Portions of this post were taken from Design News Daily publication written by Chris Witz, August 2017.

I generally don’t “do” politics but recent activity relative to the Federal Jobs Initiative program have fallen upon hard times.  President Donald Trump has decided to disband the council of his Manufacturing Jobs Initiative. The announcement came Wednesday morning, after a significant exodus of council membership.  This exodus was in response to the President’s comments regarding a recent white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, VA.  By Tweet, the president said:

Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2017

I personally was very surprised by his reaction to several members pulling out of his committee and wonder if there was not more to ending the activities than meets the eye.

The members counseling President Trump were:

Brian Krzanich—CEO Intel

Ken Frazier—CEO Merk & Company

Kevin Plank—CEO UnderArmour

Elon Musk—CEO of SpaceX and Tesla

Bob Iger—CEO of Disney

Travis Kalanick—Former CEO of Uber

Scott Paul—President, Alliance for American Manufacturing

Richard Trumka—President, AFL-CIO

Inge Thulin—CEO 3M

Jamie Dimon—CEO of JPMorganChase

Steven Schwarzman—CEO of Blackstone

Rich Lesser—CEO of Boston Consulting Group

Doug McMillon—CEO of Walmart

Indra Nooyi—CEO and Chairperson of PepsiCo

Ginni Rometty—President and CEO of IBM

Jack Welch—Former CEO of General Electric Company

Toby Cosgrove—CEO of the Cleveland Clinic

Mary Barra—President and CEO of General Motors

Kevin Warsh—Fellow at the Hoover Institute

Paul Atkins– CEO of Patomak Global Partners LLC

Mark Weinberger– Global chairman and CEO, EY

Jim McNerney– Former chairman, president and CEO, Boeing

Adebayo Ogunlesi– Chairman, managing partner, Global Infrastructure Partners

Phillip Howard– Lawyer, Covington; founder of Common Good

Larry Fink—CEO of BlackRock

Matt Rose– Executive chairman, BNSF Railway

Andrew Liveris– Chairman, CEO, The Dow Chemical Company

Bill Brown—CEO, Harris Corporation

Michael Dell—CEO, Dell Technologies

John Ferriola– Chairman, president, CEO, Nucor Corporation

Jeff Fettig– Chairman, former CEO, Whirlpool Corporation

Alex Gorsky– Chairman, CEO, Johnson & Johnson

Greg Hayes– Chairman, CEO, United Technologies Corp

Marillyn Hewson– Chairman, president, CEO, Lockheed Martin Corporation

Jim Kamsickas– President, CEO, Dana Inc

Rich Kyle– President, CEO, The Timken Company

Jeff Immelt– Chairman, former CEO, General Electric

Denise Morrison– President, CEO, Campbell Soup Company

Dennis Muilenburg– Chairman, president, CEO, Boeing

Michael Polk– CEO, Newell Brands

Mark Sutton– Chairman, CEO, International Paper

Wendell Weeks—CEO, Corning

Mark Fields– Former CEO, Ford Motor Company

Mario Longhi– Former CEO, U.S. Steel

Doug Oberhelman– Former CEO, Caterpillar

Klaus Kleinfeld– Former Chairman, CEO, Arconic

I think we can all agree; this group of individuals are “BIG HITTERS”.  People on top of their game.  In looking at the list, I was very surprised at the diversity of products they represent.

As of Wednesday, members departing the committee are as follows:   Kenneth Frazier, CEO of pharmaceutical company Merck; Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank; Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing; Richard Trumka, of the AFL-CIO, along with Thea Lee, the AFL-CIO’s deputy chief of staff; 3M CEO Inge Thulin; and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich.

In a blog post , Intel’s Krzanich explained his departure, saying:

“I resigned to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues, including the serious need to address the decline of American manufacturing. Politics and political agendas have sidelined the important mission of rebuilding America’s manufacturing base. … I am not a politician. I am an engineer who has spent most of his career working in factories that manufacture the world’s most advanced devices. Yet, it is clear even to me that nearly every issue is now politicized to the point where significant progress is impossible. Promoting American manufacturing should not be a political issue.”

Under Armour’s Plank, echoed Krzanich’s sentiment, expressing a desire to focus on technological innovation over political entanglements. In a statement released by Under Amour, Plank said,

“We remain resolute in our potential and ability to improve American manufacturing. However, Under Armour engages in innovation and sports, not politics …” In the past year Under Armour has gained attention for applying 3D printing techniques to shoe design and manufacturing.

