News briefs for the week take a look at the trend in solution-selling of cobots vs. individual machine sales, Doosan’s new food-safe cobots, cobot partnering for space-saving and collision-free operation, steel plant’s four-legged safety robot, UN’s robot supply trucks delivering while in harm’s way, and robots gobbling plastic bottles in Paris.
Solution-selling gaining popularity
Among robot and cobot vendors there’s a trending movement to sell solutions rather than selling individual machines and components.
A solution to a manufacturing or logistics need is, after all, the logical end game for customers. They need to get a job done; showing a potential customer exactly how to do that job might be the quickest route to making a sale.
Korean cobot vendor Doosan Robotics teamed up with Telstar-Hommel, which is a joint venture between Korea’s Telstar Engineering and Germany’s Hommel-Wertic. Telstar-Hommel builds and supplies smart manufacturing solutions to automate factories into “smart” factories.
Telstar-Hommel’s AI-powered smart factory platform, LINK5, in conjunction with Doosan’s cobots, provides a job-ready, complete automation package, especially for SMEs, that might otherwise be too complex or be cost-prohibitive to do on their own.
Such a partnership facilitates the process to put together complete cobot cells for welding, screw fastening, pick and place, machine tending, etc. Easy to see the appeal of such cost-appropriate, turn-key solutions to SMEs.
Doosan’s new food-safe cobots
With partnerships like Doosan-Telstar in place, cobot vendors then find it easier to expand solution selling to a wider range of customers. Doosan has recently produced a new F&B or food & beverage cobot, that’s a food-safe automation solution for a wide range of food and beverage items, such as coffee, ice cream, fried foods, confectionery, fast food, and barbecue cooking.
Key to the cobot’s appeal is its contamination-resistant coating and sealed gaps between connecting axes, which helped it secure food hygiene and safety certification from a US hygiene safety agency.
For 2024, Doosan plans its own proprietary AI-powered smart factory platform “Dart Suite”, which enables easy design and sharing of functions essential for collaborative robot operations.
“The E series was developed to address labor shortages in the food service industry,” said Ryu Jung-hoon, Doosan’s CEO. “We will maintain our position as the No. 1 collaborative robot company in Korea by providing the best F&B solution.”
Cobot solutions that save space
Another popular cobot solution is to not only provide automation for a process, but also to conserve valuable floor space for the process. Once again, a partnership might be the fastest way to implement such a capability.
At Automate 2023, Mitsubishi and Realtime debuted how their new collaboration allows multiple robots to work in close proximity with each other for a variety of applications.
The alternative is time-consuming, complex, and expensive, especially if trying to quickly switch a manufacturing process from one to another (see video).
“Without the automated path planning and collision avoidance capabilities of the software, integrators or end users would have to program each robot independently and coordinate the robots’ moves, which only gets more complicated if you need to change robot configurations in the cell.”
Steel plant’s four-legged safety officer
It’s not hard to imagine a stainless-steel factory being a place where industrial accidents seem to be part of the job description. And when accidents do happen, they are very serious. Iron & Steel Technology reports: “Accident statistics of the steel industry indicate that steel manufacturing continues to be a dangerous work environment.”
In 2022, Finnish-based Outokumpu’s German facility in Krefeld, started researching the possibilities of an AI in safety management. From that initial search, safety robotics emerged as the best alternative and “ANYbotics as the best supplier for the robotics,” said Thorsten Piniek, vice president, health and safety in Krefeld.
The company signed a deal with Swiss robotics vendor ANYbotics for an autonomous robotics solution; in June of 2023, the first 4-legged ANYmal robot arrived at Outokumpu’s site.
Although it is too early for any substantive stats on ANYmal’s deployment, Piniek says that ANYbotics’ robotics technology will help us to increase safety by reducing employee exposure to hazardous substances and environments, optimize production through preventive maintenance, and decrease environmental impacts.
According to Outokumpu, the use of robotics could reduce human exposure to hazardous substances by 80%.
UN’s robot trucks to deliver food and supplies
Autonomous street vehicles may not be ready for prime time on busy urban streets or even in suburbia, for that matter. But in South Sudan during a civil war, with UN aid workers getting shot at and killed, autonomous trucks will do just fine, so says Bernhard Kowatsch, who heads the innovation department at the UN’s World Food Program (WFP).
“AI-powered robotic vehicles could deliver food parcels to conflict and disaster zones,” says Kowatsch. Early in 2024, the WFP will give it a try in South Sudan where attacks against humanitarian aid workers have intensified in recent years. AI is used to combine data gleaned from various sources including satellites and sensors.
Airdrops are expensive and require large spaces. As a practical matter, to save lives and deliver sufficient food and supplies, robot trucks may be ideal.
The trucks are amphibious and can carry about 1-2 tons of food each. As part of the AHEAD (Autonomous Humanitarian Emergency Aid Devices) project with the German Aerospace Center (DLR), “WFP will test the autonomous trucks early next year,” Kowatsch said.
The U.N. agency is already using about 50 of the vehicles in South Sudan but they currently require drivers; next year (2024), the trucks will be driverless.
Robots with mega appetite for plastic bottles
There are 500 robots shredding plastic bottles throughout France, at the rate of 500,000 bottles a day. Since 2021, the robots have shredded over 130 million bottles.
The numbers are so impressive that the robot company, called b:bot, just raised $22.3 million to continue its good work. “Plans are to double the size of the robot workforce by the end of this year, expand into new markets and to take on the recycling of cans next.”
“This investment will enable us to accelerate the production and roll-out of our b:bot solution while continuing our R&D effort, as innovation is a core part of our DNA”, says Benoit Paget, president and founder of b:bot.
“In the face of a global rPET market [rPET stands for recycled polyethylene terephthalate] with a significant growth outlook but insufficient capacity, b:bot aims to become a major player in collection and recycling solutions.