Article | May 10, 2021
Jason Spera, picture left, recently shared his vantage of the changes for factory floor automation in 2021. Jason is CEO and Co-Founder, Aegis Software. Spera is a leader in MES/MOM software platforms for discrete manufacturers with particular expertise in electronics manufacturing. Founded in 1997, today more than 2,200 factory sites worldwide use some form of Aegis software to improve productivity and quality while meeting regulatory, compliance and traceability challenges. Spera's background as a manufacturing engineer in an electronics manufacturing company and the needs he saw in that role led to the creation of the original software products and continue to inform the vision that drives Aegis solutions, like FactoryLogix. He regularly speaks on topics surrounding factory digitization, IIoT, and Industry 4.0. Contact Jason on LinkedIn.
Article | December 10, 2021
A new form of robot is entering manufacturing plants all around the globe. Instead of being locked away in their own work cell, collaborative robots work side by side with their human counterparts. Together, they form the manufacturing crew of the future.
Collaborative robots, or cobots, are more flexible, easy to use, and safer than industrial robots. Instead of ending up abandoned in a corner, they are proving to be serious expansions of production capacity leading to better ways of creating superior quality products.
1.1 A New Breed of Bot
Cobots are a new type of automation product with their own ISO standards for safety and usability. For a robot to qualify as a cobot, it has to be used for tasks of a collaborative nature while sharing all or part of its reach space with human operators. So it is not the product alone that classifies it as a cobot.
Industrial robots must be expertly programmed for one specific job along the production line. This requires hard line coding and endless tweaking and testing, which together with other factors make for a sizable upfront investment. Not so with collaborative robots.
Cobots may look similar to traditional robots in some ways, but they are much easier to install and program. This foregoes the need to cooperate with a robotic integration service. Their lightweight and friendly form factor lets manufacturers conveniently relocate them on the shopfloor from one project to another.
This renders the robotics technology perfect for a data-driven, Industry 4.0 work environment. Cobots can side with traditional machinery and additive manufacturing equipment, aided by artificial intelligence and cloud connectivity while embedded in a networked environment rich with smart sensors and mixed reality interfaces.
1.2 A Unique Blend of Benefits
Because it is fairly straightforward to reprogram a cobot to various tasks, they are perfect for high-mix, low-volume work to meet the rising demand for ultra-customized products.
They can also do multiple tasks in unison, such as alternatingly loading a machine and finishing parts from the previous cycle. Here are some other advantages in addition to flexibility:
• Low investment. Cobots typically cost a fraction of the price of an industrial robot, but they offer much lower payload and reach. ROI is typically one to two years.
• Safety. With rounded surfaces, force-limited joints, and advanced vision systems, cobots are exceptionally safe. This reduces the risk of injury due to impact, crushing, and pinching. Driverless transport systems are wheeled mobile robots that immediately halt when their lasers detect the presence of a nearby human being.
• Accuracy. Cobots score well on accuracy with 0.1mm precision or well below that. While they do typically sacrifice speed, dual-mode cobots can be converted to fully-fledged tools of mass production that run at full speed in their own safeguarded space.
• Easy to program. Many brands offer user-friendly programming interfaces from beginner to expert level. This reduces the need for continuous availability of expensive and scarce expertise while giving current employees an incentive to upskill. And because they can be deployed within hours, cobots can be leased for temporary projects.
• Research. Small processing plants, agile start-ups, and schools can invest in cobots to experiment with ways to automate processes before committing to full automation.
1.3 Cobot Activity Repertoire
Cobots are perfect candidates for taking over strenuous, dirty, difficult, or dull jobs previously handled by human workers. This relieves their human co-workers from risk of repetitive strain injury, muscle fatigue, and back problems. They can also increase job satisfaction and ultimately a better retirement.
The cobot’s program of responsibilities includes:
• Production tasks such as lathing, wire EDM, and sheet stamping.
• Welding, brazing, and soldering.
• Precision mounting of components and fasteners, and applying adhesive in various stages of general assembly.
• Part post-finishing such as hole drilling, deburring, edge trimming, deflashing, sanding, and polishing.
• Loading and unloading traditional equipment such as CNC and injection molding machines, and operating it using a control panel to drastically reduce cycle times.
• Post-inspection such as damage detection, electronic circuit board testing, and checking for circularity or planarity tolerances.
• Box-packing, wrapping, and palletizing.
• Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) assist with internal transport and inventory management.
1.4 No-Code Programming
While an industrial robot requires the attention of a high-paid robotics engineer, anyone with basic programming savviness can install and maintain a collaborative unit.
Brands are releasing more and more kits for quick installation and specific use cases. Instead of being all numbers and line-coding, current user interaction is exceptionally people-focused.
At the lowest skill level, lead-through programming lets operators physically guide the cobot’s end-of-arm-tool (EOAT) through the desired motion path, after which it will flawlessly replicate the instructed behaviour.
It is also possible to enter desired waypoints as coordinates. At the highest level, it is of course still possible to have full scripting control.
