What Technology And Manufacturing Can Do To Help Against COVID-19
It’s time to step up! In a time of crisis, we need to look to our leaders to step up and lead. Whether that’s a politician leading his/her state, a CEO leading an organization, or perhaps the entire tech and manufacturing sector showing it’s agility to adapt, we rely on leaders in times like these.There has never been a greater test put on manufacturing and supply chains around the world than today. The warts, cracks, and blemishes in the global manufacturing ecosystem are showing their full colors. There’s never been a time when companies need better agility, increased access, and digitization in their supply chain/manufacturing operations. Reading Kathy Wengel’s, Chief Supply Chain Officer at Johnson & Johnson, latest Q&A demonstrates the needs that both large and small companies have.Kathy isn’t the only leader stepping up and taking on the challenge of COVID-19 and its treatment. We’ve seen an incredible amount of support from the automotive industry, makers building open source respirators, and small medical device companies asking for help. At Fictiv, we started this journey trying to figure out how to manage disrupted supply chains in China and now we’re looking at a global issue with far reaching consequences. How can the technology and manufacturing industries step up when they’re needed? Here are a few thoughts:#1 - Alternative Manufacturing MethodsSome supply chains, along with their manufacturing processes are under serious threat or even lockdown. Others are recovering from the severe disruption of the last two months and overwhelmed by demand. But some newer technologies, particularly those that are digitally native like additive manufacturing, can offer flexibility, agility and capacity. Just like the example in Italy, there are numerous parts that could be 3D Printed if the current supply chain for that part is disrupted.And it’s not just additive manufacturing (3D printing), other technologies like CNC can be used to replace parts that come from more heavily tooled industries that may not be able to ramp to meet the current demand. Switching to an alternative manufacturing method could make the difference in getting a part when and where it’s needed.#2 – Diverting Manufacturing CapacityIn times like this, demand changes daily and industry needs to respond with equal speed. This means companies that normally make jet engines might be asked to respirators, companies that make perfumes might be asked to make surgical wipes, and companies that distill craft gin might be asked to make hand sanitizer on the same equipment. We’ve seen the world’s largest contract manufacturers stepping up to make masks while others prioritize critical healthcare projects.This is a level of agility not normally seen in the manufacturing space, but one that I know innovators, engineers, and supply chain managers around the world will continue to step up to face. Every day, I am impressed with the level of ingenuity shown and the way technology and manufacturing teams come together to create amazing solutions for consumers, now that ingenuity is being applied to create solutions that can change, and as we’ve seen in the example, save lives.#3 – Agile Supply Chain TechnologyWhat the world needs right now is a supply chain and manufacturing ecosystem that has the unique and illusive combination of agility and resilience. Where supply chains are digitally enabled there is visibility, and that means assessing or measuring disruption is done quickly or better still in real-time. Thus a backup plan can be quickly deployed. Sadly, many supply chains are not digitally enabled and they have been shown to be less robust in times of great stress.Those that are agile have adapted, shifted resources, and moved manufacturing to ensure continuity of supply. If a company is making critical equipment or consumables that are used in medical or testing processes, those supply chains need to be robust. And if something happens they need to be able to adapt at lightning speed to ensure that a disrupted supply chain does not mean failure to deliver.#4 – Come Together, Share Insights, Get CreativeWhat we also need right now is to come together, to share ideas and to help each other achieve those ideas. We are without doubt at our most innovative, creative and powerful when we work together as a team. Technology and manufacturing companies, even fierce competitors need to work together right now. Let’s face it - when technologies and people work in unison, magic happens.Last week, I spoke with Philip Stoten, manufacturing and supply chain journalist, and Scott Miller, CEO of Dragon Innovation, about the connectivity of global supply chains and how companies can recover and prepare for the next inevitable unanticipated disruption. Sharing ideas in an open forum is an important connection, especially in the current climate.I’d encourage everyone to communicate more, to reach out and ask for help, to share ideas, and to get creative. Technology has a lot to offer and right now we need everyone to step up.In the future, we can look back and say why supply chains failed and fix those issues. We’ll create better and more resilient technologies, more agile and robust supply chains and we’ll be ready for the next crisis, but right now let’s leverage technology to help in any and every way we can!FORBES
Loss Prevention 101: Future-Proofing Your Network Begins With Resilience
Critical server outages cost businesses an average of US$300,000 hourly, with many cases exceeding $5 million. As network demands increase and maximum uptime becomes a necessity, it is crucial to implement the proper processes and systems to ensure organizations constantly are able to mitigate the threat of outages.A host of factors can cause network or system downtime, from ISP carrier problems to power cuts and simple human errors. Additionally, network infrastructures are becoming more complicated, and as software stacks need more frequent updates, they become more susceptible to increasingly more effective cyberattacks, exploits or glitches and bugs.The onward move to virtualization and SD-WAN is also an issue. It's true that these solutions enable greater flexibility and more efficient services, reduce costs, and can enable cloud-based control, but they also introduce points of failure.What if the SD-WAN overlay goes down in vulnerable locations like the last-mile connection? Firmware updates go wrong? Or a security breach occurs in a visibility blind spot?All this equates to more possibilities of downtime, which can quickly spell disaster for a brand, impacting revenues and hurting an organization's ability to provide services. To help avoid and mitigate the impacts of downtime, both now and in the future, following are a few critical tips.Resilience vs. RedundanceIf you want to develop a business plan to limit the chance of downtime and mitigate the impacts of a problem if it does occur, where should you start? To begin, it is critical to consider outages from two different angles: the operating network and the physical infrastructure supporting it.For the physical infrastructure, organizations must consider hardware components of the network, such as power and cooling systems. To ensure systems are kept up and running, many large data center environments will have redundant components, such as backup generators, redundant power sources and uninterruptible power supplies.Redundance also is important on the IT side. Organizations have a lot of choices to implement the right ecosystem for their needs. For instance, a company may choose to host and run applications in multiple locations and implement virtualization to add elements that allow for smooth transfer of load.Additionally, an organization may need to enable the business to migrate to another location, like a second data center, colocation site or hybrid cloud environment, if there is a critical failure.While a resilient network may contain some redundance, a redundant system isn't necessarily resilient enough to ensure business continuity. Therefore, it's critical for businesses to be able to distinguish between just implementing network redundance and having the network resilience to monitor and keep core "backbone" and mission-critical networks up and running, even in today's complex and challenging virtualized environments.If there is a primary network failure or something goes wrong with a piece of hardware other than the redundant elements, the network could remain down.In many instances, simply adding more routers or switches will not increase the security of a network. Imagine if an engineer cuts a cable -- the network could go down regardless of how much duplicate