Paul, of the Alliance of American Manufacturing, tweeted about his departure, saying, “… it’s the right thing to do.”

I’m resigning from the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative because it’s the right thing for me to do.

— Scott Paul (@ScottPaulAAM) August 15, 2017

President Trump’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative, first announced back in January, was supposed to be a think tank, bringing together the most prominent business leaders in American manufacturing to tackle the problem of creating job growth in the manufacturing sector. At its inception the council boasted CEOs from companies including Tesla, Ford, Dow Chemical, Dell, Lockheed-Martin, and General Electric among its 28 members. However, over the course of the year the council had been steadily dwindling, with the largest exodus coming this week.

The first major blow to the council’s membership came in June when Tesla CEO Elon Musk resigned from the council in response to President Trump pulling out of the Paris climate accord. Musk, a known environmentalist , tweeted:

Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 1, 2017

At that same conference, when asked why he believed CEOs were leaving the manufacturing council, the President accused members of the council of being at odds with his plans to re-shore more jobs back to the US:

“Because [these CEOs] are not taking their job seriously as it pertains to this country. We want jobs, manufacturing in this country. If you look at some of those people that you’re talking about, they’re outside of the country. … We want products made in the country. Now, I have to tell you, some of the folks that will leave, they are leaving out of embarrassment because they make their products outside and I’ve been lecturing them … about you have to bring it back to this country. You can’t do it necessarily in Ireland and all of these other places. You have to bring this work back to this country. That’s what I want. I want manufacturing to be back into the United States so that American workers can benefit.”

Symbolic or Impactful?

It is unclear whether the dissolution of the manufacturing council will have an impact on Trump’s efforts to grow jobs in the US manufacturing sector. Some analysts have called the council little more than a symbolic gesture that was unlikely to have had any long-term impact on American manufacturing to begin with. Other analysts have credit Trump as a driving factor behind a spike in re-shoring in 2017. However other factors including labor costs and lack of skilled workers overseas are also playing a significant role as more advanced technologies in industries such as automotive and electronics hit the market.

CONCLUSIONS:

I personally regret the dissolution of the committee.  I think, given the proper leadership, they could have been very helpful regarding suggestions as to how to create and/or bring back jobs to our country.  In my opinion, President Trump simply did not have the leadership ability to hold the group together.  His actions over the past few months, beginning with leaving the Paris Climate Accord, simply gave them the excuse to leave the committee.  They simply flaked out.

As always, I welcome your comments.


One of the best things the automotive industry accomplishes is showing us what might be in our future.  They all have the finances, creative talent and vision to provide a glimpse into their “wish list” for upcoming vehicles.  Mercedes Benz has done just that with their futuristic F 015 Luxury in Motion.

In order to provide a foundation for the new autonomous F 015 Luxury in Motion research vehicle, an interdisciplinary team of experts from Mercedes-Benz has devised a scenario that incorporates different aspects of day-to-day mobility. Above and beyond its mobility function, this scenario perceives the motor car as a private retreat that additionally offers an important added value for society at large. (I like the word retreat.) If you take a look at how much time the “average” individual spends in his or her automobile or truck, we see the following:

  • On average, Americans drive 29.2 miles per day, making two trips with an average total duration of forty-six (46) minutes. This and other revealing data are the result of a ground-breaking study currently underway by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Urban Institute.
  • Motorists age sixteen (16) years and older drive, on average, 29.2 miles per day or 10,658 miles per year.
  • Women take more driving trips, but men spend twenty-five (25) percent more time behind the wheel and drive thirty-five (35) percent more miles than women.
  • Both teenagers and seniors over the age of seventy-five (75) drive less than any other age group; motorists 30-49 years old drive an average 13,140 miles annually, more than any other age group.
  • The average distance and time spent driving increase in relation to higher levels of education. A driver with a grade school or some high school education drove an average of 19.9 miles and 32 minutes daily, while a college graduate drove an average of 37.2 miles and 58 minutes.
  • Drivers who reported living “in the country” or “a small town” drive greater distances (12,264 miles annually) and spend a greater amount of time driving than people who described living in a “medium sized town” or city (9,709 miles annually).
  • Motorists in the South drive the most (11,826 miles annually), while those in the Northeast drive the least (8,468 miles annually).

With this being the case, why not enjoy it?

The F 015 made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas more than two years ago. It’s packed with advanced (or what was considered advanced in 2015) autonomous technology, and can, in theory, run for almost 900 kilometers on a mixture of pure electric power and a hydrogen fuel cell.

