Saturday, May 31, 2014

Industrial robot makers set goals to become Service Robotics providers

By Frank Tobe, Editor and Publisher, The Robot Report

"The future of automation lies in direct cooperation between humans and robots. In order for a robot to be able to work safely with humans, a whole new robot generation is required: the machines must be sensitive and compliant." -- Dr. Albrecht Hoene, KUKA Labs

All over the world of manufacturing, fenceless applications of robots and humans working together are enabling entirely new possibilities in modern factory settings. In small and medium-sized shops, plug and play easily-programmable robots are making inroads helping production workers use these new co-bots to offload some of their less-skilled tasks thereby freeing themselves to do more productive work. Workshops in collaborative robotics are springing up and industrial trade shows are featuring transition products into the world of service and collaborative robotics.

Volatile markets, product diversity, multiple variants and shorter product lifecycles mean that production must adapt quickly to new conditions, i.e. it must be versatile. Those new conditions have been given the term "Industry 4.0" in Europe and "Smart" or "Advanced Manufacturing" in the U.S. In many cases, these terms mean a move away from rigid full automation to flexible work-sharing between humans and robot.
"Using the robot as a production assistant makes production more versatile than ever before and enables entirely new concepts in manufacturing."
Industry 4.0 and Advanced Manufacturing are gaining momentum on many fronts. DARPA is investing in Military-service-affiliated Manufacturing Demonstration Facilities that will provide a lasting, shared resource to provide the manufacturing community with greater access to open manufacturing and research. These facilities will:
  • Serve as repositories of focused manufacturing knowledge and infrastructure
  • Independently demonstrate designs, manufacturing processes, process models and manufactured products
  • Curate and assess manufacturing models, qualification schema and material/processing properties data
In America, the Obama Administration is pushing Advanced Manufacturing on many fronts. Their new institutions are patterned after the successful Fraunhofer Institute in Germany. In fact, a team from the Fraunhofer IPA visited the US last year and met with and described their formula to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and consulted with the Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics and Cyber-Physical Systems directors -- all of which led to the Obama Administration's "Proposal to Establish a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation," NNMI, and this has led further to the launch of four new automation and manufacturing technology centers in the U.S. so far this year.

Major robot manufacturers see the writing on the wall and have developed (or are in the process of developing) roadmaps to transition to these new markets. Many will be showing their efforts at AUTOMATICA 2014 in AUTOMATICA's special focus this year on Service Robotics and SMEs.

AUTOMATICA 2014, being held next week in Munich, offers an opportunity to explore Industry 4.0 and Advanced Manufacturing, along with viewing first-hand the big robot manufacturers plans to move into the Service Robots arena in one big robotics and automation trade show and conference. I'll be there walking the floors, listening to exhibitors, and gathering information. Will you?