equipment is installed.Additionally, the capital and O&M costs associated with redundance outside of a data center often can make it expensive, so many businesses choose not to spend sizable sums on data connections and backup equipment that likely will remain idle most of the time.If an organization truly values maximizing network uptime, it has to go beyond redundant equipment. That's where a strategy for end-to-end resilience is so vital. Resilience is about recovering swiftly to ensure that the organization operates normally soon after a network outage, and this often can be achieved by implementing an alternative path, such as a cellular network, to devices located at remote sites when the primary network is down.Future-Proofing for the EdgeHistorically, many enterprises have focused on shoring up large data centers or cloud environments at the core of their operations. Times are changing, however, and the need for infrastructure closer to the user (triggered by new data-intensive applications) is challenging traditional cloud computing for IT delivery in matters like performance, data security and operational costs. This is driving many networks to move to the edge for faster delivery speed, reduced costs and enhanced scalability.While edge computing provides many benefits, it also provides a challenging ecosystem to protect. For instance, the level of resilience and redundance that organizations and their customers have come to rely on is more difficult to maintain at the edge.In this environment, network outages may become more prevalent, and it may become harder to recover from them. So what can organizations do to prepare for this and future-proof their network for what's to come? A first move may be to consider the network infrastructure from a holistic point of view.To begin the work of building a future-proofed infrastructure, an organization should start by homing in on customer expectations for high-level uptime and resilience. They should build on this point when considering how they deploy their network, systems, architecture, redundancies and the resilience they need to put in place.Tools Needed to Ensure ResilienceWhen striving to meet the needs of customers, tools that ensure network resilience will be critical to success. One thing to consider here is that true network resilience cannot be achieved by providing resilience to one single piece of equipment, whether that be a core switch or a router.Instead it is important that any solution for resilience can plug into all equipment at an edge site or data center, map what is there, and establish what is offline and online at any time.One priority must be ensuring a business has visibility and the agility to pivot if problems do occur. Consider a large finance or healthcare enterprise with a network operations center that may require constant uptime for applications and customer service. They may have several branch locations spread across the world with attendant time zone issues.As a result, they may struggle to get visibility that an outage has even occurred, because they are not proactively notified if something goes offline. Even when they are aware, it may be difficult to understand which piece of equipment at which location has a problem if nobody is on site to physically look.To solve errors, an organization may need to perform a quick system reboot remotely. If that does not work, there may be a problem with a software update. That problem can be addressed by utilizing the latest smart out-of-band (OOB) management systems. An image of the core equipment and its configuration -- whether it be a router or switch, for example -- can be retained, and the device quickly can be reconfigured remotely, without the need for sending an engineer on site.If an outage did occur, it would be possible to ensure network resilience via failover to cellular. That would enable the business to keep up and running while the original fault was being remotely addressed, even while the primary network was down.Though incorporating extra resilience through OOB costs money, the ROI can exceed the expense. This alternative access path may be used by an organization infrequently. However, when it is required, it becomes a critical success factor.It's also worth considering that resilience is usually much cheaper than having to buy large amounts of redundant equipment. This is increasingly true as the deployment of edge locations increases. Though it may be feasible for an organization to purchase redundancy at a core data center, that same redundancy can't be built in every data closet or rack at a small remote location.Beyond ensuring an ironclad backup solution with tools like smart OOB management and failover to cellular, organizations can provide further protection and achieve cost saving by stacking tools like NetOps automation on top of solutions for secure, offsite provisioning. This can eliminate a lot of repetitive tasks, remove potential for human error, and free up time.Consider the CustomerOrganizations and their leadership should consider the customer experience they are providing at the edge and ensure their systems can deliver it consistently. Otherwise, they risk downtime and subpar service.If a problem does occur, it is vital for a business to communicate clearly when issues arise. Having comprehensive visibility and resilient failover options plays an important role in quickly informing customers about what has happened, and how a situation is being rectified.Unfortunately, network outages are a challenge that every organization has to face. It is difficult to prevent downtime entirely. However, a variety of smart tools, like OOB management systems, failover to cellular, and NetOps automation can help by providing essential benefits -- ranging from resource-efficient remote monitoring and management to continued Internet connectivity if an ISP or physical problem occurs.Implementing the right processes and systems for network resilience is essential, so businesses significantly can mitigate the threat of outages. This helps eliminate problems like loss of critical systems or social media blow-ups from dissatisfied customers, which can have a dramatic impact on a business' bottom line.Therefore, implementing a program for network resilience isn't just a luxury for large corporations but actually Loss Prevention 101TECHNEWSWORLD
The Arrival of Cobots to Industry Results in Job Creation
With all the improvements to automation in recent years, have you ever been concerned with whether robotics could replace you at your job? Since Collaborative Robots (cobots) can work safely around humans, many workers feel that all human jobs will eventually become cobot jobs. Do you think that’s possible? Let’s explore the chances of that happening.Manufacturers Plan to Keep Using HumansMost manufacturers say that they aren’t planning to use collaborative robots to replace humans. Rather, they want humans to work with cobots to increase their own productivity. Currently, humans do a lot of repetitive tasks. A human worker could program the cobot to complete these dull tasks. As a result, the human can do more satisfying work for both them and the employer.Even when cobots replace humans for particular tasks, there are often jobs that the cobots can’t do. These roles often require creative, critical thinking. By having a collaborative robot perform dirty, dull, and dangerous tasks, the company can better use their human workers to help grow their company by developing new products and processes.Your employer wants you to be happy. Surprised to hear that? Well, it’s true. Happier, engaged employees are more productive and are great champions for a brand. Companies often invest a lot into their employees to keep them on board due to the costs of retraining a new employee. Cobots are part of a strategy to help employees enjoy their jobs, not to take them away.Companies Need Cobots and Humans to Boost BusinessCollaborative robots are part of many companies’ strategies for growth. Adding a collaborative robot makes them more productive so that they can hire more people to expand into other markets. Companies also recognize the need to have human jobs with a career path. Employers must first develop employees so they can become leaders and run the businessesThe labor shortage that is currently impacting the manufacturing industry has put stress on both businesses and workers. Fortunately, cobots can help. Employees can be relieved by cobots and not have to work long hours or perform strenuous tasks. And since most manufacturers have numerous openings, the workers can likely get better jobs if they want.ROBOTICS ONLINE
What are the Best Ways to Start a Career in the Robotics Industry?
