Month: February 2020

Unlocking a Better Future Through Automation

By Benjamin Gibbs
CEO and Co-Founder at READY

We are excited to announce the closing of our Series B round with an additional $23M in funding. The round was led by Canaan Partners, with participation from RRE Ventures, Eniac Ventures, Emerald Development Managers, and Drive Capital, as well as new investors Micron Ventures and Greenhawk Capital. The financing comes at a time when our software is powering automation in factories across the country, from small machine shops to large enterprises.

Since 2015, READY’s software platform has powered the next wave of industrial automation. Our software enables anyone to easily and rapidly deploy automation to the factory floor, from actuating pneumatics to controlling robot arms.

We founded the company because we’re at a turning point in manufacturing automation, precipitated by the emergence of inexpensive robotics. While robots have long lived in the confines of automotive factories and the imaginations of sci-fi aficionados, we’re now having a serious conversation about how automation is reshaping our economy and society as a whole. No industry is better positioned than manufacturing to leverage robotic automation in a way that positively impacts our global standards of living.

WHY NOW?

The global middle class stands at 3.59B and is expected to explode to over 5.3 billion by the end of this new decade, bringing with it an ever greater demand for consumer goods and creature comforts. Yet manufacturers the world over struggle to keep up with burgeoning demand because powerful trends serve to strain their manufacturing capacity.

There are 500,000 unfilled factory jobs in the United States and that number is expected to grow to 2.4 million by 2028, primarily driven by demographics. Not only is the US manufacturing workforce aging at a faster rate than the rest of the economy, but many of these unfilled jobs exist in smalltown America where it can be difficult to reliably attract young talent. China struggles with a workforce that has shrunk from 941 milion to 916 million over the last decade, a trend that continues to gather momentum.

At the same time, other trends from tariffs to a shortening innovation cycle are pushing manufacturers to onshore factories to produce goods for local markets. This leaves manufacturers struggling to find enough talent to match demand. Automation generally and robots specifically are desperately needed to just maintain competitiveness. As a result, a recent McKinsey survey found that 88% of all manufacturers look to increase spending on robotic automation.

We’re on the cusp of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (a.k.a. Industry 4.0), but as the US and global economy are inexorably pulled in the direction of robots and more automation, one big barrier poses a challenge: the current technology landscape is hyper fragmented and overly complex.

Each manufacturer of robot arms uses a different programming language. Programming a FANUC robot requires knowledge of the Karel programming language. Using a Yaskawa Motoman requires programming in INFORM. ABB needs RAPID. Kuka uses KRL. There are over 30 robot programming languages today, a number that continues to grow as new entrants crowd the market.

Yet only a tiny number of people have the expertise to manage these systems: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, out of nearly 12.8 million people involved in US manufacturing today there are just over 36,000 robotics engineers.

READY’S APPROACH

READY created Forge/OS, the first enterprise-grade operating system that controls not only any robot arm from any robot manufacturer, but also all the peripherals needed to make that robot productive in a real world environment. On top of Forge/OS, READY offers productivity apps that provide core functionality to users. Task Canvas is the first of these apps. It allows anyone — with flow-chart ease — to program an automation task with a robot without needing highly specialized knowledge or training.

This ease of use is critical because it empowers everyone on the factory floor to effectively use automation, not just expensive integrators or rare robotics engineers.

Personal computers went through a similar transition 30 years ago. Microsoft Windows provided a platform that unified hardware OEMs and empowered developers to build apps for personal computers — and with a standardized foundation, an ecosystem flourished. Today that ecosystem is worth over $3.8 trillion.

Our system represents a shift from the traditional approach to industrial automation and our growth demonstrates just how hungry the industry is for it. Our revenues quintupled in 2019. We count companies like Stanley Black & Decker and Smith+Nephew amongst our customers. Major automation OEMs are signing up to integrate their hardware into Forge/OS.

READY’s software is only as good as the people behind it. We are fortunate to have assembled a world-class team in Columbus, Ohio, led by sharp minds like Kel Guerin and Luke Tuttle. Kel is a brilliant roboticist with a PhD from Johns Hopkins and recipient of the Kuka Innovation Award. Luke is a seasoned startup executive who recently joined us from Klarna, where he scaled products and teams.

We’ve been able to recruit an exceptionally qualified team because of our mission. We believe READY’s software can unleash a new age of automation accessible to everyone, without the need for weeks of training or an advanced degree.

Robotic automation holds the power to not only raise global standards of living through the inexpensive production of goods at ever greater volumes, but also reshape manufacturing and fuel economic growth. For every robot added to US factories in the last decade, 6.5 new jobs were created. More robots increase competitiveness and lead to more jobs for humans.

We see a future where easy to use robots enable an ever increasing standard of living across the world, and also enable emerging markets to develop their own manufacturing ecosystems. Automation of rote, repetitive manufacturing tasks is just the beginning. Much like Windows and the PC led to a flowering of new innovations and technologies, Forge/OS and inexpensive and easy to use robotics will enable a new generation of innovators to create products that will improve life in ways we haven’t yet dreamed of.

