The vendors making cobots have a different mind-set
Published on : Saturday 01-08-2020
Matteo Dariol, Lead Innovation Strategist at Bosch Rexroth.
What are the factors contributing to the low robot density in India in general?
Unfortunately, I am not an expert on the Indian market, but I can try to give some reasons from a global perspective. I do not have to convince anyone about the performance increase that robots can bring; what I would like to mention are the side-effects of the usage of robots:
-Large initial capital expense, robots do not come for free, depending on the application they can be quite expensive.
-If the performance increase is low, let’s say only a few per cent points, thMatteo Dariolen it might take longer to see your RoI.
-Programming and maintaining robots require very specific skills: from a software standpoint, robot vendors have proprietary languages which require certified people on staff in the plant (or in a nearby engineering services company).
-Robot are not just purchased individually, they typically require dedicated work cells (especially for larger robots) where human cannot get in, which translates into more valuable shop floor occupied, but they also need dedicated equipment, such as safety devices, conveyor belts, material exchange stations, etc., which obviously drive the capital expense up.
What are the segments besides automotive that can use more robots?
When looking into automating a process with robots, there are some specifications that we need to pay attention to, such as the max payload (weight) that the robots will have to move, the repeatability and the accuracy of the robot movements and the robot working area. Under those consideration, potentially every manual assembly operation could be automated using robots/cobots. I see the main segments being: Semi-conductors, Precision assembly, CNC, and Additive manufacturing. If we extend the concept of ‘robot’ (static) into ‘AGV’ (mobile robots) then another important segment with great potential is intralogistics. Warehouses have a great potential for being robotics playgrounds: one example above all is Amazon.
Will the rapidly changing geopolitical scenario help India scale up manufacturing and lead to greater use of robots?
The global landscape is complex now, let’s try to analyse the main points. Although China is still a big manufacturing hub, more and more western companies are going in the direction of ‘re-shoring’ and even ‘near-shoring’ their factories, one example above all is the incentives that the Mexican government is giving to US companies that open shop in Mexico. European companies are still in the lead in terms of engineering and design capabilities, but they lack the numbers in manufacturing work force. Looking at the latest contrasts between India and China, I believe there is now the chance to create an alternative hub to Chinese manufacturing in India: software knowledge is already there, now India can have the chance to boost its manufacturing productivity by combining all the knowledge that is already available in the country.
Are cobots with their greater appeal bridging the gap?
When we think of cobots we typically indicate a smaller robot that can lift a small payload, have a reduced work area and have safety mechanisms integrated in its control unit. From an operational standpoint this translates in the fact that manufacturer can start ‘dipping their feet’ into robotics easier and cheaper. Cobots will certainly bridge the gap, not only because if their lower costs, but also because the vendors making cobots have a different mind-set, offering open software platforms, embracing open programming and communication standards to a new software-savvy workforce.
In the aftermath of Covid-19, many startups have drafted robots as frontline warriors, especially service robots. How can this trend be channelised more effectively?
Machines are more reliable, do not get sick and can perform boring/dangerous operations with no risk of errors. I think the pandemic was a great wakeup call for those manufacturers that had not already thought of an Industry4.0 plan. It also showed how the global networks are interconnected: a manufacturing stop in the other side of the world could result in a shutdown of your own supply chain, putting at risk your business. Robots, in the broader meaning of the term, as well as digitalisation are tools that can guarantee business continuity and allow your operation to become more resilient.
Will the growing use of AI and ML provide the much needed boost for wider use of robot?
Absolutely, AI has been compared to the ‘new electricity’ but we are still lacking to understand the full scope of it. This technology will be much more pervasive and will allow faster adoption of new robotics solutions. A couple of examples that I see being very relevant soon:
-Autonomous robotics, scheduling and path coordination among AGVs for optimal warehouse covering and production time reduction. These robots will coordinate with other machines in real-time so that material shortage will no longer be an issue.
-Autonomous cobots agents, currently cobots safety mechanism allow the machine to stop as soon or right before contact happen; the next trend will be for a cobot to autonomously and dynamically adjust its path based on the dynamic location of humans and other objects in its working space. By perceiving the environment, they will be able to use AI to avoid collisions and at the same time dynamically re-arrange the motion in order to complete the task.
-Another area very exciting for the near future is the merging of simulation and deep learning technologies for various tasks: personnel training, robot training, AGV coordination, etc.
How relevant is RPA in manufacturing? Globally, several companies are now increasingly using RPA for back office activities related. Is this gaining traction?
Absolutely. I see this happening in large corporations, which are typically harder to coordinate. In the last decade or so the use and understanding various forms of back office process automation increased dramatically, such as the use of API, AI-powered analytics, data lakes. A main factor to this is the availability of new cloud-based intuitive tools; most of the times these same tools are also programmed with a graphical language, which reduce even further the ramp-up time and increase UX.
How do you see automation transforming the future?
As Andrew Ng said once, ‘Artificial Intelligence is automation on steroids’. If we pair this with the fact that AI is the ‘new electricity’ we get a glimpse on what will be its impact on the future. As AI/ML/Deep Learning technologies progress, we will make more and more use of them in a totally seamless way. Robots will take our dangerous jobs, autonomous robots will work non- stop allowing constant material flow, cobots will become our best colleagues, learning from us but also teaching us on the most efficient way of completing a task. At the same time AI-power software, API, and other graphical tools, will streamline our processes, increasing efficiency and reducing waste of time. (Alibaba is a great example on how to create an AI-powered organisation)
Your feedback on how industrial automation is doing being an industry voice and promoting/covering technologies. Industrial Automation is doing a great job in looking at all the different perspectives in this highly complex industry. Keep up the good work!
Matteo Dariol is a lead innovation strategist for Bosch Rexroth. He is located in Bosch’s innovation and co-creation space within Chicago historic Merchandise Mart, called Chicago Connectory, a joint venture between Bosch and 1871, one of North America’s largest startup incubators. His activities revolve around the intersection between R&D and product development, with the goal of looking outside Bosch Rexroth’s core business and identifying new technologies and new business models, with specific focus on Artificial Intelligence, cloud computing and Distributed Ledger Technologies.
#August 2020 Magazine Cover Story
ROBOTS IN MANUFACTURING Globally, AI powered robots with autonomous learning capabilities are transforming the manufacturing landscape. The word robot has a Slavic root, the meaning associated with labour, and that is how it has come to be relevant, the most common justification for the use of a robot being it takes the drudgery out of monotonous, repetitive tasks, often also difficult or dangerous for human workers. The first modern robot was patented by George Devol, an American inventor in 1954, but it was put in use by General Motors only in the early 60s, so the history of the modern robot is just about 6 decades. To read the full cover story Please click here