per minute.”

Vision-equipped robot grinding over weld and weld spatter, courtesy Kawasaki Robotics (USA) Inc.Falcone says when grinding weld splatter for a show surface to be painted, the robot can travel at 70 to 125 millimeters per minute, and up to 450 millimeters per second for an average clean surface. As much as 4.5 kilograms of material per hour could be removed robotically.

Wilson says material removal rates are process-dependent. “De-burring an edge of stainless steel will be done at a different feed rate then sanding or polishing a stainless steel part. The average feed rate is 60 to 80 millimeters per second.”

Joe Saad of Acme adds that robotic material removal feed rates are, “Approximately 250 to 380 centimeters per minute [of material removal], which is fairly standard. Aluminum is faster.”

Tom Sipple, Material Handling Marketing Manager at Yaskawa America Inc.’s Motoman Robotics Division (Miamisburg, Ohio) agrees that material removal rates depend on the specific process. “Robotic grinding, de-burring or finishing depends on how much material needs removing and how aggressive the abrasive or cutting tool is. When doing really rough removal, end-users should use a more aggressive method but the surface quality will not be as high.” A balance must be found between aggressiveness and finish surface quality, notes Sipple.

Unusual Removal
Robots are most likely called on to perform routine material removal tasks. However, robotic flexibility lends itself to executing unusual grinding, de-burring and finishing operations.

“If the material the robot is removing is well understood, such as its stiffness or variations based on temperature, end-users do not get surprises because these applications tend to be deterministic,” says Adil Shafi, President of ADVENOVATION Inc. (Rochester Hills, Michigan). “A robot working with products with unusual physical properties, such as inconsistent alloys or composites, could run into repeatability problems. Sometimes these variations are in-feature geometry and can be accommodated with the use of machine vision that works with the robot and the force compliance tool in real-time.”

Shafi adds that robotic laser cutting of metal, and trimming of plastic with a consistent chemical mix ordinarily works well.

Nick Hunt also talks about unusual material removal applications. “Using force control, we have done robotic grinding, de-burring and finishing on huge paper rolls, boat hulls, as well as grinding and buffing operations on optics for very large telescopes.” Hunt also mentions robots used to polish gun chambers.

Hunt describes the paper grinding application. “When grinding the edges of the paper rolls, the robot cannot overheat the surface so we monitor the temperature and vary the force as necessary. An infrared temperature sensing device tells the robot to back off or increase the forces. Force and temperature sensors maintain optimal force for the material removal speed yet preventing the paper from getting too hot.” The edges of the paper will fuse together if overheated during the grinding process, says Hunt.

Little sees an increase in non-automotive finishing applications. “Robotic finishing of laptop computers is exciting because electronics is a large market. Using force control, the robot finishes computer cases and other electronics. The key is getting around edges, where robot force control is very successful by moving very smoothly.”

Morris also integrates robots to finish electronics. “We polished aluminum and copper, creating a fine finish for an end-user that makes electronics.”

Learning Material Removal the Robotic Way
End-users and integrators of robots for grinding, de-burring and finishing have several opportunities to learn more about this application. Shafi will conduct a webinar, New Trends in Material Removal Robots, to educate the industry on how robots can efficiently and effectively undertake these tasks. The webinar is scheduled for Thursday, July 19, 12:00 PM through 1:00 PM EDT.

“The webinar will cover material removal technologies. The application is trending towards the ability of material removal robots to follow part contours or shapes. Following complex contours is no longer a laborious process. Integrators do not have to teach many points by hand,” Shafi says in describing his tutorial. “Controllers increasingly support receiving computer-aided design (CAD) files to generate a path for the robot. CAD saves a tremendous amount of time and increases quality.”

Shafi’s webinar will cover not just grinding, de-burring and finishing but waterjet and laser cutting, as well as robot-based knife trimming. These topics will be examined through the use of videos and a slide show.