You’re not alone if you’ve considered a robotics career but don’t where to start. Like yourself, many have marveled at what robots can do on the factory floor, in the operating room, or even in outer space. Others have thought about the portrayal of robotics in science fiction and want to turn it into reality. Whatever your motive, you can start a career in robotics too.The robotics business is booming. Manufacturing, agriculture, and medicine are just a few major industries that can’t seem to quench their thirst for more automation. Freeing up workers from dull, dangerous, and dirty jobs is a primary initiative for many of the world’s largest businesses.How to Start a Career in RoboticsLearn the Basics. Even entry-level job-seekers need to be able to understand sophisticated, complex systems. Start with the basics of electronics. Fortunately, you can learn a lot of the basics with online study. Take a course, visit industry websites, and watch the growing number of videos available. Pick up a few books. You can probably find some at your local library.Pick a Field. Once you have a good handle on the basics, you’ll probably find it easy to pick a field. If you’re not sure, do some networking. Reach out to online communities or find robotics enthusiasts in your area. The amount of formal education you’ll have to pursue often depends on your field and job. Techs often only need a two-year degree while Engineers will need a four-year degree.Choose Your Specialty. Within your field, there will be many areas where you can specialize. And there will also be plenty of industries to choose from. Say you want to get into robotic welding. The automotive industry may seem like a no-brainer. But there are also opportunities in aerospace, military, and industrial facilities. Perhaps find an internship first.The Rewards of a Robotics CareerTo build a successful career in robotics, you’ll need a lot of motivation. Fortunately, the rewards can be great. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a robotics technician is around $56k. And the annual salary for an engineer is closer to $90k.If you like to work with your hands, being a technician is the job for you. You’ll get to help build, service, and repair robots. But if you want to spend your time in an office, an engineering role may be your first choice. The growth outlook for both positions looks good, making either a solid option.ROBOTICS INDUSTRIES ASSOCIATION
Collaborative Robots Cutting into Operation and Manufacturing Costs for Leading Healthcare Companies
Stressed out over rising healthcare costs? You’re not alone. Thankfully, manufacturers plan to cut costs with the help of collaborative robots. Publicly-traded healthcare companies are under pressure from Wall Street to boost margins. But providers realize that they can’t burden customers with higher costs.Healthcare Companies Improve EfficiencyRobotics, artificial intelligence, and the advances promised with Industry 4.0 is forecasted to save manufacturers billions. Collaborative robots (cobots) are part of a strategy that will reduce labor costs, speed up production, and increase efficiency. Manufacturers plan to reduce lead times and cut cycle times with automated solutions.Thanks to the increase in speed, healthcare companies can reduce inventory levels and free up capital to expand their business in other needed areas, such as operations. Collaborative robot use in labs has helped speed up testing as well. Blood tests include a lot of repetitive tasks. Using cobots instead of humans to assist with these tests also results in more precise testing.The demands placed on healthcare manufacturers aren’t helped by the current labor shortage. You’ve probably seen evidence of this with open positions at your facility. Perhaps you’ve seen a position that just can’t seem to stay filled because the work is dull and repetitive. A collaborative robot can often take over many of the required tasks and free humans up for jobs that require creative thinking.Collaborative Robots Are a Good Fit for HealthcareMany tasks in healthcare manufacturing are dull and repetitive. Not only can collaborative robots work alongside humans to help them perform tasks that leave humans fatigued, but autonomous mobile robots designed to interact with humans can travel digital paths to help deliver materials, tools, and equipment. They can pick, deliver, and place items as needed.But that’s not all collaborative robots can do for manufacturers. Collaborative robots help humans to package medical devices. Such devices must remain sterile. But when humans perform packaging tasks, there is always a risk of contamination. Cobots can practically eliminate the risk. Packaging can be performed in a completely sterile environment.ROBOTICS INDUSTRIES ASSOCIATION
Sony Built a Car
By now I think we can all agree that the role of entertainment and communication technology will continue to play a greater role in all facets of society, including automotive offerings. But, just in case you weren’t sure, electronics giant Sony made it very clear … by building their own car. On display this week at the Consumer Electronics Show is Sony’s Vision S, an electric (of course) concept car built to showcase how their products can make the future of mobility that much safer and more enjoyable. According to Digital Trends, the four-door Vision seems to borrow style points from both the Tesla Model 3 and Porsche. In addition to the full-length dash screen that simultaneously provides an instrument panel and entertainment menu, the Vision also features a screen on each headrest for backseat passengers, and a 360-degree panoramic sound system. More than 30 sensors are embedded throughout the vehicle, as well as radar, LIDAR and other safety and navigation-based cameras. While some of this tech is new for Sony, the company has been providing its CMOS sensors to Toyota for a while. In addition to the imaging and sensing technologies, on-board software regulates a collection of AI, telecommunication and cloud platforms that provide a steady stream of data relative to vehicle performance and rider preferences. The electric vehicle runs on a chassis and drivetrain built by Magna, who also works with GM, Ford, Mercedes, and Tesla. Additionally, suppliers such as Qualcomm, Continental and Nvidia played pivotal roles. No prices were revealed, because more than a concept car, the Vision S is, in all ways and shapes, a sales vehicle. Sony is apparently happy being an automotive supplier, not a competitor.MANUFACTURINGNET