This is the future we are excited about and READY is well-position to help build it. If you are too, visit: https://www.ready-robotics.com/about/careers

4 Things to Consider Before Integrating a Collaborative Robot

Collaborative robots have become an important part of smart manufacturing, as they can operate completely autonomously, and significantly speed up manufacturing processes.

However, they can also work safely alongside humans in a shared workspace. Contrary to popular belief that they will replace humans, they can actually help people work more efficiently.

After all, they are called “collaborative robots,” or cobots.

Traditionally, integrating cobots into a manufacturing environment has been very complex, time-consuming, and expensive. With READY and Forge/OS, that is no longer true. Cobots are very easy to integrate. You can have them up and running in a very short time. With Forge/OS’s Task Canvas, the easy to program robotic software, you can teach a cobot to perform its tasks flawlessly, and with minimal effort. Keep in mind however, they are not as simple as plug & play – there are several things you need to handle before you can integrate a cobot in your work area. Here are the questions you need to answer first.

1. Are the proper safety precautions in place?

Many people assume that a cobot is perfectly safe right out of the box. They think that it isn’t necessary to conduct risk assessments, as they believe cobots are safe and, thus, their application is safe. However, a cobot is part of a larger system and you need to carefully assess the aspects of the system before integrating any new part into it.

While a cobot was designed with safety in mind and has sensors to and procedures to reduce harmful conditions, a collaborative robot is not inherently safe. There are several other factors that must be taken into consideration. For instance, you need to make sure you keep your workers at a safe distance while your cobot is running a task. You also need to have fail-safes, like ensuring that a drill is automatically shut off if operating outside a safe zone.

All of this takes careful planning. The safety of your workplace, and the effectiveness of your cobot, highly depends on planning ahead. Therefore, you need to assess your system and your cobot first so that you can put proper safety precautions in place. Risk assessments and safety measures are an absolute must before setting up your cobot’s first task because they’ll ensure your workers always stay safe.

2. Do you have a good location and a way to secure the robot in place?

You can program your cobot quickly, with no previous robotic experience needed. Using smartphone-like simplicity of Forge/OS to build tasks intuitively with flowchart style block chaining, you can set up your cobot and before you even know it, start taking your efficiency to a whole new level.

However, your cobot is highly efficient only if it’s properly placed and secured. You should place your robot in your workplace according to performance and safety. Don’t put it in a place where you can’t integrate it properly because of common roadblocks you typically face while working. It wouldn’t be very efficient. Furthermore, make sure it doesn’t prevent your workers from completing their tasks efficiently. Your cobot should help them perform better, not stand in their way.

Most importantly, make sure you place your cobot where it can’t harm anyone. That being said, you must secure it in place with proper robot fixtures. You need to anchor it so that it doesn’t shake or move while operating, as well as set a target reference point on the factory floor that will tell the robot where the workers are headed.

3. Are the tools the cobot will use appropriate?

Your cobot needs to be equipped with the proper tools for your task. For instance, your robot needs the right end of arm tooling (EOAT) to hold onto and manipulate specific tools and materials.

When choosing the EOAT, you need to make sure it is the right size for your particular cobot. The right-sized EOAT enables your cobot to properly grab, hold, tighten, rotate, handle, and release an object – all with high precision.

The shape, size, and weight of all the tools your cobot uses also needs to be considered. Having the right EOAT for your cobot won’t be enough for efficient and safe operations if the cobot is going to use tools it can’t handle appropriately.

4. Do you know the right speed that ensures optimal safety and productivity?

The maximum speed at which cobots can perform is’t always the optimal speed. There is a balance between speed and safety when you implement collaborative robots in your work areas1. It is important that your employees, and machinery, are able to keep up with the cobot. More importantly, when a cobot operates at speeds that are too high, there is potential for injuries and other problems related to the manufacturing process. This is why cobots typically operate at lower speeds than industrial six-axis machines.

If you don’t want to risk dealing with serious safety issues, you should stick to lower speeds. It won’t cost your productivity much, because your cobot will still greatly improve the efficiency within your workplace. But it will ensure the safety of your workers, which is definitely more vital.

Fortunately, you can program your cobot to reduce its speed or stop automatically whenever human workers come too close. As technology keeps advancing at a very fast pace, you’ll probably have an opportunity to work with a cobot that operates at much higher speeds and ensures safety in the near future.

Cobots are great – they’re quick and easy to integrate, and provide an excellent return on investment (ROI) in a very short time. However, to integrate them properly and ensure maximum safety and efficiency in the workplace, you need to make sure your cobot meets the right conditions first.

Therefore, consider all the aforementioned things before integrating your cobot into your workplace. Once you set everything up and put all the safety precautions in place, you’ll be working at high speeds, with precision, and boosting your OEE.