End-users can also attend Automate 2013 to garner more information about material removal robotics. The Automate trade show takes place in Chicago, January 21-24 at McCormick Place, and will be co-located with ProMat.

The flexibility of robotics allows a single machine to perform a multitude of tasks. “When using a robot for assembly, the material handling automation is free. The robot that picks the part from the load area is the same robot that holds the work piece and discharges the part on to an unload conveyor, box or station,” says Joe Saad.

Little says tool changers enhance the already flexible nature of robots. “Robots are capable of changing tools to do more than one function. Material handling and finishing are often combined in the same work cell with the same robot.”

Morris says, “We have integrated projects where the robot using a vision system loads parts into a trim press. The press will take off most of the excess metal but some edges need to be touched up. The robot moves the part to a station that removes flash from spots where the trim die cannot access due to the geometry of the part.”

Removing On
Robotic grinding, de-burring and finishing applications are poised for growth predicts Little. “Because grinding and polishing are extremely nasty and dirty jobs, even manufacturers in China are automating that process. Recently, aluminum dust in the air ignited, causing an explosion at a factory in China doing finishing work. Many people were killed in that explosion, increasing pressure to automate finishing work and get people out of that environment.” Little sees a surge in grinding, de-burring and finishing applications beyond automotive and moving into other industries.

Machine Vision for Robot Guidance

June 7, 2012

by Bennett Brumson , Contributing Editor
Robotic Industries Association
Posted 06/04/2012

Robot using vision for small part handling or assembly, courtesy FANUC Robotics America Corp.Without a vision guidance system, robots would be blind, unable to present itself to parts. The increased power of vision guidance systems eliminate the need for expensive fixtures that often must be removed or modified when manufacturers introduce new products or parts.

“The biggest change in the past five years is how vision-guided robotic systems are used and how these systems can automatically generate new frames and new tools. Increased accuracy of vision guidance systems provides for increased robotic accuracy,” says Steve Prehn, Vision Product Manager at FANUC Robotics America Corp. (Rochester Hills, Michigan).

Seeing Accurately
More powerful and accurate cameras are a boon to end-users of industrial robotics. “Vision guidance systems are able to capture very accurate three-dimensional locations with just one camera,” says Doug Erlemann, Business Development Manager with Baumer Ltd. (Southington, Connecticut). Erlemann sees more accurate software, more rugged equipment and cameras with features that alleviate lighting problems. “Cameras with automatic gain are more accurate and robust. Vision guidance systems take into account more than just vision calculations and robot calculations, but are tied together in the overall system.”

Erlemann speaks of how increased accuracy of robotic vision guidance systems facilitates welding applications. “For very fine applications such as aircraft welds, the guidance system must be perfect. Software can run a welding bead to within 10 microns. In welding applications, 10 microns is very accurate.” Typical welding applications require accuracy to within plus or minus a millimeter or two says Erlemann, but some high-end aircraft demands near-perfect welds.

Screen image of a 2-D vision system in a packing application, courtesy Kawasaki Robotics (USA) Inc.Likewise, Brian Carpenter, Software Engineer with Kawasaki Robotics (USA) Inc. (Wixom, Michigan) sees more accurate vision guidance systems for robotics. “Recently, more single camera three-dimensional systems are available. Resolution and accuracy improvements to stereoscopic systems have increased and do not require calibration and can accommodate different working distance.”

Stereoscopic vision guidance systems allow more precise depth measurement. Camera systems will be capable of locating objects as well as track and predict their location while moving, Carpenter says. “Tracking will allow for faster, more responsive tracking.”

Prehn says vision guidance systems are utilized by end-users as a feedback device for generating very accurate frames and tools. “Robot-mounted cameras and the images they generate refine an object’s position through triangulation, providing for tremendous accuracies. Robots operating within six degrees of freedom are a perfect match with three-dimensional vision-guided solutions.”

Prehn goes on to say, “Robust locational systems have the flexibility to quickly adapt to new parts as they are presented to the robot and provide accurate results to have them engage with new parts. Increased processing power allows integrators to go after markets that would be too difficult otherwise.”

