Exclusive: We are living through ‘extremely transformative’ global changes, says Epson boss

Minoru Usui, president, Seiko Epson
Minoru Usui, president, Seiko Epson

When you want to talk to someone about robotics and automation, especially in an industrial context, who better to talk to than an expert from Japan? Not wishing to compound any stereotypes, the “land of the rising sun” has shown itself to be an early adopter of many, possibly all, advanced technologies for many decades now. 

When George Devol and Joseph Engleberger invented the first industrial robotic arm in around 1950, Japan was the most enthusiastic buyer of their product, the Unimate. Devol and Engleberger had found business tough in the US, where there was a general perception – perpetuated by Hollywood science fiction films – of robots as being an otherworldly, threatening menace. Which they are, of course.

It’s inevitable that robots will take over the world and more or less enslave us, but when have humans ever listened to warnings of our impending doom? Continue reading Exclusive: We are living through ‘extremely transformative’ global changes, says Epson boss

It’s not just factory jobs the robots are after – it’s your intellectual jobs too

industrial revolution

Automation technologies such as the Jacquard loom were ubiquitous in the 1800s during the first industrial revolution. Such machines eliminated some of the most tedious and time-consuming jobs from factories, and raised production to record levels. 

Then, in the mid-1900s, the robotic arm was invented. Like the loom, that too is a machine ubiquitous in the contemporary industrial landscape. And with the advent of computing, robotics and automation systems have been increasingly integrated into self-contained production systems, controlled through what might now be considered rudimentary forms of artificial intelligence.

That integration process is still ongoing, but meanwhile a number of new technologies have emerged – particularly in computing and networking – which are combining to form trends that are themselves coalescing. Experts are now encapsulating all these technologies, trends and developments into a relatively new catch-all term – Industry 4.0.

One of the key features of Industry 4.0 is, arguably, the gradual encroachment of AI into what used to be considered jobs that only humans could do – the robots were supposedly not clever enough. The common misconception was that computer-controlled robotics and automation systems can only perform simple manual labour tasks.

While this may be true to a large extent, Moravec’s paradox shows that this is not the whole story, and that, in fact, computers are more suited to high-level intellectual jobs. Which seems obvious when you think about it, or get your robot to think about it. However, neither the hardware nor the software has been available to demonstrate the implications of the paradox on a large scale, until now.

Alexander Khaytin, chief operating officer, Yandex Data Factory
Alexander Khaytin, chief operating officer, Yandex Data Factory

At least some of these views are shared by Alexander Khaytin, chief operating officer at the Yandex Data Factory. According to Khaytin, the gradual move to Industry 4.0 requires rethinking of the full implications of new, artificial intelligence-based technologies.

In exclusive comments to Robotics and Automation News, Khaytin makes the observation that many intellectual tasks are already undertaken by AI systems.

“When we talk about automation, it is often associated with robots performing manual tasks, replacing humans on the assembly line and so on,” says Khaytin.  Continue reading It’s not just factory jobs the robots are after – it’s your intellectual jobs too

The IoT – with Chinese characteristics

iot network illustration

Exclusive interview with Erik Walenza-Slabe, CEO of IoT ONE

Apparently, we are all either living in the Age of Industry 4.0 already, or we are entering it. And one of the main features of this age is a relatively new connectivity technology called the “internet of things”, often abbreviated to IoT.

The IoT is, as you might imagine or know, a network of “things”. These things can be computers, industrial robots or any other type of robot, any device or appliance – anything that is a thing or a machine, which is why it’s also sometimes referred to as the machine-to-machine (M2M) network.

Perhaps it’s not a particularly accurate label for it, mainly because the IoT can be part of the general internet that we all know and use, in that it can use the same Ethernet cables and WiFi and whatever other connections there are available, although it’s thought M2M communications could mainly be carried through radio-frequency identification technology.  Continue reading The IoT – with Chinese characteristics

Technavio survey lists ‘world’s top four’ robot companies

industrial robot playing a vinyl record

Technavio has listed what it claims are the top four leading vendors in their recent global articulated robots market 2015-2019 report. This research report also lists numerous prominent vendors that are expected to impact the market during the forecast period.

Competitive vendor landscape

According to Bharath Kanniappan, lead research analyst at Technavio for robotics, “The top four vendors in the global articulated robots market concentrate on the development of application-specific and industry-specific articulated robots, which help them to have a competitive edge.”