Preparing Reticent Workers for Digital Transformation
There’s no debating the potential for value creation as a result of factory digitization, which could top $3.7 trillion in 2025, and provide digitally-savvy companies 38 percent higher revenue growth than those that have not yet digitized the business. Additionally, according to Gartner, 67 percent of business leaders admit their company must become much more digitized immediately, in order to remain competitive.While there’s plenty of incentive, there are also a myriad of obstacles, particularly in manufacturing. Digital transformation requires a massive business change across manufacturing processes, the supply chain and ERP, adoption of AI/machine learning and automation techniques — and perhaps most importantly — workforce adoption and willingness to change.The failure to properly account for and overcome the “people problem” of digital transformation is why so few initiatives succeed. Gartner identifies “change fatigue” as a large part of the issue. The average employee experienced 12 changes over the last year, and the pace of change continues to accelerate.That gap is a huge problem considering that digital transformation is not about a single step, an announcement or implementation; it’s about continuous change and becoming a change-ready organization with an agile and adaptive culture. You can implement all of the new technology, processes and systems in the world, but if your culture is change-fatigued, change-averse and focused on the status quo, adoption and transformation will never happen.To amplify your digital transformation success — both current and future — here’s how to make your organization an agile, change-ready manufacturer:Transition your culture and talent strategy. Gartner research shows that 42 percent of CEOs expect to undergo deep culture change as part of their digital transformation. But, what does that look like exactly? First, you must create a culture that incentivizes innovation, agility and growth. Encourage employees to find creative solutions and be flexible and active participants when it comes to introducing new programs. Alongside this cultural shift, sharpen your talent acquisition, development and retention strategy to focus on tech-savvy people who have a propensity for adoption and innovation. One way to do this is to provide re-skilling training for those with roles impacted by automation. Creating a mentorship program that pairs younger workers with more experienced individuals can also help harness the knowledge and experience at both ends of the spectrum and build trust among the generations.Focus on the “why.” Over 70% of executives say getting the workforce onboard is essential to their digital transformation strategy. But it’s hard to do that if employees don’t understand the motivation and purpose behind the changes they’re being asked to implement. Without the right context, they may balk at changes to protect their jobs or justify their roles in the face of automation. Overcome that obstacle by clearly and continuously communicating how the transformation benefits the business, future viability and their continued roles with the organization. Helping employees to see how their contribution is vital to success for the organization and for them on an individual level creates alignment around a common purpose.Empower managers with performance management authority. Along with this sense of purpose for the overall transformation, employees need to see how their skills and capabilities align to the transformation objectives. In many manufacturing environments, employees can be inhibited from adopting new tools and processes by a perceived lack of ability, which is where mangers play a critical role by being empowered to guide employee development and provide motivation in the form of compensation and recognition.However, direct supervisors and managers too often lack appropriate coaching skills or influence over compensation decisions. By equipping front-line managers with the skills they need to better manage and incentivize employee performance, employees will see a more direct correlation between their day-to-day contributions and their organizations’ goals.Make effective communication a priority. When communicating with the workforce about change, remember it’s not about how a message is delivered, but about how it is received and understood that makes it truly effective. In a manufacturing environment, where most of the employee audience may not have access to a computer, it could require a more creative approach. The only way to ensure effective communication is to customize the message and the channel for each audience based on their roles, challenges and concerns, and then measure how well it has been received. Leverage data for continuous evolution. As mentioned, change is never a finite process with a beginning and end; it’s a continuous process that requires any organization to monitor progress and make adjustments along the way. In order to create a change mindset, you must measure, evaluate, and adjust your communication and adoption strategy, then reevaluate in real time as the process evolves. Set quantitative and qualitative KPI goals and measure against them. It’s the only way to know if you’re truly evolving and making progress, or if you’re stalling or backsliding. In summary, digital transformation can be a daunting process. However, by communicating with stakeholders in more meaningful and productive ways, companies can break down silos, compel workers to adopt new approaches and get everyone on the same page with a clear understanding and vision for the intended outcomes. That’s why, before making a massive investment in digital transformation, it’s a good first step to assess whether your organization is change ready. If not, build that foundation alongside your transformation journey. MANUFACTURING.NET
How Are Mechatronics and Industrial Automation Different?