Assembly applications on the micro and nano-levels are among the new markets for robotics served by enhancements to vision guidance systems. “Guidance systems accurately locate very small objects or zoom in to validate positions very precisely. When looking at very small fields of view, resolution goes to the micron range. End-users use vision guidance systems to validate and correct for positional inaccuracies over the robot’s working area,” says Prehn.

Charles Ridley, Material Handling Service Manager with PAR Systems Inc. (Shoreview, Minnesota) also talks about the role of robotic vision guidance systems in micro-assembly applications. “The challenges with micro-assembly are similar to other robotic vision applications. Ensuring that the robot chosen for the application has the repeatability and accuracy to handle the tolerances that come with a micro application is key. The vision guidance system must have a higher resolution.”

Calibrated Guidance

Vision guidance systems require calibration with the robot to ensure proper positioning when that robot performs its tasks, says Greg Garmann, Technology Advancement Manager with Yaskawa America Inc.’s Motoman Robotics Division (Miamisburg, Ohio). “Calibrating multiple camera systems between the robotic space and the vision space so that the robot can understand what the vision camera sees is important. Many applications require variable focal lengths and end-users want automatic focus to determine the depth or distance the guidance camera is from objects.”

Vision-enabled robots at Automate 2011, courtesy Comau RoboticsEnd-users must recalibrate the vision system occasionally, says Garmann. “When the focus is changed, that also changes the field of view and the calibration of the camera system to the robot. End-users want automatic focus so the guidance system can understand different focal lengths.”

Calibration issues are important to end-users of Comau Robotics’ systems (Southfield, Michigan) says Process Technology Director, Joe Cyrek. “With advancements in computing power, systems allow for robot guidance in six degrees of freedom with one camera and cable without calibration. That advancement is significant.” Cyrek adds, “End-users want no calibration and simplicity in vision guidance systems. A single camera, cable, a simple interface without the need for calibration equals increased mean time between failures and decreased mean time to recovery, and fast set up.”

Algorithms and their application into robot guidance solution have changed the perception of robot guidance from “complicated” and “avoid at all costs” to “simple” and “find more ways to use it,” says Cyrek.

Calibration of robotic vision guidance systems is also on the mind of Nicholas Hunt, Automotive Technology Support Group Manager at ABB Inc. (Auburn Hills, Michigan). “I see more light with structured wavefronts coming of age for three-dimensional surface scanning applications. The result requires processing massive amounts of data very quickly. New processors provide the necessary speed to fit the demands of production throughput.” Hunts stresses the need for good calibration between the robot tool center point and the camera, or calibration between the camera and the work cell. “Vision system calibration issues might not be evident until weeks later.”

FANUC’s Prehn sums up the importance of proper calibration. “If mistakes are made in calibrating the camera system or applying positions relative to where the camera finds the object, the integrator can get into trouble.” Taking advantage of training courses offered by robot manufacturers or the Robotic Industries Association (RIA, Ann Arbor, Michigan) in vision guidance systems is a good way to avoid calibration pitfalls.

“Lighting, Lighting, Lighting”
Proper lighting is crucial for guidance systems to function properly and consistently. “Vision has always been about lighting and lensing, and guidance is no exception. Maintaining nominal lighting, whether it be raster Robot with gripper and vision guidance system ready for work, courtesy Applied Robotics or structured lighting, is key to consistently reporting part position to the robot,” says Henry Loos, Controls and Applications Engineer with Applied Robotics Inc. (Glenville, New York). “Do not skimp on high quality lighting and use high quality lenses.”

ABB’s Nick Hunt says, “In machine vision for robotic guidance, the mantra should be ‘lighting, lighting, lighting.’ While debugging a system, some integrators spend too much time looking at the application or the processing of the information. Integrators should pay more attention to the lighting and focal lengths of the camera.”

