New Equipment Digest November 2015, Posted Date: 11/5/2015
Robots, Cobots & the American Dream Editorial by Travis Hessman, Editor-in-Chief
In just three years, an improbable new technological concept emerged from nowhere and completely took over the market. In the process, it has given manufacturers across the world new capabilities, powerful new tools, and new hope for the future.
But 2012 was my first real-life encounter; my first chance to really get in and see what they could do.
It wasn’t exactly what I’d imagined.
I was hoping to get up close and personal with these machines and get a good look at their mechanics, their bright paint jobs, and awesome designs.
What I got was a lot of fences, a lot of barriers, a lot of distant glimpses of the great machines in action. I wanted a wild safari, but I ended up with a tame zoo.
The one exception, tucked away in the back of a quiet hall, was Universal Robots’ brand new collaborative robot.
The Danish startup’s bots were a bit of an oddity at the time. They ran without the cages and barriers of traditional robots, in fact waving their arms through pre-programmed dances right over the heads of visitors. The UR staff drew crowds and shocked gasps by letting the robots run right into them on purpose.
No one quite knew what to think of them. There wasn’t even a name for this kind of robot yet. Along with Rethink Robotics’ Baxter, these devices were forging a new direction for robotics, one that defied everything they had been doing for the previous 51 years.
No one thought it would last. No one thought any real manufacturer would ever need such slow, clumsy devices. And absolutely everyone was sure that OSHA would shut them down before they ever got adopted.
They were wrong.
Fast forward three years to the machine tool show at EMO Milano 2015. The entire robotics industry has shifted; collaborative robots are everywhere now, and not just upstarts, but from the major traditional players like Kuka and ABB.
Even more exciting, now we can get up close and personal with giants, too. At Comau’s booth, for example, there was a shiny Racer3 running at full speed in the middle of the pavilion with no barriers at all. Just spinning around shuffling mini basketballs in quick, lethal motion right there in the heart of the traffic.
The machine was equipped with sensors designed to detect any approaching body – slowing its powerful arcs upon initial approach, and finally stopping before we got within striking distance, only to automatically restart upon retreat.
I find this to be the most encouraging development imaginable.
In just three years, an improbable new technological concept emerged from nowhere and completely took over the market.
For a supposedly conservative industry, one that is slammed for being overly-regulated and rigid, these innovations have erupted at an amazing pace. In the process, they have given manufacturers new capabilities, powerful new tools, and new hope to face the issues of the future.
Wherever you stand on the machine-vs.-man employment debate, this innovation cycle holds a lot of promise. It shows that the manufacturing industry is still capable of quick change, of adopting new technologies and putting them to real work.
It’s proof that this is still a powerful, vibrant industry. One that is here to stay.
(Thanks for the great editorial Travis.
I commented after your article that I had just visited Fanuc here in Cincinnati, and they demonstrated a cobot. The videos in this post are from that trip, hosted by the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.
My interest is that any product that requires a lot of education and hand-holding is great for "Inbound" marketing practices. "Inbound" is a new term used to describe marketing automation that uses great content with social media to draw visitors to your website. Even more great content captures the visitor's email address, and you're off to the races nurturing them into customers. It's not as easy as it sounds because it requires you have an encyclopedic knowledge of your product and the decision process a customer uses to purchase it. Typically a good sales manager has that but the real challenge is to get marketing and upper management to invest in putting it into action with communications and deliverables.
The internet, email and the almost constant use of all sorts of screens are pushing this trend. Besides great content delivered at the right time, you need to use the internet to promote your content. This is much harder than you think. You can't just publish a blog, and they will come. You need to work with media that is well respected and collaborate with them to offer your content and get it linked from them to you.
Like cobots, "Inbound" needs a lot of promotion, but it is the future of marketing.