Posted: October 8th, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
At Pennsylvania manufacturer Rodon, there is a new employee named Baxter. Baxter is a robot who works alongside his human counterparts, assisting them in their tasks.
Factory VP Lowell Allen has put Baxter to work at what he’s best at: boring, repetitive jobs.
“Our people have really taken to Baxter,” said Allen. “He’s non-threatening. He’s helping them do their job.”
Baxter is designed to work safely alongside humans. Six facial expressions communicate status to human partners — a raised eyebrow signals confusion if something’s not right on the line. But most of time, Baxter works alone.
“And the best part I like is that Baxter doesn’t have a mouth,” said Allen. “So Baxter doesn’t talk.”
Slow but steady, Baxter toils on 24/7 without breaks or benefits. He costs only $22,000. And even with power and programming costs, Baxter is a $3-an-hour worker.
While Baxter can perform basic, repetitive tasks for a fraction of a human’s wage, he isn’t replacing human employees. In fact, Baxter requires skilled technicians to make sure that he is working at his best. Automation, including robots like Baxter, is bringing manufacturing jobs back to the US from abroad.
Baxter is part of the new factory floor: a cutting-edge mix of people and technology that has helped to reduce production costs enough to bring manufacturing back from China.
“So we’re seeing now,” said Hal Sirkin of Boston Consulting Group, “is companies bring jobs back to the U.S. Not just because of patriotism but because of pure economics. The wages are rising in China, the U.S. is getting more competitive. The average American worker is at least 3 times as productive as the average Chinese worker.”
For Rodon and its sister company K’nex, that means 25 new jobs in three years. “We’re adding equipment, people and possibly breaking ground next door,” said Allen.
Sirkin said: “Had the automation not been put in place for a lot of these companies, we would have no jobs coming back to the U.S.”
This trend is expected to bring between three and five million jobs back to the US by the end of this decade.
Read more about Baxter and the expanding manufacturing industry at cbsnews.com.
Posted: October 1st, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
After a slow warming up to cloud-based computing, the manufacturing industry has begun to adopt cloud-based software as a response to the increasing need to for data collection and analysis. The software-as-a-service model, or SaaS, makes it easier for manufacturers to take advantage of cloud computing and the savings that come with it.
Manufacturing users don’t have to worry about buying an orchard, growing their own applications, tending to the grounds or planning for upgrades. They just purchase what they need as they need it, and continue bottling their liquids or assembling their widgets.
For example, the chief financial officer of one small company noted the estimated upfront investment in an on-premise solution for eight users was $150,000, Jutras says. This cost was primarily for implementation services, but also included hardware and software. The actual upfront cost for the SaaS solution chosen was less than $100,000 and allowed up to 25 users, she says.
Beyond the upfront cost differential, that same CFO noted that, with the on-premise system, the company would also have to invest in a database administrator/programmer. “We conservatively projected that cost to be $75,000 per year,” said the CFO.
“We compared that to the $45,000 per year subscription cost for the SaaS solution, with no IT staff required. So, on an ongoing basis we would save on the order of $35,000 to $45,000 a year. But the advantage of not having consultants living in our offices or an IT department is… priceless.”
In addition to the cost savings, the flexibility of the cloud-based software means that the increasing information requirements can be accessed from just about anywhere an internet connection is available.
Read more about cloud computing and manufacturing at automation world.
Posted: September 24th, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
In a recent report on the manufacturing industry’s share of gross state product, the Bureau of Economic Analysis outlined the industry’s impact on each state’s economy and what the driver behind their market shares. Technology seems to be the main driver behind the success of manufacturing in many U.S. States.
Manufacturing.net lists the top 5 states based on their manufacturing output relative to their gross state product:
1.)Oregon – 28.7 Percent
Main Industry: Computer and electronic manufacturing
Total Manufacturing Output: $56 billion
As computer and electronic integration continues to grow and permeate every level of daily life, Oregon reigns supreme in its enterprise. Each new year ushers in another level of computing power and technical innovation, fueling continual research and innovation in a highly competitive market.