But while countless other vehicles are still trying to prove that cars can, literally, drive themselves, the Mercedes-Benz offering takes this for granted. Instead, this vehicle wants us to consider what we’ll actually do while the car is driving us around.

The steering wheel slides into the dashboard to create more of a “lounge” space. The seating configuration allows four people to face each other if they want to talk. And when the onboard conversation dries up, a bewildering collection of screens — one on the rear wall, and one on each of the doors — offers plenty of opportunity to interact with various media.

The F 015 could have done all of this as a flash-in-the-pan show car — seen at a couple of major events before vanishing without trace. But in fact, it has been touring almost constantly since that Vegas debut.

“Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society,” emphasizes Dr Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. “The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space.”

The visionary research vehicle was born, a vehicle which raises comfort and luxury to a new level by offering a maximum of space and a lounge character on the inside. Every facet of the F 015 Luxury in Motion is the utmost reflection of the Mercedes way of interpreting the terms “modern luxury”, emotion and intelligence.

This innovative four-seater is a forerunner of a mobility revolution, and this is immediately apparent from its futuristic appearance. Sensuousness and clarity, the core elements of the Mercedes-Benz design philosophy, combine to create a unique, progressive aesthetic appeal.

OK, with this being the case, let us now take a pictorial look at what the “Benz” has to offer.

One look and you can see the car is definitely aerodynamic in styling.  I am very sure that much time has been spent with this “ride” in wind tunnels with slip streams being monitored carefully.  That is where drag coefficients are determined initially.

The two JPEGs above indicate the front and rear swept glass windshields that definitely reduce induced drag.

The interiors are the most striking feature of this automobile.

Please note, this version is a four-seater but with plenty of leg-room.

Each occupant has a touch screen, presumably for accessing wireless or the Internet.  One thing, as yet there is no published list price for the car.  I’m sure that is being considered at this time but no USD numbers to date.  Also, as mentioned the car is self-driving so that brings on added complexities.  By design, this vehicle is a moving computer.  It has to be.  I am always very interested in maintenance and training necessary to diagnose and repair a vehicle such as this.  Infrastructure MUST be in place to facilitate quick turnaround when trouble arises–both mechanical and electrical.

As always, I welcome your comments.


Portions of the following post were taken from an article by Rob Spiegel publishing through Design News Daily.

Two former Apple design engineers – Anna Katrina Shedletsky and Samuel Weiss have leveraged machine learning to help brand owners improve their manufacturing lines. The company, Instrumental , uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify and fix problems with the goal of helping clients ship on time. The AI system consists of camera-equipped inspection stations that allow brand owners to remotely manage product lines at their contact manufacturing facilities with the purpose of maximizing up-time, quality and speed. Their digital photo is shown as follows:

Shedletsky and Weiss took what they learned from years of working with Apple contract manufacturers and put it into AI software.

“The experience with Apple opened our eyes to what was possible. We wanted to build artificial intelligence for manufacturing. The technology had been proven in other industries and could be applied to the manufacturing industry,   it’s part of the evolution of what is happening in manufacturing. The product we offer today solves a very specific need, but it also works toward overall intelligence in manufacturing.”

Shedletsky spent six (6) years working at Apple prior to founding Instrumental with fellow Apple alum, Weiss, who serves Instrumental’s CTO (Chief Technical Officer).  The two took their experience in solving manufacturing problems and created the AI fix. “After spending hundreds of days at manufacturers responsible for millions of Apple products, we gained a deep understanding of the inefficiencies in the new-product development process,” said Shedletsky. “There’s no going back, robotics and automation have already changed manufacturing. Intelligence like the kind we are building will change it again. We can radically improve how companies make products.”

There are number examples of big and small companies with problems that prevent them from shipping products on time. Delays are expensive and can cause the loss of a sale. One day of delay at a start-up could cost $10,000 in sales. For a large company, the cost could be millions. “There are hundreds of issues that need to be found and solved. They are difficult and they have to be solved one at a time,” said Shedletsky. “You can get on a plane, go to a factory and look at failure analysis so you can see why you have problems. Or, you can reduce the amount of time needed to identify and fix the problems by analyzing them remotely, using a combo of hardware and software.”

Instrumental combines hardware and software that takes images of each unit at key states of assembly on the line. The system then makes those images remotely searchable and comparable in order for the brand owner to learn and react to assembly line data. Engineers can then take action on issues. “The station goes onto the assembly line in China,” said Shedletsky. “We get the data into the cloud to discover issues the contract manufacturer doesn’t know they have. With the data, you can do failure analysis and reduced the time it takes to find an issue and correct it.”