When setting up a robotic guidance vision system, lights should be arranged to cast diffused illumination rather than direct light, Hunt suggests. “Machine vision applications should not use direct lighting, but should diffuse lighting with light boxes, light-emitting diode (LED) ring lights or other form of structured light.” Hunt says structured lighting is easier to apply than in the recent past. “Suppliers have stepped up to make simple LED ring lights easy to implement on today’s guidance cameras. The benefits of structured LED lighting in robotic machine vision applications are quicker, lowering integration costs while minimizing the effects of inconsistent ambient light.”

Lighting issues are best addressed in the early planning phase of a work cell to save time, effort and money, Hunt says. “Ambient lighting is very important. Integrators should not underestimate how much difficulty end-users might run into if lighting issues are not well thought out. Vision guidance systems are easier and less expensive to implement than in the past with simple LED ring lights.”

Lighting equipment degrades slowly through time, cautions Ridley. “Lighting characteristics change over time, presenting the biggest stumbling blocks to consistent vision operation.” Similarly Carpenter of Kawasaki Robotics says, “Lighting changes over time, even if LED lights. The intensity of the light changes over years so end-users must budget for making changes to lighting systems or have someone on staff who plans for that.”

2, 2.5, 3-D
Robotic vision guidance systems scan objects in two or three dimensions. Unless the application requires three-dimensional vision guidance, integrators favor using two-dimensional systems. “Get the simplest vision guidance system that meets the needs of the application. If the application only needs 2.5-dimensional guidance, end-users should not bother investing in a three-dimensional system,” advises Cyrek.

“Vision guided robotics systems matured in the two-dimensional arena first,” says Adil Shafi, President of ADVENOVATION Inc. (Rochester Hills, Michigan). “Three dimensional solutions have evolved steadily over the past decade most notably when directed at individual objects with reduced calibration, when the geometry of the part is feature-rich or highly repeatable. This trend will continue to grow as lighting, computing power and algorithms improve. Expect more bin picking solutions in the next decade.”

Three-dimensional guidance systems are being increasingly adopted by end-users due to growing reliability at a lower cost. “Single camera 3D systems are becoming popular due to resolution and accuracy improvements. Single camera three-dimensional systems are great because they do not require as difficult calibration as stereoscopic systems and can accommodate different working distances,” says Carpenter.

Prehn also anticipates more 3D guidance systems in robotic work cells. “Integrators have been doing three-dimensional guidance for quite some time. As guidance technology advances, end-users are able to leverage guidance systems to greater accuracy.” Increased processing power of vision systems and robot controllers allows vision-guided robots to enter new markets, Prehn says.

Watching and Learning
Integrators, robot end-users, teachers, students, newcomers and experts, can learn about vision-guided robotics through a free webinar hosted by RIA and Shafi on Thursday, June 7 at 12:00 PM EDT. The Robots: Vision Guidance Technology (2D) webinar will cover basic concepts, good applications, product examples, flexible tooling, hard tooling, vacuum, vision and other related topics. “I will show application videos and a PowerPoint presentation to provide a background of two-dimensional vision guidance applications,” says Shafi. “The webinar is balanced for experts as well as those who have never used robots before, and everyone in between.”

RIA webinars typically attract 400 viewers from around the world comprised of end-users, integrators, component providers, teachers, students and market analysis professionals. “I design webinars to be easy enough for people new to the industry to understand. I build on this foundation to show new trends and expert perspectives. We are assisted by a panel of industry experts who answer questions and present varied perspectives.”

On Track
As vision guidance systems become more powerful and more compact, they will routinely incorporate tracking and traceability functions, says Erlemann. “The automotive sector will eventually go the way of pharmacy applications, where each pill and bottle is tracked through the manufacturing process. The automotive industry will track each door panel and each part of the panel with individual serial numbers, to track where all parts are put together.”

Tracking and traceability are good for failure analysis, says Erlemann. “When a particular car model is seen as a lemon, the guidance system helps track individual panels or parts. Pharmaceutical applications are required by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations to track each part. The automotive industry will move towards that in the next five years.”