1. Carlisle, Brian. “Speed and safety work together for collaborative robots.” Control Designs. PutmanMedia. March 2017. Web

5 Industrial Automation Predictions for 2020

Here’s our predictions on what to expect from industrial robots in the not-so-distant future

In less than three months, we will all be living in the next wave of the ‘roaring 20s’, also known as the year 2020 and beyond. While our predecessors from the 1920’s may view our present day as reminiscent of science fiction, our reality in 2019 is an evolving tapestry of technological innovation, where every year brings transformational change. In industrial manufacturing especially, the past two decades have witnessed a monumental computing and robotic revolution that has made automation an indispensable facet of factories across industries worldwide.  

While it’s difficult to predict the ultimate impact of robotic automation in the coming decades, the picture of what’s to come is made more clear with new data projections from 2019. Understanding the current trends in industrial automation can offer clues on what we can expect in the industry in years to come.  

Here are our top five industrial automation predictions for 2020:

1. Rise of intelligent manufacturing 

We are officially living in the era of smart factories, and in 2020, we should expect to see the continued rise of intelligent manufacturing.  Intelligent manufacturing (a.k.a. smart manufacturing) refers to computer-integrated manufacturing combined with high levels of design adaptability, self-monitoring capability, automated quality assurance, and new digital information technology. Intelligent manufacturing also refers to the growth of advanced industrial robots that use artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), and machine learning to automate processes more precisely than ever before.  With this new smart model, AI-enhanced robots will be able to report on physical processes using cloud-based monitoring and make real-time decisions; this system is also known as a “cyber-physical production system”. The benefits will include new predictive maintenance capabilities and new diverse smart sensors. With the cost of advanced robotics steadily decreasing with time, it’s not surprising that businesses of all sizes are adopting intelligent automation. According to the IDC, 20% of G2000 manufacturers will have transitioned to intelligent manufacturing by the year 2021, reducing execution times by up to 25%. 

2. Increased demand for cobots

Cobots, or collaborative robots, are built and used to augment human labor,  especially for tasks that are physically demanding, dangerous, or tedious. Not only can cobots make factories safer for humans, but new generations of cobots can now also utilize AI and computer-vision to be more adaptable than ever and avoid physical hazards in real-time. Cobots only comprised 3% of the 422,000 robotic units that were shipped worldwide, according to the International Federation of Robotics. However, investment in cobots is on the rise year-over-year, signaling that companies are interested in the safety and flexibility that the machines provide over standard industrial robots. New innovations are also making cobots more affordable and safer each year, so it’s no surprise that companies of all sizes are predicted to demand more cobots in 2020 and beyond.  In fact, according to Grand View Research, the market for cobots reached $649 million in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 44.5% from 2019 to 2025. 

3. New 5G technology & hyperconnectivity

New 5G mobile network technology is expected to be available worldwide in 2020, bringing with it the new capability to not only connect people, but also interconnect robots, machines, and objects, with higher efficiency and speed than ever before. 5G download speeds are expected to reach up to 20 gigabits per second, with new latency rates as low as four milliseconds, meaning that manufacturers will be able to process vast amounts of data in real-time from anywhere. IoT sensors attached to industrial robots and AI-powered decision-making will be boosted from high-speed internet connectivity, and factory workers will be empowered with fast access to information. 5G will help elevate all internet-enabled plants to smart factories of the future.

4. Simplified robotic user experiences

With the robotics skill gap ever-present in industrial manufacturing, the need today for businesses to hire engineers who understand the complexities of robotic programming is critical in order to successfully launch automation. Even for those who do know how to code robots, the process by which an industrial robot is taught or programmed is usually a difficult process that takes significant time – often months – just to launch. The great news is that there are new robotic companies that are taking square aim at addressing poor user experiences with industrial robots. For example, our team at READY Robotics has created a revolutionary set of tools that allows virtually anyone to program virtually any robot in just minutes, via a radically user-friendly touchscreen interface. Other companies have also invented new ways of using gesture-based approaches to teach robotic arms how to pick up and place select items.  In 2020, we can expect to see more of these low-code innovations that help make it simpler and faster for all companies to deploy industrial robots as needed.

5. Influx of autonomous mobile robots 

The lower costs of robots have made the adoption of autonomous, mobile robots increasingly achievable by businesses of all sizes – not just the Amazons and Alibabas of the world.  We can expect that in 2020 and beyond, all types of manufacturers and warehouses across industries will turn to advanced mobile robots for various applications. Factory applications for mobile robots include helping to keep track of inventory in real-time, helping load and unload products, inspecting production processes for quality, and more. 2020 will also mark the launch of the first self-driving lift truck, called the OTTO OMEGA, which will be another milestone step towards achieving full automation within factories and will help factories avoid the 34,000 serious injuries that occur every year due to forklifts. Autonomous industrial vehicles like these will help not only to speed up production times, but will also help to keep factories safer for human laborers. 

It’s an exciting time to be on the cusp of a new decade, knowing that new innovations in industrial manufacturing are right around the corner. These are just a few of our predictions for 2020 and beyond and we should certainly expect new robotic trends to arise that were unforeseen. It will be especially interesting to understand how economic and political dynamics between counties, and especially China and U.S. relations, may impact the growth of industrial automation efforts and the timing of new robotic innovation. While not all of the above predictions may come true, it’s safe to say that the year 2020 will bring with it new technological advancements that will continue to improve industrial manufacturing in factories worldwide.