WHAT IS AI:

Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence exhibited by machines.  In computer science, the field of AI research defines itself as the study of “intelligent agents“: any device that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of success at some goal.   Colloquially, the term “artificial intelligence” is applied when a machine mimics “cognitive” functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as “learning” and “problem solving”.

As machines become increasingly capable, mental facilities once thought to require intelligence are removed from the definition. For instance, optical character recognition is no longer perceived as an example of “artificial intelligence”, having become a routine technology.  Capabilities currently classified as AI include successfully understanding human speech,  competing at a high level in strategic game systems (such as chess and Go), autonomous cars, intelligent routing in content delivery networks, military simulations, and interpreting complex data.

FUTURE:

Some would have you believe that AI IS the future and we will succumb to the “Rise of the Machines”.  I’m not so melodramatic.  I feel AI has progressed and will progress to the point where great time saving and reduction in labor may be realized.   Anna Katrina Shedletsky and Samuel Weiss realize the potential and feel there will be no going back from this disruptive technology.   Moving AI to the factory floor will produce great benefits to manufacturing and other commercial enterprises.   There is also a significant possibility that job creation will occur as a result.  All is not doom and gloom.


Various definitions of product lifecycle management or PLM have been issued over the years but basically: product lifecycle management is the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from inception, through engineering design and manufacture, to service and disposal of manufactured products.  PLM integrates people, data, processes and business systems and provides a product information backbone for companies and their extended enterprise.

“In recent years, great emphasis has been put on disposal of a product after its service life has been met.  How to get rid of a product or component is extremely important. Disposal methodology is covered by RoHS standards for the European Community.  If you sell into the EU, you will have to designate proper disposal.  Dumping in a landfill is no longer appropriate.

Since this course deals with the application of PLM to industry, we will now look at various industry definitions.

Industry Definitions

PLM is a strategic business approach that applies a consistent set of business solutions in support of the collaborative creation, management, dissemination, and use of product definition information across the extended enterprise, and spanning from product concept to end of life integrating people, processes, business systems, and information. PLM forms the product information backbone for a company and its extended enterprise.” Source:  CIMdata

“Product life cycle management or PLM is an all-encompassing approach for innovation, new product development and introduction (NPDI) and product information management from initial idea to the end of life.  PLM Systems is an enabling technology for PLM integrating people, data, processes, and business systems and providing a product information backbone for companies and their extended enterprise.” Source:  PLM Technology Guide

“The core of PLM (product life cycle management) is in the creation and central management of all product data and the technology used to access this information and knowledge. PLM as a discipline emerged from tools such as CAD, CAM and PDM, but can be viewed as the integration of these tools with methods, people and the processes through all stages of a product’s life.” Source:  Wikipedia article on Product Lifecycle Management

“Product life cycle management is the process of managing product-related design, production and maintenance information. PLM may also serve as the central repository for secondary information, such as vendor application notes, catalogs, customer feedback, marketing plans, archived project schedules, and other information acquired over the product’s life.” Source:  Product Lifecycle Management

“It is important to note that PLM is not a definition of a piece, or pieces, of technology. It is a definition of a business approach to solving the problem of managing the complete set of product definition information-creating that information, managing it through its life, and disseminating and using it throughout the lifecycle of the product. PLM is not just a technology, but is an approach in which processes are as important, or more important than data.” Source:  CIMdata

“PLM or Product Life Cycle Management is a process or system used to manage the data and design process associated with the life of a product from its conception and envisioning through its manufacture, to its retirement and disposal. PLM manages data, people, business processes, manufacturing processes, and anything else pertaining to a product. A PLM system acts as a central information hub for everyone associated with a given product, so a well-managed PLM system can streamline product development and facilitate easier communication among those working on/with a product. Source:  Aras

A pictorial representation of PLM may be seen as follows:

Hopefully, you can see that PLM deals with methodologies from “white napkin design to landfill disposal”.  Please note, documentation is critical to all aspects of PLM and good document production, storage and retrieval is extremely important to the overall process.  We are talking about CAD, CAM, CAE, DFSS, laboratory testing notes, etc.  In other words, “the whole nine yards of product life”.   If you work in a company with ISO certification, PLM is a great method to insure retaining that certification.

In looking at the four stages of a products lifecycle, we see the following:

Four Stages of Product Life Cycle—Marketing and Sales:

Introduction: When the product is brought into the market. In this stage, there’s heavy marketing activity, product promotion and the product is put into limited outlets in a few channels for distribution. Sales take off slowly in this stage. The need is to create awareness, not profits.