Seeing Guidance in Action
Robot makers, end-users and integrators will show off vision guidance systems and other robotic equipment at Automate 2013. The Automate trade show and conference is collocated with ProMat in Chicago January 21-24, 2013 and will feature robot vision guidance systems. “Comau will once again bring our three-dimensional vision system in a user interactive demonstration of its simplicity and flexibility. Last year’s putt-putt golf ball retrieving robot was a crowd favorite,” recalled Joe Cyrek.

Originally posted on Robotics Online.

How Robots Create Jobs

April 9, 2012

by Adil Shafi , President, ADVENOVATION, Inc.

Originally posted 04/04/2012 on Robotics Online.

No army can stop an idea whose time has come ~ Victor Hugo

In 2011, the International Federation of Robotics commissioned a report on how robots create jobs. The findings report that, “One million industrial robots currently in operation have been directly responsible for the creation of close to three million jobs… A growth in robot use over the next five years will result in the creation of one million high quality jobs around the world.”

Further, the market research firm Metra Martech wrote, “In world terms three to five million jobs would not exist if automation and robotics had not been developed to enable cost effective production of millions of electronic products from Phones to PlayStations.” The report actually covers several markets in the automotive, electronics, food and beverage, plastics, chemicals and pharmaceutical industries and focuses on countries like Brazil, China, Germany, Japan, Republic of Korea and USA. The complete report is available at

It is sometimes said in the media that robots take jobs away. Actually the opposite is true. The companies that hire and thrive and have cars in their parking lots are the ones that have embraced automation and used robots to create financial efficiencies and created jobs. This fact has been marginalized in the past by such opinion makers as organized labor and “headline seeking” media. Fortunately, after the recent recession, both are now realizing that this myth is busted and are routinely embracing the long term benefits of robots.

So, how do robots create jobs? Before we review the math and dynamics of robot jobs, let’s look at a similar perception problem that occurred one hundred years ago.

A One Hundred Year Old Example and Similar Lessons

How Robots Create JobsConsider the horse driven cart business before the advent of cars (or the “iron horse” as a car was often called). In those days there were many jobs that revolved around horses: their breeding, feeding, grooming and related peripherals: saddles, stirrups, stables, etc. When the “iron horse” came about, these jobs were threatened. Inevitably those linked to the horse related professions resisted the advent of cars and cried foul about the ethics, morality or appropriateness of an iron horse in society. But, as Victor Hugo said, “no army can stop an idea whose time has come”.

People saw the benefits of cars: the comfort of the ride, the range of travel and the speed. The benefits over horses were irrefutable. It was not obvious at first but cars needed roads and that need created jobs. The manufacture of cars created jobs. And no one epitomized the benefits of mass manufacturing to create jobs and enhance the betterment of the masses than Henry Ford.

How Robots Create Jobs It is true that there was a disruption to the status quo and a transition; some of which was planned by people and some of which was not. But cars were here to stay and they have revolutionized jobs, society and our standards and ways of living for the past one hundred years.

In a similar way, robots or “iron workers” have created a similar dynamic in recent decades. It is true that many “manual hands work” related jobs were threatened by the efficiencies of robots. Robots have irrefutable benefits like How Robots Create Jobstheir incessant efficiency, consistency, and relentless work ethic. Once again, “no army can stop an idea whose time has come”.

The manufacture of robots has created jobs. And a transition is underway, whether people or businesses have planned for it or not. Those that have not planned for it have been negatively affected by the high cost of labor and thereby loss of business competitiveness. Those that have planned for the transition have benefited and prospered from the transition.

As Charles Darwin noted, it is not the strongest or the largest of the species (companies in this case) that have survived the best; many hitherto large and powerful companies have filed for bankruptcy protection, but instead the ones most receptive and adaptive to change that have benefited the most. This need to adapt or change quickly via information or a “digital nervous system” was underscored by Bill Gates in his book “Business at the Speed of Thought”.