5 Steps to Prove ROI for Implementing Automation

The message of “If you don’t automate, you’ll fall behind” is ubiquitous in the world of manufacturing. Industrial manufacturers of all sizes today are implementing robotic automation and evolving how they produce products to keep up with consumer demands. With the cost of robots falling  50% since 2005, the cost-benefit equation of automating tedious and repetitive manual tasks with robots has become much more attractive.  

However, this messaging alone is often not enough to convince key stakeholders as to why industrial automation is necessary. By carefully assessing the potential returns on investment (ROI) of automation at your specific factory, you’ll be much more likely to convince stakeholders on the quantitative value and net benefit robots can bring to your business compared to the status quo.  Calculating ROI of automation can seem complex initially, but by following the five steps below, your business will be on its way to making a solid data-driven case for why automation will, or will not be, a solid investment.

Industrial automation ROI formula

Before we proceed with the steps of calculating ROI, it’s important to understand the straightforward formula for industrial automation ROI:

With this calculation, ROI will be expressed as a percentage instead of a ratio to make it easier to understand. The higher the percentage, the greater the benefit for your manufacturing business.

An important item to note is that you must determine an appropriate length of time to consider when calculating this formula. This can be anything from 6-month ROI, 1-year ROI, 5-year ROI, or more.

Now that we’ve reviewed the simple ROI formula, here are the five steps towards calculating ROI for robotic automation:

STEP 1:  Determine the cost of industrial automation in your factory

Adding up all the costs associated with implementing industrial automation in your factory is the first step towards determining ROI.  This is a crucial step as there are many specific costs to consider and include in your calculations. 

Here are the key costs associated with robotic automation to calculate:

  • Total robot system costs: This is the one-time fee associated with buying and installing industrial robots. This includes the initial purchase price of the specific industrial robot, the cost of shipping, installation, training, and the cost of spare parts. This cost would be multiplied by the number of robots being purchased. Note that today, the fixed costs of industrial robots are lower than they ever been, and new easy robotic software like Forge/OS can significantly reduce the costs associated with robotic installation and training.
  • Maintenance costs: Today’s robots are highly reliable and maintenance costs tend to be minimal. According to the Robotics Industries Association (RIA), the typical maintenance cost is $500 per robot per year for lubrication and battery upkeep.
  • Operating costs: Calculating your operating costs for industrial robots should focus on power consumption per robot and the cost of yearly inflation. The RIA reports that the average medium-sized robot costs $0.50 per hour to operate, noting the average industrial robot uses 5 KW of electricity per hour at a cost of 10 cents per KW.  Robots that are smaller may use ⅕ the energy of large robots, while large robots may use double the amount of energy. It is recommended to estimate 2% annual inflation for the cost of electricity.
  • Training: Complex system components and the introduction of new brands or models of robots and PLCs can result in the need for significant training in the order of weeks.  Many vendor classes are $3-4k a week, and if you factor in lost time at work, travel and other expenses, it can easily cost $10-20k to train just one worker in a new automation solution, and yet they still won’t be able to manage the entire automated workcell.

By making your best estimate on the above costs related to the industrial automation equipment you are interested in buying, you will be able to most accurately analyze your ROI over time. 

Step 2:  Forecast savings from industrial automation

Your second step in calculating ROI is to estimate your future savings as a result of implementing specific robotic automation systems. It’s important to keep in mind the following categories of savings:

  • Productivity Savings:  This is a percentage estimate of projected productivity gain  from implementing industrial robots. Note that robots can typically work significantly faster than manual operators and that they can work continuously without any breaks.  Robots also allow for additional shifts. This increase in productivity will depend on the specific robot you have purchased. After determining an estimated robotic output, determine how much manual labor would be needed to accomplish the same amount of robotic output. This labor comparison will give you an idea of your productivity cost savings.
  • Other Savings: There may be other savings that you may want to account for as a result of industrial automation. Note that some manufacturers expect labor savings to be an item in factoring the ROI of robots, but this may not be a significant area of savings. Due to the industrial labor shortage, it’s more likely that your existing factory laborers that are currently tackling repetitive tasks will instead be upskilled to higher-value tasks that robotic automation cannot tackle. 

Step 3:  Generate a cash flow analysis for 1 to 5 years of ROI

Now that you have clear estimates of costs and gains of robotic automation at your manufacturing factory, you are ready to complete the formula and ideally create a cash flow analysis that shows year-by-year what the factories’ expected ROI will be over the course of 1 to 5 years. 

One way to make a quick cash flow estimation is to use an online ROI Robot System Value Calculator, like the one offered by RIA. However, the downside of online calculators is that the variables are set based on industry averages for robots. It’s best practice to generate your own cash flow analysis that more accurately predicts the estimates associated with your specific robots’ maintenance costs, operating costs, productivity savings and more. 