The second stage is growth. In this stage, sales take off, the market knows of the product; other companies are attracted, profits begin to come in and market shares stabilize.

The third stage is maturity, where sales grow at slowing rates and finally stabilize. In this stage, products get differentiated, price wars and sales promotion become common and a few weaker players exit.

The fourth stage is decline. Here, sales drop, as consumers may have changed, the product is no longer relevant or useful. Price wars continue, several products are withdrawn and cost control becomes the way out for most products in this stage.

Benefits of PLM Relative to the Four Stages of Product Life:

Considering the benefits of Product Lifecycle Management, we realize the following:

  • Reduced time to market
  • Increase full price sales
  • Improved product quality and reliability
  • Reduced prototypingcosts
  • More accurate and timely request for quote generation
  • Ability to quickly identify potential sales opportunities and revenue contributions
  • Savings through the re-use of original data
  • frameworkfor product optimization
  • Reduced waste
  • Savings through the complete integration of engineering workflows
  • Documentation that can assist in proving compliance for RoHSor Title 21 CFR Part 11
  • Ability to provide contract manufacturers with access to a centralized product record
  • Seasonal fluctuation management
  • Improved forecasting to reduce material costs
  • Maximize supply chain collaboration
  • Allowing for much better “troubleshooting” when field problems arise. This is accomplished by laboratory testing and reliability testing documentation.

PLM considers not only the four stages of a product’s lifecycle but all of the work prior to marketing and sales AND disposal after the product is removed from commercialization.   With this in mind, why is PLM a necessary business technique today?  Because increases in technology, manpower and specialization of departments, PLM was needed to integrate all activity toward the design, manufacturing and support of the product. Back in the late 1960s when the F-15 Eagle was conceived and developed, almost all manufacturing and design processes were done by hand.  Blueprints or drawings needed to make the parts for the F15 were created on a piece of paper. No electronics, no emails – all paper for documents. This caused a lack of efficiency in design and manufacturing compared to today’s technology.  OK, another example of today’s technology and the application of PLM.

If we look at the processes for Boeings DREAMLINER, we see the 787 Dreamliner has about 2.3 million parts per airplane.  Development and production of the 787 has involved a large-scale collaboration with numerous suppliers worldwide. They include everything from “fasten seatbelt” signs to jet engines and vary in size from small fasteners to large fuselage sections. Some parts are built by Boeing, and others are purchased from supplier partners around the world.  In 2012, Boeing purchased approximately seventy-five (75) percent of its supplier content from U.S. companies. On the 787 program, content from non-U.S. suppliers accounts for about thirty (30) percent of purchased parts and assemblies.  PLM or Boeing’s version of PLM was used to bring about commercialization of the 787 Dreamliner.

 

COLLABORATIVE ROBOTICS

June 26, 2017


I want to start this discussion with defining collaboration.  According to Merriam-Webster:

  • to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.An international team of scientists collaborated on the study.
  • to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy of one’s country and especially an occupying force suspected of collaborating with the enemy
  • to cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected.

We are going to adopt the first definition to work jointly with others.  Well, what if the “others” are robotic systems?

Collaborative robots, or cobots as they have come to be known, are robot robotic systems designed to operate collaboratively or in conjunction with humans.  The term “Collaborative Robot is a verb, not a noun. The collaboration is dependent on what the robot is doing, not the robot itself.”  With that in mind, collaborative robotic systems and applications generally combine some or all of the following characteristics:

  • They are designed to be safe around people. This is accomplished by using sensors to prevent touching or by limiting the force if the system touches a human or a combination of both.
  • They are often relatively light weight and can be moved from task to task as needed. This means they can be portable or mobile and can be mounted on movable tables.
  • They do not require skill to program. Most cobots are simple enough that anyone who can use a smartphone or tablet can teach or program them. Most robotic systems of this type are programmed by using a “teach pendent”. The most-simple can allow up to ninety (90) programs to be installed.
  • Just as a power saw is intended to help, not replace, the carpenter, the cobot is generally intended to assist, not replace, the production worker. (This is where the collaboration gets its name. It assists the human is accomplishing a task.)  The production worker generally works side-by-side with the robot.
  • Collaborative robots are generally simpler than more traditional robots, which makes them cheaper to buy, operate and maintain.

There are two basic approaches to making cobots safe. One approach, taken by Universal, Rethink and others, is to make the robot inherently safe. If it makes contact with a human co-worker, it immediately stops so the worker feels no more than a gentle nudge. Rounded surfaces help make that nudge even more gentle. This approach limits the maximum load that the robot can handle as well as the speed. A robot moving a fifty (50) pound part at high speed will definitely hurt no matter how quickly it can stop upon making contact.