The Job Cost Numbers

How Robots Create JobsLet’s look at the financial math behind the manual worker and the iron worker (industrial robot). In countries of high cost labor e.g., the United States of America, Western Europe and Japan, the hourly cost of manual labor can be about $20 per hour; it is higher in Europe but the example holds.

In BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries of low cost labor, the hourly cost of manual labor can be as low as $1 per hour. This “financial advantage” has driven many companies to move manufacturing to countries of low cost labor. It requires significant financial strength and infrastructure and commitment to do so.

Such transitions require significant spans of time zones, language barriers, cultural adjustments, shipping and receiving logistics, customs, insurance, quality management, business monitoring and cash flow adjustments. For example a product made with $1 per hour labor requires training, shipping of materials, quality management, communication from halfway around the world, etc. and then when the product is ready, it may have to be paid FOB at the port of shipping in the Pacific Rim, ocean insurance and freight, customs clearance in Los Angeles, a delay to process the product, and then the expenditure of expensive fuel and gas to transport the product to its final point of distribution and sale.

All this magnifies that $1 per hour labor cost to as much as $10 per hour and calculators to estimate these “stack up of costs” are available on the internet e.g., at Jobs created in this manner are completely transitioned from countries of high cost labor to countries of low cost labor.

How Robots Create Jobs

Now enter robots, machine vision and automation. This too requires an investment like the overseas low cost labor option. The first one or two years require a ROI or Return in Investment period during which the cost of robots, machine vision and automation are recouped against the savings achieved from manual labor. But from then on, the cost of manufacture per hour is lower than the cost of producing in countries of low cost labor!!! This fact has not been well known in the past and it is the key to how robots create jobs and save businesses in countries of high cost labor.

Like the investment in the iron horse, the investment in the iron worker makes businesses stronger and allows them to compete against any other company and against any labor cost model in the world. Moreover, there are additional human quality of life benefits.

Companies that embrace this change and adapt to it end up seeing that their businesses can thrive in regions of high cost labor. They can preserve their local communities, pay taxes, preserve schools, churches, support businesses and family relationships without job disruptions, family disruptions or relocation. And after the Great Recession, this dynamic is enabling a host of manufacturing companies to regain their strength and to forge ahead with new competitiveness, a new relevance and a renewed strength. Even the BRIC countries are embracing robots for reasons of benefit that transcend low cost labor.

A Transition, a Plan, a Journey

How Robots Create Jobs This model of automation and renewed strength requires a proactive adaptation to change. A 100 employee company that has worked manually for 30 years will find itself with a need to transition, a need to plan and a need to journey to a better prosperity.

Inevitably, some manual work will transition to robots. Inevitably, the manual workers will require retraining and a new job focus in the same company.

There are many government programs available to provide the necessary training and to provide the necessary financing to accomplish the transition plan. This results in a corporate benefit as well as an employee benefit. It requires a commitment to learn these dynamics and opportunities and then to make a plan to forge ahead. Many companies that do so find themselves stronger against global competition and find that they can pay their former manual workers more money per hour in their newly invigorated newly automated and highly competitive company.

Industrial Robots After The Recession

The proof is in the market reports. All indications are that after the Great Recession, robot, machine vision and automation sales are growing at a pace far faster and higher than the pace of general economic recovery. Robot sales have set records in the last two years and the change has been embraced in droves.

The resistance to deploy robots is hardly seen any more amongst unions and even the media is touting the benefits of robots now; most notably in a recent Forbes magazine article entitled “Buy a Robot and Save America”. This article was based on a presentation made by Ron Potter, presently Director of Robotics Technology at Factory Automation Systems in Atlanta Georgia entitled, “The Business Case for Robots: How the US Can Compete and Win in Global Manufacturing”. Potter has been involved with robotics innovation for more than 40 years and is a 1995 winner of the highest award in industrial robotics, the Joseph F. Engelberger Award.