ABB is the market leader in the global industrial robotics market. Fanuc is one of the leading industrial automation vendors and offers various industrial robots under its robotics business unit.  Continue reading Technavio survey lists ‘world’s top four’ robot companies

Tata to launch first Indian-made robot Brabo

tata brabo robot
Tata shows off its Brabo robot

In what is described as a major push for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious Make In India campaign, Tal Manufacturing Solutions, a Tata Group company, is all set to launch first India-made robot Tata Brabo in the next two months.

To be showcased for the first time at the ongoing Make in India Week in Mumbai, Tata Brabo has been developed in-house by a team of six engineers. On its official website, the company has also invited one and all to “join the robolution”.

Anil Bhingurde, chief operating officer of Tal Manufacturing Solutions led the group of six engineers whose average age is 24 years. In May last year, Bhingurde had made a presentation on the company’s robotic venture to Ravikant, the chairman, and to the board of the company. Continue reading Tata to launch first Indian-made robot Brabo

The future of small and cooperative robotics, according to Mathias Wiklund of Comau

Mathias Wiklund, chief operating officer, Comau
Mathias Wiklund, chief operating officer, Comau

An interview with Mathias Wiklund, chief operating officer, Comau Robotics. ‘Bringing intelligent robotics to the market means combining ease of use with advanced performance.’

When did you join Comau?

I joined Comau in 2011 as the managing director for Comau Germany, and became the COO of the Robotics Business Unit in 2013. I’m also a member of the Comau Executive Committee.

Having spent most of my career living and working around the world, including Germany, Italy, Sweden, Thailand and the USA, I now enjoy splitting my time between Germany and Italy.  Continue reading The future of small and cooperative robotics, according to Mathias Wiklund of Comau

The delicate balance of costs versus productivity in industrial automation

cp automation dynamic

John Mitchell, business development manager at CP Automation, examines the essence of lean manufacturing

European manufacturers are estimated to spend over €400 billion every year on maintenance activities. Studies show that about 30 per cent of failed machinery can be repaired at half the cost of buying replacements, which suggests a potential 15 per cent saving. John Mitchell, business development manager at CP Automation, discusses the issues that stop manufacturers cutting costs and improving productivity – the essence of lean manufacturing.

Perhaps the first thing manufacturers should consider when addressing efficiency is keeping assets low.Manufacturers can easily eliminate excess inventory from their books, and thus get better return on net assets,simply by not purchasing the inventory until it’s needed. Methods of achieving this include Just in Time (JIT) inventory management, which is also sometimes called the Toyota Production System. Figures suggest thiscould result in a 60 billion saving in plants across Europe.

As a service and commissioning engineer, I’ve often turned up on site to help a customer with a breakdown, onlyto find a host of spares out of their antistatic packaging and a confused client, not knowing whether or not the spares were functional.  Continue reading The delicate balance of costs versus productivity in industrial automation

Investment in manufacturing robotics could boost British economy by £60bn within a decade, says Barclays

manufacturing in the uk

Investing an additional £1.2bn into manufacturing processes, to increase robotics and automation over the next decade, could add as much as £60.5bn to the UK economy over the next decade, forecasts new research from Barclays. This is equivalent to nearly two fifths of the manufacturing sector’s value to the economy today.

The “Future-proofing UK manufacturing” report reveals that investing in automation technology will help to increase the international competitiveness of the UK’s manufacturing sector through increased manufacturing productivity and efficiency. As a result of additional investment, the manufacturing sector will be worth £191bn in 2025, £8.6bn more than currently projected and a 19.6% increase on today.

Furthermore, increased investment in automation will help to soften the expected long-term decline in manufacturing sector jobs by safeguarding 73,500 additional workers in 2025, due to the creation of a larger, more productive and competitive UK manufacturing sector. Continue reading Investment in manufacturing robotics could boost British economy by £60bn within a decade, says Barclays

Siemens provides close-up view of its electronics manufacturing plant, where the lines between human and robot workers are blurred

siemens robotic electronics factory
Picture: At Siemens’ Electronics Manufacturing Plant in Erlangen, Germany, the company has devised new concepts for highly flexible manufacturing systems using lightweight robots and 3D printers.

Simulation, 3D printing, lightweight robots – these are some of the innovative technologies driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution – or Industry 4.0. And they are already a reality at Siemens’ Electronics Manufacturing Plant in Erlangen, Germany. A key reason for the success of this plant is that people and machines work hand in hand.

siemens robotic electronics factory
Employees at Siemens’ Electronics Manufacturing Plant in Erlangen have the freedom to try out innovative ideas and turn them into successful projects.