A sensor-based approach allows collaborative use in faster and heavier applications. Traditionally, physical barriers such as cages or light curtains have been used to stop the robot when a person enters the perimeter. Modern sensors can be more discriminating, sensing not only the presence of a person but their location as well. This allows the robot to slow down, work around the person or stop as the situation demands to maintain safety. When the person moves away, the robot can automatically resume normal operation.

No discussion of robot safety can ignore the end-of-arm tooling (EOAT).  If the robot and operator are handing parts back and forth, the tooling needs to be designed so that, if the person gets their fingers caught, they can’t be hurt.

The next digital photographs will give you some idea as to how humans and robotic systems can work together and the tasks they can perform.

The following statistics are furnished by “Digital Engineering” February 2017.

  • By 2020, more than three (3) million workers on a global basis will be supervised by a “robo-boss”.
  • Forty-five (45) percent of all work activities could be automated using already demonstrated technology and fifty-nine (59) percent of all manufacturing activities could be automated, given technical considerations.
  • At the present time, fifty-nine (59) percent of US manufacturers are using some form of robotic technology.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI), will replace sixteen (16) percent of American jobs by 2025 and will create nine (9) percent of American jobs.
  • By 2018, six (6) billion connected devices will be used to assist commerce and manufacturing.

CONCLUSIONS: OK, why am I posting this message?  Robotic systems and robots themselves WILL become more and more familiar to us as the years go by.  The usage is already in a tremendous number of factories and on manufacturing floors.  Right now, most of the robotic work cells used in manufacturing are NOT collaborative.  The systems are SCARA (The SCARA acronym stands for Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm or Selective Compliance Articulated Robot Arm.) type and perform a Pick-and-place function or a very specific task such as laying down a bead of adhesive on a plastic or metal part.  Employee training will be necessary if robotic systems are used and if those systems are collaborative in nature.  In other words—get ready for it.  Train for this to happen so that when it does you are prepared.


Information for this post is taken from the following companies:

  • Wholers Associates
  • Gartner
  • Oerlikon
  • SmartTech Publishing

3-D ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING:

I think before we get up and running let us define “additive manufacturing”.

Additive Manufacturing or AM is an appropriate name to describe the technologies that build 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material, whether the material is plastic, metal, concrete human tissue. Believe it or not, additive manufacturing is now, on a limited basis, able to construct objects from human tissue to repair body parts that have been damaged and/or absent.

Common to AM technologies is the use of a computer, 3D modeling software (Computer Aided Design or CAD), machine equipment and layering material.  Once a CAD sketch is produced, the AM equipment reads in data from the CAD file and lays downs or adds successive layers of liquid, powder, sheet material or other, in a layer-upon-layer fashion to fabricate a 3D object.

The term AM encompasses many technologies including subsets like 3D Printing, Rapid Prototyping (RP), Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM), layered manufacturing and additive fabrication.

AM application is limitless. Early use of AM in the form of Rapid Prototyping focused on preproduction visualization models. More recently, AM is being used to fabricate end-use products in aircraft, dental restorations, medical implants, automobiles, and even fashion products.

RAPID PROTOTYPING & MANUFACTURING (RP&M) TECHNOLOGIES:

There are several viable options available today that take advantage of rapid prototyping technologies.   All of the methods shown below are considered to be rapid prototyping and manufacturing technologies.

  • (SLA) Stereolithography
  • (SLS) Selective Laser Sintering
  • (FDM) Fused Deposition Modeling
  • (3DP) Three-Dimensional Printing
  • (Pjet) Poly-Jet
  • Laminated Object Manufacturing

PRODUCT POSSIBILITIES:

Frankly, if it the configuration can be programmed, it can be printed.  The possibilities are absolutely endless.

Assortment of components: flange mount and external gear.

Bone fragment depicting a fractured bone.  This printed product will aid the efforts of a surgeon to make the necessary repair.

More and more, 3D printing is used to model teeth and jaw lines prior to extensive dental work.  It gives the dental surgeon a better look at a patients mouth prior to surgery.

You can see the intricate detail of the Eiffel Tower and the show sole in the JPEGs above.  3D printing can provide an enormous amount of detail to the end user.

THE MARKET:

3D printing is a disruptive technology that is definitely on the rise.  Let’s take a look at future possibilities and current practices.

