Melinda Rizzo, contributing writer//October 11, 2019
Melinda Rizzo, contributing writer//October 11, 2019
Are “collaborative robots” or cobots the next team trend in manufacturing automation?
How about more widespread use of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and 3D printing?
Already established in manufacturing facilities, these trends continue to evolve and streamline operations, minimize waste and even take over dangerous roles so employees are freed up to learn new skills and advance their careers.
“We’re in the fourth Industrial Revolution now, and it’s not about making toast from your phone,” said David Taylor, president of Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association in Harrisburg.
The Industrial Revolution in the United States began during the late 1700s. It was a shift from one-at-a-time handmade items to mass-produced goods created by manual labor in factory environments.
The Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT can be used for “predictive maintenance” on manufacturing equipment and assembly lines and equipment, shortening or eliminating delays in production output when a piece of equipment unexpectedly goes down.
With IIoT tech supervisors and operators can receive alerts about potential problems before the happen. They can proactively schedule maintenance or repairs during a time period that works best, rather experience sudden work flow disruptions, said John W. Lloyd, president and CEO of MANTEC, Manufacturing Consulting Services South Central PA, in York.
“Now broadband [services] will be more important than ever before, creating a dynamic growth area for those working in IIoT positions,” said Shaun P. Donovan, director of regional workforce partnerships at the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC in Harrisburg.
Rather than fear robotics, which can take on repetitive, tedious or hazardous tasks, companies should embrace them, Lloyd said.
When supervisors and employees appropriately implement new technology it can “…free people up to do more challenging work. It’s an investment that will pay off in the future,” Lloyd said.
Aqua Phoenix Scientific in Hanover is considering how robotic and automation technologies could benefit the firm’s operations.
Aqua Phoenix is a drop-count and chemical reagent water testing kit manufacturer.
“The growth we’ve seen in the past two years has started those conversations, whereas a year ago we would not have had them,” said Henry Buschinski, vice president of Aqua Phoenix.
“Cobots are guided to perform tasks by a [human] operator,” Donovan said.
Cobots are robotic units, such as an artificially intelligent hand or arm that can works side-by-side with a human operator.
Cobots help employees complete tasks, Donovan said. They don’t compete with workers, because they aren’t meant to replace them.
Able to perform dangerous or dirty work, cobots can reduce or eliminate hazards to manufacturing employees by getting “…inside a piece of equipment, rather than a person going inside a piece of equipment” for fitting, or troubleshooting, he explained.
Donovan said trends toward automation that eliminates heavy labor and lifting on manufacturing floors continues to be strong.
And while robots won’t replace people, Donovan said, as long as employees are willing to learn and adapt to new environments and processes, they’ll enjoy career advancement and growth.
“When companies can do more work, that requires them to maintain or increase staffing levels,” which benefits the workforce, Donovan said.
Robots, robotic components and ever more sophisticated technology will continue to require human counterparts for programming or “coding,” maintenance, repair, servicing as well as operation.
Taylor said the availability and lower costs of electronic sensors creates a robust opportunity for coding and data in equipment, so the machines can self monitor – another area for workers looking at growing their skill set.
At Weldon Solutions in West Manchester system integration is a strong continuing trend.
Weldon provides clients with CNC cylindrical grinders, robotic automation systems, automated storage and retrieval systems, and drives and controls, its website said.
Weldon serves clients in the aerospace, ceramics, transportation, food and beverage manufacturing sectors, according to Charles C. Gales, manager of automation solutions at Weldon.
“System integration is big and … we’re using automation in CNC controls for industry” components, Gales said.
CNC, or computer numerical control, is a way to manage machining tools, such as drills or lathes, with computer software. Gales said the firm has used robotics for roughly 20 years and developments in 3D printing were “unimagined years ago.”
“Now 3D printing is an accepted mainstream part of manufacturing. [It] is being used in real world applications,” he said.
At the most recent International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago, Gales said exhibitors used a 3D printer to create a car. Consumer-built cars using 3D technology is “not out of the realm of possibility, [and] they are demonstrating what additive manufacturing can do,” he said.
At a recent heavy equipment plant visit, he saw a 3D printed truck assembly part.
In the aerospace sector parts are 3D printed to create lightweight components to be used in outer space. “Because in space every ounce counts,” Gales said.