How Robots Create JobsDifferent Kinds of Labor Unions

It is also true that after the Great Recession, labor unions have adapted and formed new “win win” models for the future. The labor wage structures tend to be more tiered now based on ability and experience and thus more biased towards meritocracy. The deals between car companies and unions are more mutualistic as evidenced in successful unions in post Second World War Japan (read David Halberstam’s “The Reckoning”) or the days of J Paul Getty as described in his famous book “How to be Rich.

Industrial Robot Job Growth

So now, much like the manufacture of the iron horse (cars), the manufacture of the iron worker (robots) is accelerating.

Major robot companies and their suppliers are reporting corporate expansions and job creation. The demand for skilled robot technicians, engineers and related jobs has skyrocketed and our educational institutions are investing heavily in robot programs. The Robotic Industries Association (RIA) is consistently reporting growth in membership, member revenue, member jobs and related prosperity.

This is a much welcome trend for those who have journeyed in the last two decades through skepticism and even more importantly the maturing of technology and reduction of automation pricing to unleash the forces of mass adoption. It is refreshing to see the economic benefits after the recession. It is even more refreshing to see that fears of the success of robot and vision projects have diminished and that there is renewed confidence in the success of these projects in End User communities, in automation communities and in component supplier communities.

Moreover, the RIA has announced and implemented industry measures to provide objective certification to help raise the level of competency of member companies through the recent RIA Certified Robot Integrator Program and the AIA Certified Vision Professional (CVP) Program.

The Pervasive Physical Relevance of Service Robots
How Robots Create Jobs
As if growth in the industrial robot job market is not enough good news, another phenomenon in job growth is unfolding before our eyes. The service robot has arrived and it is offering all kinds of benefit to humans outside factories just like the industrial robot has provided benefit inside factories. Jobs in the fields of service robotics are rapidly being created by small startups, large companies, government agencies and many universities and their commercialization arms.

The International Federation of Robotics projects that 85% of all robots will be service robots by 2018; a mere six years away. Once again, like iron horses in the past, and iron workers in the present, we should pay heed to the future and take lesson from Hugo’s saying: “No army can prevent an idea whose time has come”.

Service robots promise to do for the physical benefit of humans what computers have done for the mental benefit of humans. Computers have not taken over our brains, but they have vastly improved our ability to tap into information and to access it as needed in seconds. In a similar way, service robots are paving the way to physical benefits at home, on the road and at work in profound and pervasive ways.

Service robots are creating new solutions of convenience and efficiency and physical strength, and entirely new types of jobs in the air, on land, on water and under water. There are dozens of new markets, job fields and areas of activity in the field of service robots. They were explained in an RIA featured article in 2011 entitled: Service Robots and their Rapid Rise in Multiple Markets.

Where to Start with Robotics

If you are a student and wish to embark on a career in robotics, the Lego and FIRST robot competitions offer an excellent way to begin. You may focus on the mechanical, electrical, software, interface or application areas of robotics; or any combination thereof. Many universities and technical colleges are starting or growing their existing programs in robotics which are theoretical as well as practical and that emphasize hands on learning and team work.
How Robots Create Jobs
In January 2012, RIA launched the new RhoBotaPhi blog site to help students, faculty and job seekers plan for career opportunities in robotics. The site is designed to assist students and educators connect with companies in the robotics industry. Extensive resources that every robotics student will need are made available. For more information, visit the RhoBotaPhi website at:

If you are an industry professional, you may wish to learn from free webinars that the RIA offers via its Market Trends Webinar Series. If you are an industrial worker and wish to learn how to implement robotics in your company, visit the following association websites: RIA’s Robotics Online, AIA’s Vision Online and MCA’s Motion Control Online.

National Robotics Week
How Robots Create Jobs
April 7 – 15 marks the celebration of National Robotics Week; the RIA will be hosting two free webinars: Career Opportunities in Robotics (4/10/12) and Fundamentals of Robotics: Factory Solutions (4/12/12). Registration is required.