As you complete the year-by-year cash flow analysis, you will not only be able to determine at which year you reach the break-even-point for your investment, but you’ll also be able to graph your ROI overtime, showcasing the cumulative gains of your decision to switch to robotic automation.

Step 4:  Calculate the intangible ROI of industrial automation

Now that you are armed with the quantitative and more tangible ROI of implementing industrial automation, it’s good to also explore the more intangible ROI of robotic automation that can be difficult to summarize in one formula. Though these factors are less tangible, they are nonetheless important in the evaluation of industrial robots and the potential value they can bring to your factory.

Intangible ROI factors to consider include:

  • How much safer will your factory be by using industrial robots? How much can you reduce the risk of workplace injuries?
  • How much peace of mind will you and your stakeholders have knowing that the factory is using robotic precision to minimize errors that could have otherwise lead to customer complaints or compliance risks?
  • How much of your manual labor will be freed up for higher-level tasks that can more directly contribute to the long-term success of the business? 
  • How much of your factory space will be saved by utilizing space efficient robots?  What could that free space instead be utilized for?
  • How will employees feel about the implementation of industrial robots? How will upskilling boost retention and aid in hiring?

Thinking about these intangible ROI benefits are often as important as tangible benefits when considering the investment in automation. Especially when it comes to safety, it’s critically important to value a safer workplace, which could be possible as a result of robotic process automation.

Step 5:  Test ROI assumptions and deploy gradually

After you’ve determined your quantitative and intangible ROI estimates, your last step is to begin testing your ROI assumptions and, assuming ROI estimates are positive, begin implementing where possible within your factory.  Manufacturers do not need to take on a large-scale, massive industrial automation installation if they aren’t ready to do so, or can’t afford the cost of mistakes. Don’t forget that most robotic systems can be launched in a phased deployment, and iterated upon with time to determine the most optimal applications for your factory. 

Identify the areas of your manufacturing process where automation can be implemented most easily and with a lower upfront; by pursuing one of these areas as a test case for automation, you’ll be able to review your previous ROI assumptions for accuracy and expand overtime the use of this automation.

Following these steps to evaluating ROI, your manufacturing business can more effectively assess the benefits industrial benefits can potentially bring and how it can impact revenues for years to come.  

The fantastic news is that new robots on the market today are more affordable and productive than ever before, making the realization of positive ROIs faster than ever as well.  Automation can certainly offer the opportunity to avoid “falling behind’, but by knowing your ROI, you can determine with more certainty what the real costs are and what the potential return is that you can yield for your manufacturing company.

5 Ways Robots Drive Profit for Manufacturers

It has never been easier for manufacturers to drive profits by adopting robotic automation.

In the age of rapid digitalization, robotic automation technology is integrating across manufacturing companies of all sizes and industries. Thanks to the cost of industrial robots falling by more than 50% over the past 30 years1, manufacturers are finding they can achieve a positive ROI on their automation implementation in just 1 to 2 years

The potential value is underscored further when manufacturers are able to identify robots that can not only address current needs but are flexible for future applications as well. While there are many positive factors of robotic automation, here are the top 5 ways that robots drive profit for manufacturers:

1. Positive ROI in under 1 to 2 years

According to the Robotics Industries Association, recouping the cost of an automated robot and realizing a profit can be made, on average, within two years2. Some manufacturers have even reduced this timeframe down to under one year, depending on the management of inbound and outbound queues. Quick return on investment (ROI) is propelled by the greatly reduced costs of new industrial robots and new applications that make programming them easier. In today’s competitive global economy, manufacturers should expect competitors to be developing robotics strategies – both domestically and globally – and an investment in automation can ensure that their manufacturing rates can continue to compete in the digital future.

2. Greater production volume

For manufacturers, the amount of items that can be produced in a set timeframe is directly correlated with future profit. Not only can industrial robots streamline production and output more items faster and more efficiently, but many can also work simultaneously on multiple products and/or alongside your existing manufacturing resources to increase total production capacity (these are known as collaborative robots or cobots). By automating manufacturing processes, manufacturers will be able to better meet growing production demands from consumers, while also reducing manual production time delays.

3. Increased quality & less waste

Errors in product manufacturing can directly result in the loss of customer satisfaction, loss in production time, and loss in profits. Luckily with robots, manufacturers can rest easy knowing that their products are being produced with high levels of automated quality control and precision with regards to product specifications. Robots are better able to inspect products and identify potential errors relative to humans, and they also produce less wasted scrap material and re-work. A well-run automated robot can minimize the risk of errors and ensure product consistency for manufacturers across all industries.

4. Reduction in factory consumables

Another way that robots help drive profits for manufacturers is by reducing expenses for consumable resources, which refers to goods that must be replaced regularly because they are used up or because they’ve been worn down. Consumables include power, raw materials, components like belts and grinding wheels, and more. With the advantage of sensors and simulation software, industrial robots are able to use needed consumables in the most efficient and precise way possible. Once simulations are optimized to the robot’s settings, needed consumables last longer and the annual cost savings are passed to the manufacturer’s bottom line.