An intermediate step is visual programming interfaces. These let users create blocks of functionality that they can string together into more advanced action sequences, while entering the appropriate parameters for each function such as gripping strength, screwing tightness, or pressing force.
These UIs come in the form of in-browser or mobile apps.
Based on a 3D-CAD model of the machine and its industrial environment, a digital twin of the cobot can simulate and optimize its operations, for example to prevent collisions.
It also lets operators remotely monitor and adjust the machine while it’s running. All the while, back-end artificial intelligence can do its analyses to find further efficiency improvements.
3D models of the to-be-manufactured product can be imported for edge extraction of complex surfaces. These will then be converted into the cobot’s desired movement trajectories instead of tedious manual programming.
This makes them feasible to implement for highly dexterous tasks like welding curved hydroformed metal parts or sanding and polishing the most intricate of 3D printed geometries.
Interfacing directly with the robot is becoming increasingly human-centered as well. Future cobots will respond to voice interaction as well as touch input, eradicating the screens-and-buttons paradigm of current devices.
Some brands are giving the cobot a face with emotional expressions, hoping to lower the barrier to adoption. The upcoming generation of cobots can even respond to body language, as well as show its intentions by projecting light to where they are about to reach or move next.
1.5 A Human World
Ultimately, the objective of any company is to create value for people. It is not an option to completely remove humans from the shop floor in an attempt to stay at the forefront of innovation.
Attempting to leap to full automation and the utopian “lights-out factory” does not work anyway, as automotive giants such as Ford, Chrysler, GM, and Tesla can testify. A significant portion of human employees will indeed need to give up their roles. On the other hand, improved productivity levels open up space to retain personnel and uplift them to more creative, managerial, analytical, social, or overall more enjoyable jobs.
For certain tasks, humans still need to be kept inside the manufacturing loop. For example:
• Complex assembly routines and handling of flexible components.
• Large vehicle subassemblies contain many variable components and require more hand-eye coordination than one cobot can handle. Humans are needed to make sure everything lands in the right position while the cobot provides assistive muscle power.
• Fashion, footwear, jewellery, art pieces, and other products where creation borders on artistry rather than mechanical assembly require the aesthetic eye of humans. People are also needed to spot aesthetic deficiencies in custom one-offs in order to correspond with customers before finishing the production batch.
• While intelligent automation software can spot bottlenecks in efficiency, humans are required for creative problem solving and context-awareness to make decisions. A spirit of flexibility and innovation is just as important as the accuracy of perfect repetitions.
1.6 Mission: Install a Cobot
Cobots have numerous advantages over industrial solutions or people-only workspaces. They enable faster, more precise, and more sophisticated operations while reducing downtime and maintaining employee satisfaction.
Low-voltage operation and reduced material waste fits with sustainable innovation and corporate social responsibility programs.
Many companies are reporting surges in production capacity and staff generally experience the presence of cobots as favorable. For example, industry leviathans like BMW and Mercedes-Benz are reaching the conclusion that in many parts of the production process implementing a cobot has been the right decision.
Connecting all parts of the production line with full automation solutions is a pipedream. It works only when all steps are perfectly attuned, and in reality this never happens and one misstep can be catastrophic.
Whether to hire a human, a robot, or a co-robot is a complex and ever-more pressing decision. Statistical process control is paramount for large organizations to make unbiased data-driven decisions.
Determine the key performance indicators, then find the most critical bottlenecks and major opportunities for leaps in production efficiency, product quality, or staff unburdening.
Talk to employees for their insights and probe their level of skill and enthusiasm needed for working with their new artificial assistants. Digital transformation should be an exciting shift in the organization and its people, so apply new technological advancements only where it makes sense.
Despite common beliefs about robotization, the cobot is an entirely separate product category that can be a surprisingly plug-and-play solution for simple tasks, with programming apps becoming increasingly intuitive.
A cobot’s flexibility makes it perfect to run early experiments to help companies find its best spot on the factory floor. Its unbelievable precision, consistency, and level of control generally can make a strong first impression on customers.
Not only can cobots increase production capacity while reducing idle time and cycle time to accelerate manufacturing across many vertical markets, but they also enrich the work environment resulting in happier and more involved employees.
For many companies, a cobot can be the next logical step in their digital transformation.
Article | November 20, 2021
The manufacturing business has always prioritized providing the excellent and most user-friendly products worldwide to its target consumer groups. However, digitalization and customer interaction approaches have altered the manufacturing industry's traditional business model.
Now, manufacturers must prioritize improving the customer experience for their target consumer group and keeping up with new trends daily to flourish and remain competitive in the upgrading market. Because, in the end, the buyer is the one who drives your business and generates money. Manufacturers are committing significant efforts to improve the customer experience in the following years.
To assist manufacturers in their sincere efforts to improve the customer experience in the manufacturing industry, we have compiled some key facts that must be understood and executed by the industry's or business-specific needs.
Before going into manufacturing customer experience statistics, it's essential to understand why customer experience is so critical in the manufacturing industry.