Mechatronics and industrial automation are two fields that overlap to some extent. But they have their differences, too. Here's a definition of each, plus how they benefit the manufacturing sector.Mechatronics and industrial automation are two fields that overlap to some extent. But they have their differences, too. Here's a definition of each, plus how they benefit the manufacturing sector.What Is Mechatronics?Mechatronics is the convergence of mechanical engineering with electronics and electrical circuits, plus control and software engineering. Some people also add telecommunications to the fields that mechatronics encompasses.Jim Devaprasad, a professor in the engineering and technology school at Lake Superior State University, broadened his mechatronics definition to include a manufacturing element. He also pointed out that mechatronics is what people once termed "systems engineering."Although mechatronics began as the study of mechanical and electrical interactions, it has since changed. Mechatronics now involves studying how those electromechanical happenings affect other equipment. Some of that equipment relates to industrial automation, such as robots.Professionals who study mechatronics often build the automated systems that manufacturing plants increasingly use. But a mechatronics system is not necessarily specific to industrial automation. For example, if a digital thermostat has a feedback sensor and a microprocessor, it's a mechatronics system. But that thermostat may not have any automated elements — and digital thermostats are not solely associated with industrial automation.During the design process of a system or product, mechatronics professionals prioritize system-based thinking and interdisciplinary problem-solving. System-based thinking means that a person takes a holistic view to understand how each part relates to another and affects the system as a whole. The interdisciplinary aspect indicates that people who specialize in mechatronics can anticipate working with people from different fields to collaborate for the best results.The Benefits of Mechatronics for ManufacturingMechatronics design takes customer or project specifications into account. It also looks for cross-functional issues that could crop up unless dealt with in the early stages. Moreover, mechatronics seeks to optimize high functionality and efficiency, two qualities that promote progress in manufacturing as well as other industries.A partnership between Siemens and Festo Didactic aims to directly address the manufacturing skills shortage with mechatronics training. Students receive training in a simulated smart factory environment, which equips them for advanced manufacturing careers after they get certified through the program.What Is Industrial Automation?Industrial automation focuses on using technology to achieve tasks with minimal human intervention. People often bring up a four-tier hierarchy when discussing the topic.At the bottom is the field level, which is comprised of sensors and actuators. The sensors collect data on things like temperature and speed. Conversely, the actuators receive electrical or pneumatic signals and convert them into actions.The second segment is the control level, which contains various automation controls. Programmable logic controllers receive frequent usage in industrial settings and are examples of the kinds of controls found at this level. The controls allow operators to program a machine to perform certain functions and automate how it operates.The third tier is the supervisory level. It contains equipment such as human-machine interfaces and gadgets that can set production targets or trigger startup and shutdown commands.The enterprise level is the top part of the hierarchy. It manages the entire automation system but relates more to the commercial aspects, like sales and orders, than the technical things going on in the background.The Benefits of Industrial Automation for ManufacturingIndustrial automation machines frequently have mechanical and electrical components working together. This is where the lines between mechatronics and industrial automation blur somewhat. However, as clarified earlier, some mechatronic devices have no automated components. Some schools offer courses that expose students to both mechatronics and industrial automation.Industrial automation is a primary component of the fourth industrial revolution. Advancements center on combining computers with physical equipment to achieve the ideal results. Thus, the companies that invest in industrial automation often seek benefits such as increased output and improved scalability.Since industrial automation minimizes or eliminates human involvement, it can cut down on issues related to fatigue or user error. Some systems can respond to changes and self-adjust as necessary. Others let operators avoid downtime by alerting people of the need for maintenance.As the demands on manufacturing plants rise, industrial automation will enjoy a growing relevance. Moreover, it will evolve as technologies improve or get tweaked for better suitability in manufacturing.Two Concepts With Significant OverlapAs this overview shows, there are not always clear-cut distinctions between mechatronics and industrial automation. Mechatronics specialists often work on projects related to industrial automation but tackle other projects, too. And while mechatronics is an umbrella term covering many disciplines, industrial automation is more tightly focused. It seeks to let machines perform tasks that began as solely manual duties.However, despite the differences between these fields, both of them can positively impact manufacturing. As the sector gets ever more advanced and dependent on specialized machines, the contributions of mechatronics and industrial automation experts will remain indispensable for the foreseeable future.MANUFACTURING TOMORROW
The Arrival of Cobots to Industry Results in Significant Job Creation
With all the improvements to automation in recent years, have you ever been concerned with whether robotics could replace you at your job? Since Collaborative Robots (cobots) can work safely around humans, many workers feel that all human jobs will eventually become cobot jobs. Do you think that’s possible? Let’s explore the chances of that happening.Manufacturers Plan to Keep Using HumansMost manufacturers say that they aren’t planning to use collaborative robots to replace humans. Rather, they want humans to work with cobots to increase their own productivity. Currently, humans do a lot of repetitive tasks. A human worker could program the cobot to complete these dull tasks. As a result, the human can do more satisfying work for both them and the employer.Even when cobots replace humans for particular tasks, there are often jobs that the cobots can’t do. These roles often require creative, critical thinking. By having a collaborative robot perform dirty, dull, and dangerous tasks, the company can better use their human workers to help grow their company by developing new products and processes.Your employer wants you to be happy. Surprised to hear that? Well, it’s true. Happier, engaged employees are more productive and are great champions for a brand. Companies often invest a lot into their employees to keep them on board due to the costs of retraining a new employee. Cobots are part of a strategy to help employees enjoy their jobs, not to take them away.Companies Need Cobots and Humans to Boost BusinessCollaborative robots are part of many companies’ strategies for growth. Adding a collaborative robot makes them more productive so that they can hire more people to expand into other markets. Companies also recognize the need to have human jobs with a career path. Employers must first develop employees so they can become leaders and run the businesses.The labor shortage that is currently impacting the manufacturing industry has put stress on both businesses and workers. Fortunately, cobots can help. Employees can be relieved by cobots and not have to work long hours or perform strenuous tasks. And since most manufacturers have numerous openings, the workers can likely get better jobs if they want.ROBOTICS INDUSTRIES ASSOCIATION