5. Improved safety & fewer injuries

Even with the most detailed safety guidelines, factory workers are always at risk when they are doing highly repetitive manufacturing processes. Automating these types of manual tasks can create a safer environment for your workers, reduce occupational injuries, and reduce expenses on health insurance costs. At the same time, this can also free up your workforce to focus on more complex tasks that are likely to increase their job satisfaction. From this lens, manufacturers can profit not only from healthcare cost savings but also from the wealth of engaged workers.

With more and more manufacturers becoming aware of the great profitability of low-cost robots, we can expect to see a continued acceleration of robotic automation across industries. It is exciting now to see manufacturers begin to benefit from lean, automated manufacturing, and we can expect them to help continue to shape the robot revolution in global manufacturing.

1. Tilley, Jonathan. “Automation, robotics, and the factory of the future.” McKinsey & Company. McKinsey Insights. September 2017. Web

2. Anandan, Tanya M. “Why Should I Automate?” Robotics Online. Robotic Industries Association. February 2019. Web

Automation 101: End-of-arm Tooling

The Right Tool For The Job

The end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) is one of the most important parts of your robot system. The EOAT spends the most time interacting directly with your parts and a well-designed tool/part interface can save both time and effort when programming a task that requires precision.

There are different types of EOATs for different tasks. With its plug-and-play approach, the Forge/Ctrl makes it easy to attach and swap between a variety of EOATs, ensuring that you have the flexibility you need to optimize your task.

Out of the box, Forge/OS supports several types of gripper EOATs:

  • Electric and pneumatic multi-finger grippers
  • Pneumatically actuated magnetic grippers
  • Suction grippers

Each of these types of grippers has its own benefits and drawbacks. For example, suction grippers come in a wide variety of sizes and material applications but usually require a flat and non-porous surface for best results. Magnetic grippers are very powerful but have limited material applications. Multi-finger grippers can provide precise placement but sometimes require extra fixturing for parts presentation. This document provides information to help you learn how each type of gripper can best be used.

Electric and pneumatic multi-finger grippers

Multi-finger grippers most commonly come in two types: two-finger grippers and three-finger grippers. Two-finger grippers (or parallel grippers) have two fingers that open and close along a single axis. Three-finger grippers (or centric grippers) have three fingers that open and close around a center point.

Multi-finger grippers are ideal for tasks that require a lot of grip strength and repeatability is a major factor. Because these grippers are often large and require plenty of clearance for grabbing parts and introducing them to a machine, parts must be presented individually, like in a grid or auto-feeder, so the gripper can access a single part without colliding into other parts or objects. 

Both parallel and centric grippers often come with machineable or replaceable fingers, allowing you to customize the fingers to suit your task. Taking advantage of this customization capability can reduce the need for precise fixturing in part presentation. For example, you can machine the fingers to have a flat interior surface that presses against the top of the part. Using this surface in conjunction with a force sensor allows you to program a motion that picks up the parts by bottoming the part against the interior surface of the gripper finger, meaning parts of varying height will always be positioned in the same place in the gripper.

Magnetic grippers

Pneumatically actuated magnetic grippers provide superior strength and rigidity in applications containing iron (ferrous) materials. Magnetic grippers designed for EOAT applications often have a low-profile magnetic field, enabling the gripper to pick parts from a stack without disturbing any parts below the top of the stack.

Despite the limited material applications of magnetic grippers, it’s worth taking advantage of their strength and repeatability. Magnetic grippers are good for applications where the robot arm may need to hold the part in place while it is being processed. They also work well in applications that seem suited for suction grippers but require more grip strength due to the high weight of ferrous materials.

Pneumatically actuated magnetic grippers use an air supply to activate or deactivate the magnetic field by moving the magnet toward or away from the work surface of the gripper. Based on the manufacturer of the gripper, some magnetic grippers will be activated when air is applied, while others will be deactivated when air is applied.

Suction grippers

Suction grippers use the flow of air to create a negative pressure area inside of a suction cup. Based on the amount of airflow, suction can be increased or decreased. However, the versatility of suction gripping doesn’t come from the suction force but from the variety and flexibility of suction cups.

Suction grippers are ideal for tasks where precision is not needed or else is handled by other means, such as gravity-feed trays or alternative alignment surfaces. Suction grippers are also great for applications where parts have unconventional geometries and require a custom EOAT.

Many companies such as Piab and Schmalz make a wide array of suction cups for different applications. Cups may have a low-profile rubber interior for added grip against oily sheet metal or extra bellows and surface flexibility to increase contact against porous cardboard. Selecting the appropriate suction cup can mean the difference between a strong, repeatable grip and plenty of frustration with missed grabs.

Because the Forge/Ctrl does not include an internal vacuum generator, the negative pressure inside a suction gripper is created through a generator on the EOAT. Generators can either be mounted directly above the suction cup or inline with the air supply. Direct generators are larger but generate more suction than inline generators. Inline generators enable much greater flexibility in designing custom gripping tools, such as low-profile gripping heads for tight spaces.