GROWTH:

Wohlers Associates has been tracking the market for machines that produce metal parts for fourteen (14) years.  The Wohlers Report 2014 marks only the second time for the company to publish detailed information on metal based AM machine unit sales by year. The following chart shows that 348 of 3D machines were sold in 2013, compared to 198 in 2012—growth of an impressive 75.8%.

Additive manufacturing industry grew by 17.4% in worldwide revenues in 2016, reaching $6.063 billion.

MATERIALS USED:

Nearly one-half of the 3D printing/additive manufacturing service providers surveyed in 2016 offered metal printing.

GLOBAL MARKETS:

NUMBER OF VENDORS OFFERING EQUIPMENT:

The number of companies producing and selling additive manufacturing equipment

  • 2014—49
  • 2015—62
  • 2016—97

USERS:

World-wide shipments of 3D printers were projected to reach 455,772 units in 2016. 6.7 million units are expected to be shipped by 2020

More than 278,000 desktop 3D printers (under $5,000) were sold worldwide last year, according to Wohlers Associates. The report has a chart to illustrate and it looks like the proverbial hockey stick that you hear venture capitalists talk about: Growth that moves rapidly from horizontal to vertical (from 2010 to 2015 for desktop).

According to Wohlers Report 2016, the additive manufacturing (AM) industry grew 25.9% (CAGR – Corporate Annual Growth Rate) to $5.165 billion in 2015. Frequently called 3D printing by those outside of manufacturing circles, the industry growth consists of all AM products and services worldwide. The CAGR for the previous three years was 33.8%. Over the past 27 years, the CAGR for the industry is an impressive 26.2%. Clearly, this is not a market segment that is declining as you might otherwise read.

THE MARKET:

  • About 20 to 25% of the $26.5 billion market forecast for 2021 is expected to be the result of metal additive manufacturing.
  • The market for polymers and plastics for 3D printing will reach $3.2 billion by 2022
  • The primary market for metal additive manufacturing, including systems and power materials, will grow to over $6.6 billion by 2026.

CONCLUSIONS:

We see more and more products and components manufactured by 3D Printing processes.  Additive manufacturing just now enjoying acceptance from larger and more established companies whose products are in effect “mission critical”.  As material choices continue to grow, a greater number of applications will emerge.  For the foreseeable future, additive manufacturing is one of the technologies to be associated with.


If you work or have worked in manufacturing you know robotic systems have definitely had a distinct impact on assembly, inventory acquisition from storage areas and finished-part warehousing.   There is considerable concern that the “rise of the machines” will eventually replace individuals performing a verity of tasks.  I personally do not feel this will be the case although there is no doubt robotic systems have found their way onto the manufacturing floor.

From the “Executive Summary World Robotics 2016 Industrial Robots”, we see the following:

2015:  By far the highest volume ever recorded in 2015, robot sales increased by 15% to 253,748 units, again by far the highest level ever recorded for one year. The main driver of the growth in 2015 was the general industry with an increase of 33% compared to 2014, in particular the electronics industry (+41%), metal industry (+39%), the chemical, plastics and rubber industry (+16%). The robot sales in the automotive industry only moderately increased in 2015 after a five-year period of continued considerable increase. China has significantly expanded its leading position as the biggest market with a share of 27% of the total supply in 2015.

In looking at the chart below, we can see the sales picture with perspective and show how system sales have increased from 2003.

It is very important to note that seventy-five percent (75%) of global robot sales comes from five (5) countries.

There were five major markets representing seventy-five percent (75%) of the total sales volume in 2015:  China, the Republic of Korea, Japan, the United States, and Germany.

As you can see from the bar chart above, sales volume increased from seventy percent (70%) in 2014. Since 2013 China is the biggest robot market in the world with a continued dynamic growth. With sales of about 68,600 industrial robots in 2015 – an increase of twenty percent (20%) compared to 2014 – China alone surpassed Europe’s total sales volume (50,100 units). Chinese robot suppliers installed about 20,400 units according to the information from the China Robot Industry Alliance (CRIA). Their sales volume was about twenty-nine percent (29%) higher than in 2014. Foreign robot suppliers increased their sales by seventeen percent (17%) to 48,100 units (including robots produced by international robot suppliers in China). The market share of Chinese robot suppliers grew from twenty-five percent (25%) in 2013 to twenty-nine percent (29%) in 2015. Between 2010 and 2015, total supply of industrial robots increased by about thirty-six percent (36%) per year on average.

