Frank’s readiness report
Not only is Barclays forecasting big things for cobots, but so is the body language coming from the robotics industry in general.
A real testament to what this cobot-effect has in store for everyone in manufacturing was delivered up this week in The Robot Report, where Frank Tobe penned the eye-opening article: 42 companies empowering robots and humans to work side-by-side.
Wow, many thanks to Frank for counting them all up.
That’s billions of dollars already in development, mergers, acquisitions, and product rollouts by both the small and big-boy robot manufacturers. From newbies like Universal Robots, Kinova, Mabi and Rethink to old-line companies like FANUC, KUKA, Denso, and Comau, all are getting ready for the big push.
As Frank says: “Collaborative robotics has been prominently displayed and demonstrated, and the numbers and forecasts showing up in research reports are beginning to prove that the trend is emerging and the collaborative segment of the robotics industry is growing exponentially.”
Identical trajectories: cobot and farm tractor
The cobot and the farm tractor have a lot in common as tools for transformation.
The farm tractor, first introduced in Iowa by John Froelich in 1890, transformed manual farm labor into “power farming”. Farming hasn’t been the same since.
The cobot, first introduced by Universal Robots in 2008 in Denmark, transformed manual manufacturing at Linatex, a Danish plastics supplier, into “automated fabrication.” Manufacturing hasn’t been the same since. Cobots have gained traction and are disrupting everything everywhere.
The pace of invention and innovation within the cobot space is crackling with activity and is entering into a new, rapid development phase.
In a nutshell
Froelich built his tractor as an aid to harvesting. Farmers, the end users, had other ideas. Highly inventive end users of any tool, farmers quickly innovated new uses for the tractor for plowing, tilling, disking, harrowing, planting, watering, mowing, stump pulling, excavating, and even tugging an occasional wagon-full of neighbors around for a harvest hay ride.
The farmer, as end user, was the driving force of transformation once the tool was placed into his hands.
Today, just as farmers before them, manufacturers, as end users, are coming up with ever-newer uses for cobots, many that surprise even the cobot’s inventors.
Innovation around the tractor ramped up so fast and furious that another Iowan, William Galloway, was able to put together a 146-page catalog of tractor-ready implements by 1913: Galloway’s Catalog of farm implements.
Tractor implements that no one had ever dreamed of previous to the tractor’s invention and introduction soon became must-haves on every farm. Mega industries sprang up to supply the ever-growing needs of “power farming”. Hiring workers—many of whom were ex-farm laborers—provided the tens of thousands needed to make and supply “power farming” implements.
John Deere bought Froehlich’s company, and has done quite well in the tractor biz ever since. Another early tractor manufacturer, CL Best Tractor Company, would reform itself as Caterpillar Inc.
Trillions of dollars in future industries as well as the production of food were birthed when Froehlich rolled out his first machine in Waterloo, Iowa…which is less than 300 miles west of Chicago’s McCormick Center.
The cobot is on a trajectory to do the very same for manufacturing.
To date, cobots are the new kids on the block and have sold barely 5 percent of the record-setting numbers for all robots which was 240,000 sold last year. But as Barclays research points out: Cobots “have the potential to revolutionize production, in particular for smaller companies [SMEs] that account for 70 percent of global manufacturing.”
IDC’s forecasting that by 2018 30 percent of all “new robotic deployments will be smart collaborative robots that operate three times faster than today's robots and are safe for work around humans.”
The collaborative robotics sector is expected to increase roughly tenfold, reaching over $1 billion from approximately $95 million in 2014.
Cobots are a workforce enabler. “The face of manufacturing is evolving, becoming increasingly lean and agile,” says Dr. Jeremy Marvel, research scientist and project leader at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
“The workforce must become more technologically adept to keep up…Collaborative robots are just one part of this new face of manufacturing. The entire U.S. manufacturing supply chain is slated to grow with the technology, with an increasingly skilled workforce producing better quality goods cheaper, faster, and more efficiently than they are now. This, in turn, drives innovation and competitiveness.”
Look around the Automate exhibit space beginning April 3rd. Isn’t Automate 2017 the coming-out party for the cobot (collaborative robot) and its many new, add-on tools and systems? The place is brimming with cobot everything!
The cobot is doing for manufacturing what the tractor did for farming in 1890
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Even EOATs are falling in line
End-of-Arm-Toolings (EOATs), commonly referred to as grippers (including cameras and other sensor systems), take up fifteen spaces in Frank’s EOAT directory. SME manufacturers, like farmers did with tractors, will constantly try their cobots at ever-newer jobs. As such gripper manufacturers have to be nimble enough to keep up.
Here’s Frank’s take on one of them, Robotiq, and how it keeps pace with cobot innovation : “Robotiq, a Canadian manufacturer with an international reach and a very large following, has been supplying grippers, cameras, vision systems and sensors for UR cobots and industrial robot buyers since 2008. Their low-cost 2- and 3-finger grippers are standard starter sets for new cobot customers.”
At Booth #1053 at Automate, Robotiq is rolling out a new product that is just about “cobot only”: Dual Grippers! That’s two gippers on the end of one cobot arm (see photo above).
As the company’s website explains this innovation: “The Dual Gripper is suited to machine tending applications, where a robot has to remove a processed part from a machine and then replace it with the next raw part. Having two grippers on the same UR [Universal Robots] robot will save manufacturers cycle time, create a more efficient production line and give them the ability to increase their output.”
That description strikes to the warm spot in every SME that values speed, efficiency and a jump up in output.
In pre-cobot days, Dual Grippers might never have become a product. However, cobots are here big time, and everyone is on notice to keep pace and innovate…or else get left behind.
Just as Galloway’s Catalog from 1913 annually added pages of new power-farming tools that reflected farmer demands, look to SMEs and their cobots to drive innovation of new cobot tools that show up at expo booths in places like Automate and ProMat.