Automation 101: Parts Presentation

Introducing what you’re producing

Parts presentation isn’t always the easiest automation problem to solve but it can be one of the most important in determining the level of automation you can add to a production line. An effective parts presentation platform can provide enough stock to run an entire overnight shift without operator intervention and can eliminate unnecessary alignment steps that slow cycle time. Not all parts and machining operations are good candidates for continuous parts presentation, so understanding the design obstacles and opportunities that your task presents will help you develop the best method for your automation needs.

This video demonstrates parts presented using a grid. The grid makes it easy for the robot to locate and grip each individual part and increases the efficiency of the task.

Parts presentation for robotic systems

For some machining operations, automated feeders do all the work. Rolled steel can be flattened for stamping presses and long bars can be advanced through the back of the lathe chuck. Other operations require each part to be presented and oriented individually, such as blanks for a press brake or dovetailed stock for a CNC machine.

The latter cases come with two steps: presentation and alignment. Presentation is the step where the parts are made available for the system to grab. Alignment is the step where inconsistencies in the presentation method are eliminated. A well-designed fixture does both steps at once, assuming the geometry of the parts permits it.

Automated parts presentation also comes with a set of challenges. How do you make the feed continuous? How does the automated system locate the next part? What if the feed system fails and the task continues to run without parts? Let’s address these below.

Continuous feed

A continuous feed parts presentation method is one where the next part to be machined is automatically located in a set position for the robot arm to grab. The best way to imagine this fixture is a slide in which bars of a set length can roll toward a fence. The operator loads the bars and gravity feeds them to the bottom of the slide where the fence holds them in place. The robot arm reaches only for the part against the fence and gravity advances the next part into its place.

In this scenario, the next part to be grabbed is always presented at one location and the fixture can be continuously refilled from the top or designed to be as long as necessary for the desired production time.

Part location

True bin picking solutions are cost-prohibitive and can be difficult to program. If you can present an array of parts to your system in a grid or a stack, you can simplify the programming and make it easier to adapt to different parts.

Both grids and stacks have their advantages. Stack picking uses force to find the top of the stack and pulls parts until it reaches the bottom. In the Task Canvas of Forge/OS, you can use the Save Position block to program the Forge powered system to remember where the top of the stack is as it pulls parts, shortening the time needed to find each part. Stack picking is best for flat parts. Grid picking works well when parts cannot sit evenly on top of each other or are too large for a stack. In the Task Canvas of Forge/OS, grid picking uses the Grid block to create an array of evenly spaced waypoints. Each time the Grid block executes the Forge powered system will move the robot arm to the next part in the grid.

Part alignment

When an operator loads a machine, he can check that the part is oriented correctly and placed firmly against the fences or chuck. The Forge powered system can use force motions to check that parts are properly placed, but this assumes that they were properly picked up. If a part is slightly askew in the presentation, that inconsistency may carry through to the placement step.

Gravity trays are an effective way to guarantee that all parts are grabbed consistently before being introduced to the machine. A gravity tray is a platform in which a dropped part will roll or slide into a corner from which it can be picked up. Regardless of how the part is dropped, it slides into the same corner and is therefore always grabbed the same way.

Building alignment into your parts presentation or end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) is an efficient way to guarantee consistent part handling. Round parts can be centered in a centric 3-finger gripper and bottomed out against machined fingers. Laser-cut or waterjet a part grid to present each part in a precise location. Build a fence into your part stack or slide that you can push the next part against before grabbing it, ensuring that it’s bottomed against that surface. These simple alignment additions cut valuable seconds off your cycle time and make programming and production more consistent.

Feed failures or bad parts

Not all stock fits the way you want. A bent bar or a large burr could be the difference between a good part and a bad part. And a distracted operator could forget to fill a grid, leaving a CNC machine cutting the air. Task Canvas allows you to program force feedback loops that react to a missing or bad part and notify the operator if something is amiss.

Use a force motion to grab parts from a grid and pause the task if the robot arm doesn’t feel a part where it should be. Check that a part has seated properly in a chuck by moving the robot arm over the top of it. If the part isn’t bottomed out, the arm will collide with it and can either attempt to place it again or put the part in a reject bin.

The Forge powered system

Certain part geometries require certain part presentation setups. Others leave room for experimentation. The Task Canvas, the user-friendly programming application available on Forge/OS, gives you the flexibility to try a variety of solutions until you find the one that fits. With interactive tools that notify operators when parts are low and an interface that encourages new ideas, the Forge powered system will never be an obstacle to the automation environment best suited to your task. READY has also designed a series of out-of-the box part feeders to reduce the customization necessary to set up most common machine tending applications. 

Guide to End-of-Line Robotics: Packaging & Palletizing Robotic Automation

The complete guide to end-of-line packaging and palletizing with robots

Over the past 50 years, the manufacturing industry has undergone a complete transformation with the introduction of automation and industrial robotics. Factories that had previously relied on manual operations are now increasingly turning to intelligent robots to drive efficiencies, increase safety, and reduce costs throughout the entire production process. For companies that are considering semi-automation or end-to-end automation, it is worth exploring new end-of-line (EOL) robotics technologies that can significantly increase production rates and cost-effectiveness.