University Study Details Process for Using Robotics and AI to Produce Polymers
Wonder when scientists might release the next miracle drug or device? You might soon be thanking robotics and AI for those new medicines and treatments sooner than you think. Engineers have developed an automated process for creating polymers that make it easier to produce advanced materials used to treat humans.Why Polymers Are Important to Medical ScienceMany researchers have longed for large libraries of polymers to test in specific life sciences applications. Plastics and fibers can be used to meet many different biological needs. Researchers have long used polymers to build a wide range of technologies including diagnostics, electronics, medical devices, sensors, lighting, and robots.And polymers aren’t only used to make materials for medical devices. They can also be used for drugs too. They can aid with delivery by encapsulating medicines. But polymers themselves can also have a direct therapeutic effect on the body. Polymer drugs are often used as binding agents to remove or neutralize undesired materials in the body.Knowing which polymers are the best for a particular application involves more than just theory. They must each be physically tested for practical use in each application. This involves a lot of trial and error and a lot of time. Understandably, researchers are always looking for ways to speed up the process.Researchers Find a New Way to Produce PolymersUntil this new automated process, the bottleneck was typically the production of different polymers. But thanks to robotics and AI, a researcher can go from making a few polymers per day to hundreds at once. How do they do it?With conventional means, researchers must synthesize polymers in highly controlled environments. Since most chemical reactions are extremely sensitive to oxygen, the gas has to be removed before production. That process is more time-consuming than you might think. The required precision limits the production of large polymer libraries.The new automated method uses polymer reactions that can tolerate oxygen. This method allows the robotics and AI to rapidly create unique polymers while still maintaining the needed precision. Even non-experts can now make new polymers. A custom software package sends polymer designs to a liquid-handling robot that processes each step of the chemical reactions.ROBOTICS INDUSTRIES ASSOCIATION
The Future of 3D Printing: Five Trends
The future of 3D printing is bright and is an increasingly important pillar in the manufacturing renaissance. With the increased usage of the technology, conversations about additive manufacturing are a lot more tangible than they were just two years ago. Before, we were debating whether there is a financial or technological case to convert from traditional, high volume processes to an additive printer. Now, there are growing numbers of use-cases and demonstrable business benefits proving that additive can be used as a mainstream manufacturing technology. What can be done with 3D printing isn’t theoretical anymore; it’s fact.Several industries—including healthcare, automotive and aerospace and defense—have been experiencing impactful production and business transformations within key areas of their business given the maturation of additive technologies and material supply-chains. For instance, interior aircraft parts like ducting, vents and airflow systems created with additive manufacturing permit designers to trim weight, reduce the number of components in assemblies, and conform to tight cabin interiors. In addition, additive provides design freedom to experiment with more effective and efficient part shapes, with fewer potential points of failure. These give manufacturers more flexibility in creating their products all while keeping pace with contracting production cycles.In a recent survey conducted by Jabil, we discovered that in just over a year, the number of companies utilizing 3D printing as well as the variety of applications rocketed dramatically; the percentage of companies using additive to manufacture production parts rose from 27 percent to 52, bridge production increased from 23 percent to 39, and repair went from 14 percent to 38. Although the 3D printing industry is currently worth around $9.3 billion, a report by Smithers Pira predicts that the additive manufacturing industry will be worth $55.8 billion by 2027. But as additive grows, how will it shape other industries and aspects of manufacturing? What does the future of 3D printing hold?Scalability from Prototyping to Production3D printing use for bridge production has grown 70 percent in just two years. In that time, automotive, transportation and heavy equipment industries have been the most frequent users of the technology for this purpose. Additive manufacturing allows for easy scalability from prototype to full-scale manufacturing. After all, prototyping without the vision and expertise to go into full-scale production misses a key tenant of what additive stands to deliver which is more efficient life-cycle management.When volumes are still relatively low, if a brand is looking to print 100 parts for engineering testing, for instance, it’s easy to do so with additive manufacturing. Even quadrupling that number can be done with no added retooling costs using 3D printing. Additive is the perfect fit for low to mid-volume production. With the right level of planning, engineering, and material development, a part developed using additive can seamlessly transition into rate production equipment such as injection molding.Producing a part on-demand with 3D printing enables manufacturers to print parts as needed instead of pulling the part from a supply warehouse. On demand production will help companies realize huge reductions in inventory and storage costs. In the automotive industry, for example, spare parts inventory could be reduced by 90 percent with 3D printing, according to a report from MIT.Today, we’re moving from a capability conversation to capacity conversation. But in the future, 3D printing will be able to support all facets of new product introduction (NPI) where scaling volume to achieve price points will become decreasingly important. Normalizing Digitization and Reorganizing the Supply ChainAdditive manufacturing is leading the way in the digital transformation of Industry 4.0. It’s one of the purest digital technologies because it doesn’t require tooling and fixturing, thereby eliminating or reducing switching costs in moving a file to different locations and printers. That’s a radical departure from labor-intensive methods employed by the manufacturing industry over the last 200 years.In fact, the most disruptive aspect of additive has little to do with the actual printers—it’s the conversion of a digital form into a physical good, meaning a file that has a representation of the final product you want. 3D printing is the first step on the journey to digital transformation. Rather than stocking a warehouse full of parts that might become obsolete and mass quantities of spare parts that may or may not be in demand, additive manufacturing condenses the piles of boxes eating up physical space into digital files that can be stored in the Cloud and easily accessed if they are ever needed.In addition to digital inventory, distributed manufacturing is also changing how companies are incorporating 3D printing into their digital strategy. Instead of considering a centralized solution, distributed manufacturing enables companies to decentralize production so they can manufacture the final product closer to the customer. With 3D printing, manufacturers can better connect the physical supply chain with a digital thread and manage products more efficiently from concept to end-of-life. Manufacturing can be distributed to any location that has digital manufacturing systems in place simply by sending a file. This decentralization enables a more collaborative, transparent and efficient supply chain. If a natural disaster hits, additive manufacturing will be able to right itself and move forward much more quickly than traditional manufacturing. In the future, a hybrid version of manufacturing will include large factories, as well as larger numbers of smaller sites with 3D print farms, or even printers being deployed in alternative locations, like service and support centers, distribution centers, or even in people’s homes. 