As the virtual world collides with real-world manufacturing issues, the winners will be those who successfully navigate the challenges of both the technology and the people who will operate it. That was the central theme of the 2018 Global Automation and Manufacturing Summit (GAMS), presented by CFE Media and Hannover Messe USA and sponsored by Siemens, SAP, Advantech, Beckhoff, Infor, Stratus, UL, Universal Robots, and Lapp.
The half-day thought leadership event that took place Sept. 12 as part of IMTS 2018 in Chicago drew a full house of manufacturing leaders looking to navigate the challenges faced in an age of robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Robots are a critical part of today’s manufacturing. Keeping them running is a high priority, while minimizing downtime for repairs is essential.
In places like automotive plants, the robots can be massive, so sending them out for repair is not an option. Typically, when something goes wrong with one of these large machines, the problem can be traced back to a single component—a board or drive, a human-machine interface (HMI), a programmable logic controller (PLC) or a touchscreen, for example. Once the customer identifies the component that has failed, the next step is sending it out for repair or replacement.
Radwell International, a leader in industrial repair, distribution and surplus automation, maintains a $2-billion surplus, which is a great cost-effective alternative for a customer with a machine down. This this surplus also allows for their Engineering Department build efficient test fixtures. This huge on-site inventory of parts and robots means technicians can put the part in question through a full-load test in the same model robot as the one the customer uses. As a result, Radwell’s customers have confidence in the repairs and replacements because they know their components have been thoroughly tested. Radwell can also repair or replace teach pendants, control panels and any of the control components, as well as other parts such as servo motors.
This surplus and testing capability sets Radwell apart from its competitors and greatly enhances its capacity to quickly test components and replacement parts, so that its customers are up and running again as soon as possible. The extensive testing enables Radwell to offer its customers a two-year warranty (compared to the industry-standard of 12-18 months), and also keeps the warranty rate very low (4 percent versus the 6 percent industry average).
Watch a short video about the company’s robotic repair and test capabilities featuring the Kawasaki UX120F, a robot that improves production line efficiencies and general industry and automotive applications. The Kawasaki UC120F is just one of the many robots Radwell has available to test components.
A collaborative robot or cobot is a robot designed to assist humans as a guide or helper in completing a specific task or set of tasks. A regular robot is designed to be programmed to work mostly autonomously. In contrast, a cobot is programmed to work alongside a human in a helpful capacity. Depending upon the capacity, having a robotic "helping hand" can make a big difference in terms of productivity.
Non collaborative robots are designed to work autonomously. In fact industrial robots are far too dangerous to share space with humans and have been linked to many fatal accidents. They are great at performing monotonous jobs and complete heavy lifting but when they make contact with humans they can cause serious injury.
Collaborative robots, on the other hand, are designed to work alongside humans and can even complete tasks that help prevent injuries with the humans they work alongside. The most advanced cobots are functionally flexible so they can switch quickly between a range of tasks. They even emulate humans and, in some instances, respond to facial expressions to understand what is expected. It's fascinating to consider that technology has progressed to the point where a human facial expression can help a robot "think" and respond to a given task.
Technology has evolved beyond merely driving efficiency in the workplace and has moved towards enhancing the capabilities of a workforce by becoming a collaborative partner. Wearable robotic devices and smart machines have enabled man and machine to work together. The teamwork approach leverages capabilities of both humans and machines to create a most effective and efficient partnership. Cobots fit well into this equation. In fact, for some organizations, cobots can literally transform an entire operation.
How do you know if cobots are a great fit for your company?
Cobots are mostly used to boost performance, and this can be valuable in just about any industry that exists. Any type of environment in which things can be automated with human/cobot collaboration would be suited to introducing or building collaborative robots into existing workflow. Based on technological advances, cobots seem suited to both repetitive tasks, as well as, a series of changeable tasks. Odds are good this will only improve over time.
Companies that produce cobots are even planning for future needs. What works in an environment today may need to be greatly expanded in the future. By producing robots that can gain expanded capabilities to match growth and future need, robot manufacturers can help companies in any industry save time and money. They can also gain efficiency as it is required. A company that invests in cobots for their organization today will continue to benefit from expanded capabilities moving forward because of today's designs with the future in mind.
Collaborative robots are manufactured today in a way that is very effective. They are built so that they are easy to set up, flexible to work with, safe, and cost effective for various business types and sizes.
Once cobots are well established in industrial environments, they'll probably begin to appear in domestic environments too. Of course, this will present new challenges that will have to be overcome. Some day robots may serve humans breakfast, but while the challenges are being overcome, breakfast may end up in a human's lap until the kinks are worked out (see "The Breakfast Machine" below). Progress takes time. It will be interesting to see how things evolve.
Directors such as Ridley Scott have never shied away from the post modernism scenario of ‘man vs. machine’ in a futuristic planet earth, where artificial intelligent has been integrated into society and considered arch enemies and stereotypically ‘want to take over the world’.
In a 21st century society where the use of technology is becoming a dependable source for day to day survival, is Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner becoming a more accurate example of what futuristic earth will be in 2100?
In a rapidly growing sector such as industrial automation, engineers working in process and manufacturing industries are increasingly depending on robotics to keep up with the pace of their production line. Industrial robots are an accelerated comparison to assembly line workers and an almost guaranteed ‘around the clock’ labour. ISO 8373 defines these machines as automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multi-purpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes.
As automation capability continues to grow and strengthen in the workplace, many are wondering if humans will be left out in the cold when it comes to employment. It seems that people and experts sit on both sides of the fence in this argument. Some believe, with absolute certainty, that robots will take over up to 30% of jobs currently performed by humans within the next ten years. Others feel it is unlikely that robots will be able to evolve quickly enough to emulate humans in the most important way: our ability to respond to other humans. Still others believe that robots and humans will work together to make the process of manufacturing a team-oriented and more efficient exercise. Each of the view points is fairly compelling and it will be interesting to see which viewpoint holds the most merit as the decade progresses.