In this guide, we deep dive into two specific areas of industrial robotics – end-of-line packaging and palletizing.

What is robotic end-of-line packaging?

Robotic end-of-line packaging (EOLP) refers to the ability to use robots to package a variety of items into boxes, cartons, cases or crates. With consumer demand growing for faster production and delivery times, packagers are deploying more robotic tools to automate end-of-line tasks and drive more productivity. 

Pick-and-pack robots are commonly used for end-of-line packaging applications. These are robots that can identify, sort and select specific objects on a conveyor belt using integrated vision systems, and then place them into a box. Packing robots often have a robotic arm equipped with an end-of-arm tool (EOAT) that enables them to pick and pack items so precisely that even delicate products like eggs aren’t damaged.

According to a 2017 report published by Allied Market Research, the global packaging robot industry is expected to reach $4,649 million by 20231.

What is robotic end-of-line palletizing?

Robotic end-of-line palletizing refers to the ability to use robots to palletize, or store and transport goods stacked on a pallet. Robotic palletizers also have an EOAT that can grab one or more specific goods from a conveyor belt and position it on a pallet. Goods to be placed on the pallet can include boxes, trays, bags, bottles or kegs.

Advanced robotic palletizing systems have the ability to palletize multiple production lines simultaneously, even in the same production space, thus significantly reducing costs and increasing outputs. 

Additional components of a robotic palletizer include:

  • Infeed and outfeed conveyors that deliver products to the palletizer, and then take the fully stacked pallets away
  • Pallet dispensers that extract single pallets for the palletizer 
  • Automatic slip sheet dispensers, used when needed

Benefits of robotic end-of-line packaging & palletizing

Return on investment (ROI) for end-of-line robotic automation is high. There are many benefits of robotic end-of-line packaging and palletizing, including:

  • Increased productivity and flexibility: End-of-line robots can produce output more efficiently and quickly compared to manual production efforts, and offer more flexibility to automate multiple production lines simultaneously.
  • Increased quality control: With automated inspection, robots can reliably minimize the likelihood of product damage and product handling errors. On average there are 10x fewer failure opportunities with robots2.
  • Improved utilization of skilled labor: By deploying automated robots, skilled laborers can be freed up to work on more valuable, non-automated production processes.
  • Increased safety: Industrial robots can ensure adherence to occupational safety standards and eliminate the need for workers to be stacking and lifting heavy packages. This results in fewer labor injuries and ergonomic issues. 
  • Quicker changeover: With automatic tool changers, robots can minimize (or eliminate) product changeover, which is the process by which the configuration of equipment settings is changed from one product to another. 
  • Greater ease of use: Many modern packaging and palletizing robots now have very user-friendly interfaces with advanced sensing software that make them easier to operate.
  • Less factory footprint: Robotic automation tools require on average 15% less factory footprint compared to traditional packaging and palletizing systems1.
  • Decreased maintenance: End-of-line robots for packaging and palletizing typically require greasing every 6 months to 3 years and annual battery changing. Though this may vary between different robot brands and can be a warranty item, on average, the number of components to maintain with robots is significantly less.

Which industries use robotics for end-of-line production?

According to the Robotic Industries Association, “Robots have become more dexterous, safer, and available in a variety of form factors. They have become more appealing to new users in a wide variety of industries3.” On top of the pressure mounting to produce more and more efficiently in today’s competitive global economy, it’s no wonder that almost all manufacturing industries are implementing robots for end-of-line production.

In the 1980s, the automotive industry especially embraced robotic manufacturing throughout its entire production process. Since then, robots are now used for the packaging and palletizing of products in a wide variety of industries including food and beverage, electrical, hardware, healthcare and medical, household products, industrial goods, paper products, personal care, pet products, pharmaceutical, and technology industry.

When to consider end-of-line robotics

Any company that produces a product – especially multiple products or large products that are placed on shipping pallets – should explore the benefits of end-of-line robotic automation. Robotics can give you the flexibility to produce multiple product lines simultaneously, reduce costs, and increase output and safety – all while using less factory space. 

Robotics can also help companies facing operational challenges, like those who are dealing with frequent market-driven changes to their products and there is not enough time to ramp up for changeovers.  

Don’t be afraid of the common misconceptions that industrial robots are all expensive or too complex. Today, there are a myriad of end-of-line solution providers that can help address your challenges reliably, simply, and with high, long-term ROI.

1. Bose, Deepankar. “Packaging Robots Market Is Expected to Reach $4,649 Million, Globally, by 2023.” Allied Market Research. Web

2. “Robotic Packaging Automation Considerations.” Robotic Industries Association. September 2006. Web 

3. “North American Robotics Orders to Non-Automotive Companies Surge to New Records.” Robotics Online. Robotic Industries Association. November 2018. Web