Contribution Acknowledgements

Contact Information

Adil Shafi is President of ADVENOVATION, Inc., specializing in software solutions and innovation in the field of Vision Guided Robotics (contact or visit

Read the original posting here.

Jobs and Robots – Free RIA Webinars during National Robotics Week

March 30, 2012

National Robotics Week

Jobs and robotics are webinar topics addressed by Robotic Industries Association during National Robotics Week, April 7-15, 2012. Career Opportunities in Robotics is on April 10 and Fundamentals of Robotics is April 12 – both are free and start at Noon Eastern Daylight Savings Time. Registration details can be found at

Webinar panelists are RIA members with practical experience in the robotics industry. Speakers for the careers webinar are Diane Haig from Applied Manufacturing Technologies, Roberta Zald from IPR Robotics and Jim Devaprasad from Lake Superior State University. Adil Shafi, President of Advenovation, is the presenter for robotics fundamentals.

“National Robotics Week began in 2010 and is a great example of the renewed focus on manufacturing in North America,” said Jeff Burnstein, President, Robotic Industries Association. “RIA members are looking for qualified workers so this is a great opportunity to hear about the exciting and fulfilling work in robotics and advanced manufacturing.”

Findings from a 2011 report on how robots create jobs indicate, “One million industrial robots currently in operation have been directly responsible for the creation of close to three million jobs… A growth in robot use over the next five years will result in the creation of one million high quality jobs around the world.” (Source: International Federation of Robotics.

Career Opportunities in RoboticsCareer Opportunities in Robotics (April 10) is a one-hour webinar that examines career options in cutting-edge applications in industry and beyond. Engineers, faculty and others interested in engineering career development will discover exciting robotic opportunities in education and research, industry, simulation and emerging applications presented during this webinar.

Fundamentals of Industrial Robotics: Factory SolutionsFundamentals of Robotics – Factory Solutions (April 12) is an hour-long webinar that explains different kinds of robots, their design and component makeup, basic safety considerations and integration methodologies.

Attendees are invited to join the webinars online during National Robotics Week. The Great Plains Robotics Alliance along with the Wichita Area Technical College has incorporated the Fundamentals of Robotics webinar into an event they are hosting at their facility (National Center for Aviation Training) and will show the webinar live in their presentation auditorium.

About Robotic Industries Association

Founded in 1974, RIA’s 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.

About National Robotics Week

National Robotics Week recognizes robotics technology as a pillar of 21st century American innovation, highlights its growing importance in a wide variety of application areas, and emphasizes its ability to inspire technology education. Robotics is positioned to fuel a broad array of next-generation products and applications in fields as diverse as manufacturing, health-care, national defense and security, agriculture and transportation. At the same time, robotics is proving to be uniquely adept at enabling students of all ages to learn important science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts and at inspiring them to pursue careers in STEM-related fields. During National Robotics Week, a week-long series of events and activities is aimed at increasing public awareness of the growing importance of “robo-technology” and the tremendous social and cultural impact that it will have on the future of the United States.

National Robotics Week is a product of a 2009 effort by leading universities and companies to create a “national road-map” for robotics technology, which was initially unveiled at a May 2009 briefing by academic and industry leaders to the Congressional Caucus on Robotics. On March 9, 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed resolution H.Res. 1055, officially designating the second full week in April as National Robotics Week. This resolution was submitted by U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (PA-14), co-chair of the Caucus, and other members.

Initiated in 2010, the inaugural National Robotics Week included 50 affiliated events around the country. National Robotics Week 2011 built on that success to include more than 100 events in 22 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. We expect National Robotics Week 2012 to be even bigger with even more events.

Read the original press release on Robotics Online.

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.

RIA Market Trends Webinars

June 8, 2010

RIA Market Trends Webinars = industry intelligence. Speakers who know the robot business explain when robots work best