The manufacturing landscape is changing at a rapid pace. Gone are the days of large offshore factories with cheap labor. Companies can now build closer to home and enable the shift from mass production to mass customization. Robotics, which has been driving much of this change, also needs to evolve further.
Juan Aparicio, head of advanced manufacturing automation at Siemens Corporate Technology, said industrial robots will need to evolve into intelligent, autonomous machines with powerful brains that make decisions at the edge. He will discuss this concept during a session at RoboBusiness 2019, to be held Oct. 1-3, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif.
Robotics Business Review recently chatted with Aparicio about the forces driving this evolution in robotics.
Shorter cycles, more customization
“On one side, the era of offshore, low cost labor is coming to an end,” Aparicio said. “On the other side, the aging and lack of skilled manufacturing workers in developed countries, is making it difficult to re-shore factories. All of this combines with shorter innovation cycles and higher demand for customization in low volume. In order to empower workers and increase the penetration of human-robot collaboration, we need machines that can perform more tasks, that are easier to program, and that can react to unexpected situations.”
These are not the only changes Aparicio sees in the robotics industry. He also sees the impact of an increasing number of brands while costs are falling down. Cheaper robots mean less precision or repeatability and Aparicio thinks increasing the computing power and intelligence at the edge for robotic applications is the answer. “Nothing comes for free. Compensating for these deficiencies with machine vision and AI will enable higher penetration of robots in manufacturing, particularly for SMEs. But AI applications are hungry for computing resources. Both industrial cloud and edge need to evolve and come to the rescue”
Aparicio said the demand for more intelligent robotic applications is increasing. He uses Robot Operating System (ROS and ROS2) and its industrial version, ROS I, as examples. “There is definitely an appetite for more intelligent robotics. ROS has been traditionally the mean for researchers to enable higher intelligence in their robotic systems and it is finally making the leap into manufacturing,” he said.
National manufacturing ecosystem
In addition, he said organizations like the ARM Institute, which has more than 200 members representing leading organizations in the U.S. in industry, government, and academia, are dedicated to catalyzing a national manufacturing ecosystem. “In this Institute, we are partnering with academia, other technology providers and manufacturers to solve real use cases coming directly from the manufacturer members of the Institute,” said Aparicio.
While the cloud continues to be a sore subject for IT teams in manufacturing, companies like Siemens are putting cybersecurity at the forefront of their offers. Aparicio said some perceptions are being turned around. Still, he sees edge robotics playing an important role when it comes to real-time applications and decision making.
“While the cloud will flourish, the edge will bloom,” Aparicio said. “By providing more intelligence close to the process, there is less need to move data to higher layers and traditional automation technology can be expanded with intelligent AI-based real time applications.”
He further explained that there is no question that cloud solutions offer many benefits, such as providing central management for applications, easily link data from various sources, and provide a powerful infrastructure for data processing.
“At the same time, there’s a huge demand for locally processing data, close to the machine in the most secure way possible. Often regulations prohibit transferring data to cloud servers outside the country or company IT infrastructure. This is precisely where Industrial Edge comes in, combining the benefits of the cloud with the strengths of a local solution,” he concluded.