Driving Innovation: Integration
2.) Indiana – 26.7 Percent
Main Industries: Chemical manufacturing, auto part manufacturing
Total Manufacturing Output: $74.1 billion
Aided by abundant coal markets and lower relative energy costs, Indiana’s biggest two manufacturing industries cross at common intersections, where petro-based chemical production feeds into automotive part creation.
While the Midwest has a long history of manufacturing and small businesses, natural growing pains have arisen where modernity and tradition meet, but the current growth of Indiana’s manufacturing exports (more than 110 percent from 2000-2011) offer clear indicators of successfully advancing operations.
Driving Innovation: Automation
3.) Louisiana – 25.4 Percent
Main Industries: Petroleum and coal manufacturing, chemical manufacturing
Total Manufacturing Output: $63 billion
Taking advantage of effective exporting capacity and long established shipping infrastructure, Louisiana has long stood at the forefront of oil and chemical manufacturing, relying on the strong symbiosis between its forefront industries.
Despite several economic blows, because of forces both natural and manmade, the manufacturing industries of Louisiana stood stalwart as the backbone of the state’s economy, by both providing employment and generating consistent export revenues.
Driving Innovation: Analytics
4.) Wisconsin – 19.6 Percent
Main Industries: Machinery and metal fabrication, food and beverage and tobacco
Total Manufacturing Output: $50.1 billion
Not content to be known as the “Cheese State,” Wisconsin employs more than 16 percent of the workforce across industrial and food-based manufacturing . With a heavy education emphasis from state funding (Wisconsin is ranked No. 1 in high school graduation rates in the country), Wisconsin continues to provide greater input and innovation across the industry.
Wisconsin is also home to a variety of large production plants and businesses whose products are found in your local grocery stores.
Driving Innovation: 3D printing
5.) Iowa – 18.6 Percent
Main Industries: Machinery manufacturing, food and beverage, tobacco manufacturing, chemical manufacturing
Total Manufacturing Output: $27.6 billion
At the intersection where crops utilization, manufacturing and science meet sits the state of Iowa, where corn is king, along with a bevy of corn-related products: ethanol, pharmaceutical products, food additives, beer, tires, porcelain, paper products and even glue. Many products in your day-to-day life make use of corn or corn byproducts in their creation.
Driving Innovation: Invention
With technology, especially automation and data analysis, driving a resurgence in manufacturing in the US, it’s easy to see how the manufacturing industry can benefit from the development of new technologies and help grow the economy.
Read more at manufactring.net.
Posted: September 17th, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
Manufacturing equipment has become more advanced in recent years, as well as more connected, allowing manufacturers to collect and manage data in order to improve their workflows and efficiency while they monitor the data from wherever they are.
Big data is loosely defined as the concept of managing, analyzing, storing and manipulating large or complex sets of data.
AlphaUSA’s big data involves tracking, monitoring and analyzing layers of information, including cause of stoppage, frequency and duration, on multiple presses running simultaneously.
“The data has allowed us to find areas, whether in a workstation or department, that is the greatest cause to time bottlenecks,” said David Lawrence, AlphaUSA’s chief administrative officer.
“The more time we save, the more capacity we have.”
Less than a year after launching the data collection process, AlphaUSA is achieving more than a 35 percent increase in efficiency on its shop floor, Lawrence said.
This ability to monitor and analyze data quickly has lead to a new generation of faster and more flexible manufacturers.
“Today’s suppliers are more lean and agile and are able to take advantage of some of these technologies,” Riley said. “We’re seeing more small- and medium-sized companies that recognize the importance of leveraging their information, or data.” …
We all know the industry is moving faster than it ever has,” McCarthy said, “and the use of data is now creating a responsive, and sustainable, business model.”
The important thing to take away from this is that the amount of information being gathered is not greater, so much as the information collected is being analyzed more deeply and more often than was previously possible.
Read more about ‘big data’ at Crain’s Detroit.