Schorsch assembles small converters. Hannes does the big ones; he inserts a fan and a heat sink in the housing and fastens them with four screws – several hundred times a day. When Hannes takes a break, Schorsch keeps on working unwaveringly.

When Hannes goes home, Schorsch goes on working. Hannes is a temporary factory worker. Schorsch is a lightweight robot. Continue reading Siemens provides close-up view of its electronics manufacturing plant, where the lines between human and robot workers are blurred

Aston University wins funding to develop robotic stem cell factory

Aston University
Aston University

Aston University is playing a critical role in a €6 million EU project working to develop a robotic stem cell factory, which will reduce the cost of manufacturing adult stem cells and open up the opportunity to produce new therapies for a range of conditions.

The Autostem consortium, coordinated by NUI Galway in Ireland, has received funding through the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme to address the current challenges in manufacturing stem cells.

Dr Qasim Rafiq, academic lead for the project at Aston University and Lecturer in Bioprocess Engineering, explains: “Stem cell therapies have the potential to treat currently unmet patient needs and provide therapies for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson’s. Continue reading Aston University wins funding to develop robotic stem cell factory

World Economic Forum warns of ‘widespread disruption’ to business by robots

US Secretary of State John Kerry, delivering the keynote speech at the World Economic Forum
US Secretary of State John Kerry, delivering the keynote speech at the World Economic Forum

You know we’re in a lot of trouble when the World Economic Forum sees fit to issue a dire warning about the future of global employment, forecasting that more than 5 million people will lose their jobs across 15 developed economies by 2020 as a direct result of robotics and automation technology.

It’s difficult to say whether WEF is being conservative in its estimate, but since it is considered the mouthpiece of the leaders of the world economy, it’s in its interests to try and calm people’s anxieties over the issue.

In its report, The Future of Jobs, WEF says: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which includes developments in previously disjointed fields such as artificial intelligence and machine-learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3-D printing, and genetics and biotechnology, will cause widespread disruption not only to business models but also to labour markets over the next five years, with enormous change predicted in the skill sets needed to thrive in the new landscape.”  Continue reading World Economic Forum warns of ‘widespread disruption’ to business by robots

Kuka lightweight robot combines injection molding with additive manufacturing

kuka, arburg, collaborative robots, additive manufacturing
Use of the LBR iiwa enables maximum flexibility at Arburg

In the age of Industry 4.0, “smart factories” are developing at an unprecedented rate. Nowadays, automated, networked and variable production lines are in high demand as companies aim to respond quickly and flexibly to ever shorter product life cycles.

At the same time, the issue of how to incorporate individual customer requirements into industrial series production is growing in significance.

The German machinery manufacturer Arburg has developed a fully automated production line, completely networked in terms of IT processes, which allows series-manufactured injection moldings to be individualized right at the production line, according to the customer’s requirements. Continue reading Kuka lightweight robot combines injection molding with additive manufacturing

Sheridan unveils the first ABB YuMi robot in Canada

abb yumi
ABB’s YuMi robot, one of the most aesthetically pleasing industrial robots ever designed, intended for use in close collaboration with humans
Sheridan’s Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Design Technologies (CAMDT) has become the first facility in Canada to acquire ABB’s YuMi robot.

A special event to unveil and showcase YuMi’s capabilities was held this week at Sheridan’s Brampton Campus.

YuMi is the world’s first truly collaborative robot and is designed for small parts assembly, able to work side-by-side on the same tasks as humans while ensuring the safety of those around it. Continue reading Sheridan unveils the first ABB YuMi robot in Canada

Kuka streamlines own logistics processes

kuka robotics
Kuka robots have been given new jobs in the company’s own logistics operations

Kuka is implementing an autonomous transportation solution in its own production with the KMR iiwa mobile robot.

The company’s own robot production facility has now switched from a multiple-line system to single-line manufacturing in accordance with cutting-edge lean production methods.

The mobile Roboter KMR iiwa (KMR stands for Kuka Mobile Robotics, iiwa for intelligent industrial work assistant) is an autonomously navigating platform combined with a Kuka LBR iiwa lightweight robot. Continue reading Kuka streamlines own logistics processes

Robot density: Top 10 countries with most industrial robots for every 10,000 people employed in manufacturing

According to the IFR, the 10 countries with the highest number of industrial robots for every 10,000 people employed in manufacturing are:

  1. South Korea, 347
  2. Japan, 339
  3. Germany, 261
  4. Italy, 159
  5. Sweden, 157
  6. Denmark, 145
  7. United States, 135
  8. Spain, 131
  9. Finland, 130
  10. Taiwan, 129

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Source: International Federation of Robots