Robot Democratization: A Machine for Every Manufacturer   


With collaborative robots proliferating, we wanted to know who’s using these robots and what tasks they’re doing. Design News caught up with Walter Vahey, executive vice-president at Teradyne, a company that helps manufacturers gear up their automation. Vahey sees a real change in the companies that are deploying robotics. For years robots were tools only for the largest manufacturers. They required expensive care and feeding in the form of integrators and programming. Now, collaborative robots require configuration rather than programming, and they can be quickly switched from task to task.

Vahey talked about robot companies such as Universal Robots (UR) which produces robot arms, and MiR, a company that produces collaborative mobile robots. He explained how they’re putting robotics in the hands of smaller manufacturers that previously could not afford advanced automation. The difference is that these robots are less expensive, they can be set up for production without programming, and they can be quickly reconfigured to change tasks.

Universal Robots, MiR, Taradyne, robotics, robots, automation, small manufacturers
Robots are now within the investment reach of small manufacturers. That's fueling a surge in the use of collaborative robots. (Image source: Universal Robots)

We asked Vahey what’s different about collaborative robots and what he’s seeing in robot adoption among smaller manufacturers.

Design News: Tell us about the new robots and how they’re getting deployed.

Walter Vahey: Companies such as Universal Robots and MiR are pioneering the robot space. They’re bringing automation to a broad class of users and democratizing automation. For small companies, the task at hand is to figure out how to fulfill their orders. It’s particularly challenging to manufacturers. In a tight labor market, manufacturers are facing more competition, growing demand, and higher expectations in quality.

Manufacturer can plug UR or MiR robots in very quickly. Everything is easy, from the specs up front to ordering to quickly arranging and training the robot. There’s no programming, and the robots have the flexibility to do a variety of applications. Every customer is dealing with labor challenges, so now they’re deploying collaborative robots to fulfill demand with high quality.

The whole paradigm has shifted now that you have a broader range of robot applications. You can easily and quickly bring in automation, plug it in ,and get product moving in hours or days rather than months. That’s what’s driving the growth at UR and MiR.

The Issue of Change Management

Design News: Is change management a hurdle?. Does the robot cause workforce disruption?

Walter Vahey: We really haven’t seen that as an issue. The overwhelming need to improve and fulfill demand at a higher quality level helps the manufacturers deploy. It outweighs other challenges. We help with the deployment, and the manufacturers are making the change easily.

We grew up as a supplier of electronic test equipment. Since 2015, we’ve entered the industrial automation market with a focus on the emerging collaborative robot space. We see that as a way to change the equation for manufacturers, making it faster and easier to deploy automation.

Design News: What about return on investment? Robotics can be a considerable investment for a small company/

Walter Vahey: The customers today are looking for relatively short ROI, and we’re seeing it from 6 months to a year. That’s a no brainer for manufacturers. They’re ready to jump in.

We work hard to make deployment less of an issue. We have an application builder, and we use it to prepare for deployment. The new user may have a pick-and-place operation. They choose the gripper, and we guide them to partners who make it easy to deploy.

The application builder helps the customer pick the gripper. The whole object is to get the customer deployed rapidly so the automation doesn’t sit. With MiR, the robot comes in, and we find an easy application for the mobile device. We take the robot around the plant and map it. We’ve work to guide customers through an application quickly and make the robot productive as soon as possible.

There are hundreds of partners that work with UR and MiR, providing grippers and end effectors. We have a system that customers can plug into. Customer can look at grippers from a wide range of companies. We’re not working just on the robot deployment. We work to get the whole system deployed so they can quickly get the ROI.

What Tasks Are the Robots Taking On?

Design News: Who in the plant is using the robots, and what tasks are involved?

Walter Vahey: There is a range of users. To be effective at training a robot and configuring it, the people best suited for it are the ones most aware of the task. To get the robot to be effective you have to know the task. By and large, the person who has been doing that task is best suited to train the robot. That person can then train other robots. Nobody’s better suited to do it than the people who know what needs to be done.