About 38,300 units were sold to the Republic of Korea, fifty-five percent (55%) more than in 2014. The increase is partly due to a number of companies which started to report their data only in 2015. The actual growth rate in 2015 is estimated at about thirty percent (30%) to thirty-five percent (35%.)

In 2015, robot sales in Japan increased by twenty percent (20%) to about 35,000 units reaching the highest level since 2007 (36,100 units). Robot sales in Japan followed a decreasing trend between 2005 (reaching the peak at 44,000 units) and 2009 (when sales dropped to only 12,767 units). Between 2010 and 2015, robot sales increased by ten percent (10%) on average per year (CAGR).

Increase in robot installations in the United States continued in 2015, by five percent (5%) to the peak of 27,504 units. Driver of this continued growth since 2010 was the ongoing trend to automate production in order to strengthen American industries on the global market and to keep manufacturing at home, and in some cases, to bring back manufacturing that had previously been sent overseas.

Germany is the fifth largest robot market in the world. In 2015, the number of robots sold increased slightly to a new record high at 20,105 units compared to 2014 (20,051 units). In spite of the high robot density of 301 units per 10,000 employees, annual sales are still very high in Germany. Between 2010 and 2015, annual sales of industrial robots increased by an average of seven percent (7%) in Germany (CAGR).

From the graphic below, you can see which industries employ robotic systems the most.

Growth rates will not lessen with projections through 2019 being as follows:

A fascinating development involves the assistance of human endeavor by robotic systems.  This fairly new technology is called collaborative robots of COBOTS.  Let’s get a definition.

COBOTS:

A cobot or “collaborative robot” is a robot designed to assist human beings as a guide or assistor in a specific task. A regular robot is designed to be programmed to work more or less autonomously. In one approach to cobot design, the cobot allows a human to perform certain operations successfully if they fit within the scope of the task and to steer the human on a correct path when the human begins to stray from or exceed the scope of the task.

“The term ‘collaborative’ is used to distinguish robots that collaborate with humans from robots that work behind fences without any direct interaction with humans.  “In contrast, articulated, cartesian, delta and SCARA robots distinguish different robot kinematics.

Traditional industrial robots excel at applications that require extremely high speeds, heavy payloads and extreme precision.  They are reliable and very useful for many types of high volume, low mix applications.  But they pose several inherent challenges for higher mix environments, particularly in smaller companies.  First and foremost, they are very expensive, particularly when considering programming and integration costs.  They require specialized engineers working over several weeks or even months to program and integrate them to do a single task.  And they don’t multi-task easily between jobs since that setup effort is so substantial.  Plus, they can’t be readily integrated into a production line with people because they are too dangerous to operate in close proximity to humans.

For small manufacturers with limited budgets, space and staff, a collaborative robot such as Baxter (shown below) is an ideal fit because it overcomes many of these challenges.  It’s extremely intuitive, integrates seamlessly with other automation technologies, is very flexible and is quite affordable with a base price of only $25,000.  As a result, Baxter is well suited for many applications, such as those requiring manual labor and a high degree of flexibility, that are currently unmet by traditional technologies.

Baxter is one example of collaborative robotics and some say is by far the safest, easiest, most flexible and least costly robot of its kind today.  It features a sophisticated multi-tier safety design that includes a smooth, polymer exterior with fewer pinch points; back-drivable joints that can be rotated by hand; and series elastic actuators which help it to minimize the likelihood of injury during inadvertent contact.

It’s also incredibly simple to use.  Line workers and other non-engineers can quickly learn to train the robot themselves, by hand.  With Baxter, the robot itself is the interface, with no teaching pendant or external control system required.  And with its ease of use and diverse skill set, Baxter is extremely flexible, capable of being utilized across multiple lines and tasks in a fraction of the time and cost it would take to re-program other robots.  Plus, Baxter is made in the U.S.A., which is a particularly appealing aspect for many of our customers looking to re-shore their own production operations.

The digital picture above shows a lady work alongside a collaborative robotic system, both performing a specific task. The lady feels right at home with her mechanical friend only because usage demands a great element of safety.

Certifiable safety is the most important precondition for a collaborative robot system to be applied to an industrial setting.  Available solutions that fulfill the requirements imposed by safety standardization often show limited performance or productivity gains, as most of today’s implemented scenarios are often limited to very static processes. This means a strict stop and go of the robot process, when the human enters or leaves the work space.

Collaborative systems are still a work in progress but the technology has greatly expanded the use and this is primarily due to satisfying safety requirements.  Upcoming years will only produce greater acceptance and do not be surprised if you see robots and humans working side by side on every manufacturing floor over the next decade.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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