Posted: September 10th, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
Volkswagen recently announced that they are setting up their first “collaborative robot” to assist humans at their engine plant in Salzgitter, Germany.
The lightweight robotic arm is the first for the company that won’t sit in a cage. Rather, it will work in close vicinity of humans in the cylinder head assembly section and, with its “collaborative gripper,” will be responsible for handling a delicate part called a glow plug.
The addition of the robot, called the UR5, will relieve two employees at the plant of having to stoop into a painful posture to insert the glow plugs into “scarcely visible” cylinder head drill holes. Volkswagen, in a press release, said the advance would release staff from “ergonomically unfavorable work”:
“We would like to prevent long-term burdens on our employees in all areas of our company with an ergonomic workplace layout. By using robots without guards, they can work together hand in hand with the robot,” said Jurgen Hafner, project manager at Volkswagen’s Salzgitter plant, calling the UR5 essentially a production assistant.
While Volkswagen isn’t the first company to have robots working alongside humans, it is the first to have them working on the line with humans without protective cages.
Even though there is currently a debate taking place about whether robots will be taking over peoples jobs, Volkswagen’s current experiment should show how robots can augment people’s work and increase productivity rather than replacing people completely.
Read more about the collaborative robot at Fast Company.
Posted: September 3rd, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
All signs are pointing to a good year for the industrial automation equipment market, according to a IHS/IMS Research report.
The market for industrial automation equipment (IAE) is pegged to grow 6.2% this year to about $170 billion, helped in part by the recovery of global manufacturing in the first quarter, according to “The World Market for Industrial Automation Equipment ” report from IHS/IMS Research .
The numbers point toward an increase in the demand for industrial products, which also shows signs of economic health in other areas of the US.
Growth in the U.S. will be a benefit rather than requirement in 2013 as conditions all around have now improved. “For one, leading indicators — including machinery orders and manufacturing activity — point to increasing demand for industrial products during the next six months,” Howell reports. “Moreover, progress has been observed in the markets of China, Europe and the United States in the first half this year, fueling confidence that the IAE space is headed toward renewed vigor.”
Signs of economic health are likewise springing up in the U.S., where greater growth stemming from a variety of factors — ranging from rising natural gas exploration and production, to strengthening housing markets, to rising exports — will help propel demand for industrial automation equipment and boost the IAE global market, concludes Howell.
All in all, with automation companies holding a record amount of cash due to a slow year in 2012, things are looking good for the automation industry to continue with modest growth next year and beyond.
Read more at Control Design.
Posted: August 27th, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
The food processing industry is increasing its use of sensors as it expands its adoption of automated processes.
The market analysis found that the sensor market pulled in approximately $2.9 billion USD in 2012…Sensors researched include flow, level, pressure, temperature, photoelectric, inductive, capacitive, ultrasonic sensors and biosensors.
This increase can be attributed to several areas, including the increased use of automation in food processing factories, the push toward more consistent and higher quality food products, and the regulations for mitigating food contamination risk. The increase in the sensor market is expected to reach $4.2 billion by 2018, pointing to a further increase in food processing automation.
Read more about sensor use in food processing at Food Production Daily.
Posted: August 20th, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
The introduction of low-cost computer vision systems like LiveScribe and Kinect are fueling their increased adoption in the manufacturing sector, improving efficiency and safety.
Underscoring his point about inexpensive vision systems, Bier points to now commonplace products such as LiveScribe and Kinect —which each retail for about $200 or less. “Vision systems are getting cheaper and smaller and operate with much lower power requirements and thus can be deployed in ways that were previously impossible for vision systems,” he says.
Bier acknowledges that these low-cost vision systems are not as capable as the more costly systems, “but their limitations can often be worked around” through the use of algorithms or the deployment of an array of multiple low-cost vision systems.
These lower-cost computer vision systems are not as robust as their more expensive, specialized counterparts, but the application of them, as well as an understanding of the algorithms used in them, are showing their usefulness and potential for vision systems to be implemented in places where the expense prohibited their use before.