3D printing will eventually become simple enough that most households will be able to pull files and print a product with just a few flicks of their wrists, like 2D printing at Kinko’s a mere ten years ago. We’re already on this course, and we’re just beginning to distribute closer to consumption and becoming more agile.Not too long ago, the battery case on one of my son’s toys broke and I 3D printed a new one. It’s starting to reach the point where you wonder, “What can’t we print?” And when we start to dissect everything down to the molecular level, it’s just a matter of time before individual consumers can print food or glasses frames or…well, anything. In the future, 3D printing will empower more consumers. Offering Greater Flexibility and More Customized DesignsA prevailing consumer trend that we have noticed across many industries is the desire for personalization. Rather than purchasing a mass-produced item, customers are more frequently wanting a product that is created for them specifically, gratifying their personal tastes and preferences.This is enabled by additive manufacturing’s ability to offer low-volume production. 3D printing gives manufacturers more flexibility in responsive design. Instead of having to hoist large quantities of identical objects onto the public, they can afford to produce smaller batches, allowing designers and engineers to adjust product designs and innovate in a cost-effective manner as inspiration strikes or customer feedback trickles in. The Future of 3D Printing is in MaterialsWhile substantial investments in the additive manufacturing ecosystem are fueling growth, I don’t think you can overstate the significance of the materials. Outside of the high cost of the equipment, the next big barrier is materials and the closed ecosystem which has stymied the industry’s growth. Numerous types of 3D printing materials are on the market today, but very few are advanced enough to meet the quality or regulatory requirements of every industry. With current challenges surrounding volumes in most industries, suppliers and manufacturers aren’t incentivized to create the materials necessary for new applications. However, I believe that the future of 3D printing is in materials—specifically engineered and application specific materials. The different needs of diverse industries all require custom solutions to their problems. Integrating new engineered materials will transform a new generation of applications, including heavily regulated industries. Creating a More Sustainable Future with 3D PrintingFinally, two of the key tenets to additive manufacturing are sustainability and conservation. One of the intrinsic benefits is that scrap material is reduced, if not eliminated. As Simon Ford and Mélanie Despeisse point out in their essay, “Additive Manufacturing and Sustainability: An Exploratory Study of the Advantages and Challenges,” additive manufacturing mimics biological processes by creating objects layer by layer, rather than produce a hulking item that must be whittled and chunks carved out to achieve the desired shape. “It is inherently less wasteful than traditional subtractive methods of production and holds the potential to decouple social and economic value creation from the environmental impact of business activities,” they write. Aside from reducing waste, 3D printing also conserves energy. The Metal Powder Industries Federation did a study that listed 17 steps required to produce a truck gear using subtractive manufacturing versus the six steps it takes to accomplish the same task with additive manufacturing. With 3D printing, the same product took less than half the energy. Additionally, by bringing products closer to the customer, 3D printing reduces the need for transporting products and materials, thereby positively affecting the quantity of carbon poured into the atmosphere. Therefore, the future of 3D printing will lead to a more sustainable future overall.This is a pivotal time for the manufacturing industry. We’re standing at an epicenter where we don’t have a fully mature technology, both in the physical representation and the printers and how we want to manage everything on the digital side. But additive manufacturing is demonstrating its transformative nature and has already begun to reshape businesses. According to our survey, over the next two to five years, 86 percent of companies expect their use of 3D printing to at least double, and just less than 40 percent expect their usage to increase five times or more. As we adopt additive manufacturing, companies will be able to do smaller batch sizes, realize faster NPI and development and, ultimately, where the cost curves intersect, use it as a full serial production tool. In doing that, we’re laying the foundation, and the distributive manufacturing model will be here to stay. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that the future of 3D printing is bright. JABIL
What’s Next for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems?
As the reality of autonomous cars gets closer every day, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are bridging the gap between traditional cars and the cars of tomorrow. Slowly but surely, cars are taking on more tasks by themselves and increasing the safety of drivers, passengers and everyone else on the road. Across the mobility supply chain, we’re seeing developments in intelligent technology and supporting software that will form the foundations of fully autonomous cars. Increased Safety, Increase Autonomy, Increased ConfidenceThe World Health Organization reports that more than 1 million people are killed in traffic accidents around the world each year, and up to 50 million people are injured or disabled. Furthermore, The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 94 percent of all U.S. traffic accidents are caused by human error. Of these, the greatest percentage is caused by recognition errors, followed by decision errors, performance errors, non-performance errors and other human-related errors. ADAS technologies have a major role to play in reducing these human-related errors and increasing safety—a primary focus across the automotive and transportation industries. In a 2018 survey sponsored by Jabil, a third of surveyed automotive decision-makers listed increased safety needs as one of the top three drivers of technology innovation in the industry. This consideration ranked ahead of design capabilities, autonomous vehicles, consumer demands, better connectivity, government regulations, electrification and price decreases. Furthermore, 36 percent of participants noted that advanced driver assistance systems are a key element in their companies’ automotive visions. Driver assistance systems features such as blind-spot monitors, tire-pressure monitors, adaptive cruise control, lane-tracing assist, road-sign assist, automatic high beams and more are already offered by some automakers as standard features, or as upgrade packages. We’re already seeing a positive trend that could be linked to some of these advanced driver assistance systems features. The NHTSA reports that the highway fatality rate dropped by 1.8 percent between 2016 and 2017, following years of increases. However, accidents do still happen because of distracted, reckless or impaired driving. And there’s a lot more technology in development that will enable the industry to continue increasing safety for everyone on the road. Sensor Fusion: A Path to Safer Driver Assistance Systems At Jabil, we’re seeing many of our customers work on sensor-fusion – or the use of multiple types of sensor for the same application. Typically, one type of sensor cannot safely monitor the conditions around a car in all situations. For example, cameras may not be able to accurately recognize other objects in low-visibility conditions, such as darkness, fog or even