The Importance of Customer Experience in Manufacturing
Customer service and experience are critical components of any business, which is true in the manufacturing sector. Customer experience can be described as any activity taken by a business to positively influence a customer's impression and opinion of the business, its products, or services.
“You’ve got to start with the Customer Experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around”
– Steve Jobs.
Customer experience benefits your business in a variety of ways, including the following,
It increases customer retention
It increases the customer lifetime value
It creates brand loyalty
It influences brand reputability
It can deliver businesses with a competitive edge.
Manufacturing Customer Experience Statistics
Make your manufacturing business more customer-centric and reap the benefits that many customer-centric companies, such as Apple, Nissan, and Chick-fil-A, are experiencing.
To better understand what the customer and industry have explored regarding the customer experience in 2022, below are some statistics from well-known businesses.
Businesses that prioritize customer experience see an 80% increase in revenue.
A positive customer experience increases customer interest in the product and acts as a form of word-of-mouth marketing. This way, the business benefits from increased sales and organic promotion by genuine consumers, critical for any manufacturing organization.
# Stat 2
73% of customers say that customer experience influences their purchasing decision.
Customers are not solely concerned with the product's quality or pricing. Instead, they are interested in the complete experience they get while purchasing a product. Therefore, if customers have a negative experience during the purchasing trip, it is pretty likely that they will leave the purchase process in the middle and hunt for other viable solutions on the market. Whereas, if the purchasing journey and post-purchase service are satisfactory, they will gladly purchase the goods and suggest new clients to your business.
# Stat 3
By 2023, AI and machine learning will manage around 40% of all consumer contacts.
(Source: Super Office)
Manufacturing production and revenue are increasing as a result of technological advances and applications. However, the customer experience is not far behind in implementing cutting-edge technology like AI, VR, and AR. For instance, chat bots are the best example of how artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and machine learning are being used to increase consumer engagement.
Virtual interaction is becoming more prevalent in the manufacturing industry daily, and both manufacturers and customers like this digital interaction.
“Our interactions with our customers have become much more virtual, which frankly seems to work well for the customer and us.”
-Scott Heide, Chief Executive Officer at Engineering Intent Corporation
Technology application in manufacturing will be maximized, and businesses intend to automate the customer experience by 2023.
# Stat 4
According to 70% of customers, an ideal customer experience should be quick, convenient, and cooperative, as well as friendly.
Customer service is a skill, and it's always a good idea to put yourself in your clients' shoes. According to an Adobe study, 70% of customers want a quick and convenient service that saves them time. In addition, they anticipate full collaboration throughout the purchasing process, including post-purchase servicing.
# Stat 5
72% of customers with a good consumer experience will tell six or more people about it.
(Source: Nice Reply)
In the first statistic, we discussed word-of-mouth marketing. You will always receive referrals for the excellent products or services you provide to your target consumer group. Customers that have a positive experience will always bring you two additional potential customers, and this number will grow exponentially with each pleasant experience delivered by your organization.
How did MacDonald's plan to increase revenue simply by improving the customer experience?
When McDonald's revenues started to decline, they focused on the customer experience rather than marketing strategies.
They began by listening to their clients and giving them a more streamlined experience. Customers told McDonald's to simplify the menu, increase order accuracy, and use higher-quality ingredients.
McDonald's also improved store interiors and introduced digital self-order kiosks and table service, reducing customer wait times. BTIG predicted a 4.1% increase in revenues as these modifications were made. As a result, McDonald's may outperform competitors by improving total customer service.
Customer experience is crucial in manufacturing, and manufacturers must leverage digital customer experience trends to improve their reputation. These a fore mentioned customer experience statistics can assist you in shaping a compelling client experience for 2022 and propelling your organization to new heights of success.
Why should a manufacturing company invest in customer experience?
Client experience improves customer retention, builds brand reputation, and gives companies a competitive edge. So manufacturers must invest in the consumer experience.
What is the difference between customer service and customer experience?
Customer service is one aspect of the customer journey, whereas consumer experience is the sum of all customer encounters with the brand.
What does a customer experience include?
Customer experience is the overall perception of your business or brand. It is the consequence of a customer's engagement with your website, customer service, and the product they purchase. So, it is the aggregate of all elements from browsing to buying to the product experience.
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Article | May 13, 2021
When the manufacturing industry began to embrace digital technology a decade ago, it adopted a new identity — smart manufacturing or Industry 4.0. Applying cloud, automation, analytics, machine learning and big data to production operations created a connected ecosystem for manufacturing and supply chain management, and became a high-growth market. At the start of 2020, the sector was on track to grow into a market worth more than $300 billion in the coming five years.
Then the pandemic hit. By spring, millions of workers had lost their jobs. Some plants closed temporarily or slowed production so workers could spread out to maintain a safe distance from one another. Investment in smart manufacturing fell too, by 16 percent between March and April alone. Some researchers predicted that such a pull-back would dampen investment through 2025.
But the conversations we’ve had with C-suite manufacturing executives and service providers suggest investment in smart manufacturing will intensify. By 2025, it could be worth more than $400 billion. It’s no wonder.