As with Willow Garage, Bier says we should “expect to see innovative manufacturers adopt some of these new computer vision technologies to put vision in places where it has never been before. We’re going to see disruptions in how computer vision is used across industries with these cheaper systems.”
Read more at Automation World.
Posted: August 13th, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
Researchers at MIT have figured out a way to help liquids on their way out of containers. The solution solves the problem that consumers have had for years sitting at their kitchen tables: getting ketchup out of the bottle. Helping consumers use all of their condiments is not the only benefit, according to the developers.
As it says on the LiquiGlide website, “be it the pouring of a ketchup bottle, creating efficiency gains on a power plant condenser or preventing a medical tube from clogging, LiquiGlide coatings are a breakthrough technology for solid-liquid interfaces.”
Working only with FDA-approved materials to create the substance, MIT PhD candidate Dave Smith and the team at MIT’s Varanasi Research Group created the unique material that he calls “kind of a structured liquid—it’s rigid like a solid, but it’s lubricated like a liquid.” The process does not involve nanotechnology, and the coatings can be created from all sorts of materials. Applying it to glass, metal, ceramic or plastic bottles, tubes or pipe allows for “an efficient and complete evacuation of liquids” from the vessels. Drops as small as 20 microns shed off a LiquiGlide-coated surface, Smith added.
The coating was initially developed for keeping airplane wings clear of ice, but the ideas surrounding the coating quickly moved to all kinds of practical applications, including food bottles. The applications don’t stop there.
The industrial applications are numerous. Putting LiquiGlide into processing lines could help prevent clogs, increase efficiency, and reduce cleaning and maintenance time. The substance could be applied to condensers in power plants and thereby improve efficiency by increasing the shedding of water droplets. Power lines or refrigeration units could be coated with the material to prevent ice build up.
LiquiGlide could benefit all kinds of industrial plants, limiting the amount of downtime required for cleaning and maintenance of automated machinery, like those used for filling containers or the lines on machines, effectively saving both time and money for producers. It will, also, help us get ketchup out of bottles as early as 2014.
To read more, visit Automation World.
Posted: August 6th, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
Automated hygiene stations, only being available to the largest facilities previously, are now becoming more commonplace in smaller, regional food packing plants.
Rana Meal Solutions produces both fresh, refrigerated product and frozen foodservice varieties of filled pasta and sauces for the U.S. market. At its USDA-approved plant in Illinois, employees are instructed to change into facility-supplied shoes and to wash that footwear upon entry into various food processing areas. Rana Meal Solutions installed four boot washing stations from CM Process Solutions at the employee entrance from the locker areas to the facility, and also at the entry to zones of higher risk. These continuous-passage boot washers are fully automatic and sensor-operated.
Boots are cleaned by two horizontally mounted brushes that clean the soles, and four vertically inclined brushes that clean the sides of the boots. Each unit also includes a chemical detergent injector system. Two employees at a time can walk through the equipment at a brisk pace, so “we can traffic 50 people through the equipment at break time in only a few minutes,” says plant manager Adam Messmore.
These systems ensure that proper hygiene processes are followed before employees are able to come into contact with food products. One such system even requires that the proper procedure is undertaken before the system will ‘unlock,’ cutting out an employee being able to take shortcuts.
According to Chris Stafford, vice president of operations for Papa Cantella’s, all areas within the company’s Vernon, Calif., plant are kept completely separate, with employees working in only one area that has its own lunch and locker room. Coats and footwear are provided, but not shared between areas.
Stafford says the previous system for cleaning footwear involved sanitizing foam that was sprayed at the entryway at pre-determined time intervals, followed by the application of a hand sanitizer rinse. The new hygiene station is equipped with a stainless steel turnstile that automatically unlocks only when the employee has correctly followed the machine’s requirements.
Automating employee hygiene procedures can ensure that all employees are following the procedures that keep us safe from food contamination.
Read more at automationworld.com.