blinding light. By combining multiple sensor types, we can create a ‘redundant monitoring system’ – where different types of sensors are used for the same application, to ensure the right information is always getting to the vehicle, whatever the road conditions. These systems include a variety of sensors including cameras, light detection and ranging (LiDAR), radar and driver monitoring systems. Each automaker will take its own approach. Some may develop more LiDAR-centric systems with backup from cameras, while others will be more camera-focused with backup from LiDAR or radar. For example, one potential system called the emergency stop assistant is being developed by BMW Group Research and Technology. In the case where a driver becomes incapacitated due to a medical emergency, the system can safely drive the vehicle in a highly automated driving mode onto the emergency lane. Such a system, however, requires surround environment perception in order to complete its tasks safely and accurately. Increasing Road and Fuel Efficiency Beyond safety, driver assistance systems could unlock other benefits including traffic awareness, decreased insurance premiums, increased fuel efficiency and infrastructure use efficiencies. With fewer accidents on the road, there also will be fewer traffic jams related to those accidents. As ADAS and connectivity features begin collaborating, vehicles will naturally communicate with each other, making it easier to navigate roads (and perhaps lowering the stress-levels on the road, in doing so). With fewer traffic jams and more efficient driving experiences, it is likely that repair and maintenance costs will decrease, leading to lower insurance premiums. Inherently, this will also make way for increased fuel efficiency. As vehicle ownership trends change and we rely less on driving, there are infrastructure efficiencies to expect as well. For example, once fully autonomous vehicles are available, it will be likely that there will be fewer vehicles on the road. As more of the cars on the road are utilized more effectively, we won’t need as many parking spaces either. In addition, the connectivity features of ADAS enable ‘platooning’. This driving tactic, most commonly used with trucks or military vehicles, uses connectivity technology and ADAS to direct trucks as they drive. The system guides trucks to keep a set, close distance between each other for efficiency. The lead vehicle primarily interacts with other cars on the road, and the other trucks in the platoon follow suit with little to no action from the other drivers. For example, the vehicles can accelerate and brake simultaneously, making roads more efficient and removing the need for “reaction time.” Enabling platooning would mean equipping our roads and infrastructure with technologies to enable an automated highway system.The European Automobile Manufacturers Association reports that platooning can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 16 percent from trailing vehicles and as much as 8 percent from the lead vehicle. The practice also optimizes transportation by delivering goods faster and reducing traffic jams, it says. In addition, because the system controls the truck’s braking, drivers in trailing trucks can handle administrative tasks while the truck travels, it notes. Are Consumers Ready for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems?From an acceptance perspective, ADAS also helps consumers become accustomed to allowing machines to do work for them. Many ADAS features help drivers better monitor their vehicles and the environments around them. In turn, this teaches humans to trust cars more and ultimately rely on vehicle technology to help them make good driving decisions. According to research from Aptiv and the Boston Consulting Group, more and more people are receptive to the thought of owning an autonomous vehicle. How will we get to trust in self-driving technology? Through existing ADAS capabilities. Consumers in the US, China and Germany are most familiar with ADAS features like “blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning systems and parking assistance features,” the study states. Through increased trust in these types of capabilities, consumers will feel more comfortable will fully autonomous vehicles as well. Still, it will take at least a few more years before both society and the automotive industry are ready for the mass adoption of autonomous cars. In a recent visit to Germany, I had the opportunity to test-drive a car fitted with an ADAS enhancement that maneuvers lane changes without a driver holding on to the steering wheel. While the technology certainly is cool, as a passenger, it was a bit unnerving to ride in a car that was not totally controlled by a human. Plus, the technology is not quite perfect yet, so the test car did erroneously drift out of its lane a few times. Accelerating the Adoption of Driver Assistance Systems In order to effectively bridge from basic driver assistance systems to fully autonomous cars, sensor technologies need to be more robust and able to accurately and reliably handle complex tasks. Once they are capable of this, they also need to be available at a price point OEMs and customers can afford. For example, LiDAR systems cost tens of thousands of dollars now, though we are working to bring that price point below $500. But it’s not just the technology that has to evolve; major updates (and upgrades) need to be made in infrastructure, regulations, insurance models and more to accelerate ADAS adoption. Finally, the automotive industry will need to update its approach to developing new automotive technology and new vehicle models. Because autonomous cars could potentially be used constantly, especially if multiple people share the same car and use it as a chauffeur, the vehicles will have shorter lifespans. For traditional vehicles, IHS Markit reports that the average age of a car in the United States is nearly 12 years old. The firm projects that in 2021 there will be more than 20 million vehicles on US roads that are more than 25 years old. By comparison, continuously operated autonomous cars may need to be replaced every three or four years. Plus, because technology keeps changing, the in-car technology will quickly become outdated, and the cars will need frequent updates. This means that automakers will have to develop and produce new vehicles faster than ever. Right now, automotive OEMs already are operating on short product development lifecycles, sometimes as short as a year or less. So, the industry needs to find ways to bring technology to market faster, while still complying with the latest safety regulations. Constant Collaboration for a Safer Driving ExperienceCollaboration is the solution. The automotive industry is one known for its level of collaboration—where OEMs regularly partner with technology and software companies to build new ADAS functions now and autonomous systems in the future. In addition, we’ve seen increased collaboration between some of the largest players in the industry to solve existing problems. Overall, the industry can always benefit from increased collaboration with strategic partners, allowing all the participants to do what they do best to move the industry forward. These collaborations can allow each partner to focus on the parts of a car they know best and then contribute that part to a whole, efficient, safe vehicle. About two-thirds of Jabil survey respondents said that their companies design driver assistance systems in house. Of those respondents, about 70 percent plan to outsource the function within the next five years. Similarly, 64 percent of respondents said they manufacture ADAS in-house, but about 20 percent of these OEMs plan to outsource the function within the next five years. Soon, the seemingly futuristic ADAS capabilities will become standard and eventually become the minimum expectations for vehicles. Regardless, there is still work to be done on the technology, infrastructure and regulations to address our changing driving experiences. With collaborations within and outside of the industry, automakers are ready for the challenge. JABIL