News briefs for the week take a look at Automate’s re-located, reenergized automation party and crowd appreciation, old-line robot vendors and their new lines of AMRs, cobots taking on entire solutions rather than tasks, the ongoing transformation of the teach pendant, Doosan’s re-think of the cobot ecosystem and “smart” cobotics, Techman’s brand-new cobot lineup of increased functionality, and Robotiq’s evolving suite of cobot application solutions.
Resurgent Automate in a resurgent Detroit
Automate 2022 came in with a resounding bang, and stayed energized—end to end! —for four action-filled days (June 6-9). It began with a fresh new restart in its return to Detroit, opening wide its doors to attendees eager to see one another face to face again.
Lots of new and first-ever logos hung over booths among the Automate regulars, while lots of newbie attendees got a first-hand look at what North America’s largest automation show is all about.
Automate’s successful 2022 showing has it now promising an even bigger, better automation party next year, 2023.
Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the show’s organizer, said: “Detroit is turning into the next major technology hub in the United States. This is an exciting change for us and our exhibitors, allowing Automate to expand in size and technology scope as the automation industry continues its steady growth. The Brookings Institution rated Detroit #4 on a list of the country’s hubs for advanced technology employment.”
In two short years
It’s also interesting how quickly things have changed in robotics, especially cobotics, since the last Automate. Two years and one pandemic ago, Automate in Chicago had plenty of cobots performing tasks, while showing hardly any autonomous mobile robots or AMRs. Now, in 2022, cobots are taking on not just task completions but entire workflow solutions, while AMRs are seemingly everywhere and offered from an ever-increasing vendor pool.
Just look at the list of old-line robot vendors that rolled into Detroit sporting new lines of mobile robots: KUKA, FANUC, Staubli, Yaskawa, and ABB. Why all the sudden interest from decades-old robot vendors? Logistics! A perfect storm of things to move from one place to another has settled in for a long stay.
Something happened in the brief interval between Chicago and Detroit called “Amazon-style ecommerce,” and now everyone’s agog with same-day, next-day, and two-day deliveries, while, at the same time, the numbers of little brown boxes needed to be shipped witnessed an exponential increase. A perfect storm!
Korea-based Doosan Robotics, combined both, putting its cobot arm atop an AMR, and had it unloading boxes at its booth.
These industrial mobile robots offer flexibility of transfer among multiple workstations, while seamlessly enabling a cobot to move from machine tending, to parts transfer, to shelf picking, warehousing, assembly, and even to general material handling.
Palletizing robots are hot these days with a number of vendors competing for business. For Doosan, palletizing is just one of six new cobot configurations released over the past year that seem to cover a host of work flows from making coffee, to the NIVA for film/video production, to plugging in and charging electric vehicles (EV), which is going to become a more and more familiar a sight as the EV revolution continues to rapidly expand.
With the aim of operating and controlling an entire ecosystem of differing robot types and brands, for both experts and beginners alike, Doosan also launched a new, three-part, robot operating system called the DART Suite (see explainer video below).
Doosan is just one example of cobots transforming from programmed, task orientation to solutions orientation.
Erik Nieves, CEO and founder of Plus One Robotics, with 25 years of experience with Yaskawa, easily sees the cobot transitioning from tasks to solutions. Putting a cobot to work on a single task may relieve a bottleneck, he points out, but the bottleneck usually just moves downstream to another locale. The need is for an overall solution to getting the work done rather than addressing one bottleneck at a time.
Taiwan-based Techman Robot, a subsidiary of Quanta Computer, arrived with its newly upgraded TM Techman S cobot series that sports new features like dust and water resistance capabilities, plus a newly developed robot teach pendent to make teaching and deploying robots easier and faster.
The subplot throughout the Automate cobot story seems to be lots of upgrades to teach pendants and simplifications with user interfaces. Both Doosan and Techman did, and they weren’t alone. Clearly, the effort is to demystify how to use a cobot for the non-expert, like many SMEs. Bottom line: cobots offering total solutions ring a bit hollow if programming the job is herculean, expensive, a visual turn off, or all three.
Total workflow solutions weren’t just for cobots. Quebec-based Robotiq, well-known maker of grippers (EOATs), had its own “total solution booth” as well that touted palletizing, machine tending, and screwdriving (the three biggies for any and all cobots to conquer). As Robotiq’s website stresses: “Let products palletize themselves” which is definitely about as TOTAL as anything gets!
Newbie to Automate was Kassow Robotics (Denmark, founded just since 2019; and since 2022 majority owned by Bosch Rexroth), showed up with a unique line of five 7-axis cobots. Here was another cobot touting its “simple programming” techniques, and also promising that “the seventh axis enables continuous dispensing, welding, and material removal applications, regardless of access angle, without the need to reorient the arm…perfect for limited-space retrofits.”
Denmark’s Universal Robots, with its website flashing: “Something Big Is Coming…” had a stunning prelude at its Automate booth to an upcoming major announcement, supposedly to be delivered at AUTOMATICA (Munich) in late June by its new president Kim Povlsen. A new version, they called a prototype cobot, sat at UR’s booth (here photographed by The Robot Report’s Steve Crowe). Gone is the all-too familiar cobot from the world leader in cobots. Could this be the big reveal promised by UR?
Next year’s promise
Automate returns to Detroit next year, 2023; thereafter, it will run every two years (2025).
With the pace of automation accelerating continually, it would not be surprising to see new classes of cobots and AMRs—and myriad sensors and computing and maybe even 5G—popping up and uplifting automation to new heights.
One thing is for sure with automation; there’s never a dull moment.
Detroit 2023, be there!