The tasks are broad set of applications. We automate virtually any task and any material movement. It’s not quite that simple, but it’s close. With UR, we’re doing machine learning, grinding, packing, pick-and-place, repetitive tasks, welding. It’s a very broad set of applications. In materials it’s also very broad. Parts going from a warehouse to a work cell, and then from the work cell to another work cell, up to a 1000-kilo payload. We’re moving robots into warehousing and logistics space, even large pieces of metal. The robots are well suited for long runs of pallets of materials.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

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UAV has become the focus of business and media attention. McNeill Bill, a freelance writer, uses this article to introduce the reader to the basic situation of the UAV and analyze its huge market potential in the future.

And before the traditional sense of the "UAV" is different, and now the UAV is more accurately described as unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs), which is characterized by the use of data collected to solve the application problem.

A wide variety of UAVs, whether from the size or price. From Northrop's Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle ($32, 200000000 hours of battery life) to launch an electric powered aircraft ($40, by the smart phone's Bluetooth control) via a small generator. In the paper, the author focuses on the "production and marketing of a" UAV and the collection of remote sensing information of small aircraft, the price of this kind of aircraft are generally below 5000 dollars, it can provide data for GIS application.

1 technology

Over the past 15 years, the integration of technology has created a radio controlled aircraft, which has spent more than ten years in the evolution of the aircraft. Clearly, the UAV can fly independently because of the acquisition of GPS signal, and to control the radio control of the aircraft, the pilot needs to establish a visual contact with the aircraft. If the flight is not in line of sight, it is unable to control the plane, because the defect causes the flight range to be within a few hundred yards. The GPS receiver can be added to the UAV, so that the pilot can be free to control the plane without seeing the whole flight path.

After that, WiFi technology is applied to the UAV, which is the first person (FPV). Equipped with WiFi cameras, such as GoPro camera and DJI, Parrot's integrated camera, smart phones or tablet computers will appear real-time flight data flow, that is, even if the aircraft is not in your sight, when it is independent of the time you can see what it is. So the operator can raise or extend the flight route, or even the next flight.

2 composition of UAV

Multi wing UAVs are generally composed of these parts: aircraft, a fixed frame, load or small equipment installed on the fixed frame. None of these components can be called drones.

The fixing frame is a connecting flight vehicle and the loading material, also plays a role, it can reduce the vibration in a large extent, avoid the picture of the "jelly effect". Figure 1 is the DJI company's production of unmanned aerial vehicles, equipped with a ZenmuseH3-D3 balance frame and GoPro camera, as there is a picture of the bracket and the camera.

Below is a Robotics LA100 3D camera with fixed wing UAV and Aviation Lehmann. Fixed wing aircraft in the flight process is very stable and therefore do not need a fixed frame.


Needs to mention is that although the UAV data collection has been commonplace, but to truly realize the function of collecting data is no computer equipped with various payloads. As long as the installation of the application, infrared cameras, high precision air pressure meter, multi spectral scanner, laser radar or high spectral sensors can collect data.

Most of the data is needed to deal with the data processing, the various developers have their own data processing software, providing accurate correction, image mosaic and terrain extraction, etc.. Because the software is also a part of the UAV, so many industry insiders call for the UAV (UAV) was renamed as unmanned aerial vehicle (UAS) system.

3 application of UAV

UAVs are not generated by the new GIS application, but it is lower than the existing methods of data acquisition, the cost is lower, so it can quickly expand the existing GIS application market. In other words, the same is a low altitude flight over the forest to collect data, no chance to drive a plane to a large extent save the cost of the pilot aircraft.

There is a part of the industry can be replaced with unmanned aerial vehicles: remote sensing, air monitoring, oil and gas detection, transmission line monitoring, measurement, film production, precision agriculture, terrain extraction, and the shooting image mosaic, digital image analysis and 3D terrain image analysis.


Figure 2 is a picture of the Skycatch site, is a case of the UAV to collect data.


Figure 2A real-time image monitoring map



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