Pandemic Proves Value of Manufacturing Software Automation

MATT DANFORD| April 13, 2020
PANDEMIC PROVES VALUE OF MANUFACTURING SOFTWARE AUTOMATION
Two recent projects demonstrate the potential of digital manufacturing in translating life-saving ideas to real-world products, both at scale and in enough time to make a difference. The first is a ventilator designed by a team of researchers at the University of Minnesota to be easy to use, and, of more immediate concern, easy to manufacture quickly. The second is a facemask from Zverse, a 20-employee design firm. Both relied on the same manufacturing partner to bring their ideas to fruition: Protolabs, a Minneapolis-area provider of CNC machining, injection molding and 3D printing services where automation extends beyond the shop floor.

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How Collaborative Robots Are Revolutionizing the Manufacturing Industry

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.

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AGV ROI Starts with a Delivery Commitment

Article | January 4, 2022

So much emphasis has been placed on features, advantages, and benefits; too little attention has been paid to delivery dates. The best automation solution on paper means nothing if it cannot be delivered in 2022. Selling the sexy sizzle of new, clever, even remarkable AGVs means nothing if manufacturers and distribution centers cannot take delivery of the product until 2023. Throughout industrial manufacturing and distribution the lead time from many AGV manufacturers is more than a year. That means product ordered in Q1 2022 will not be delivered until the following year. That is an absurd lead time and reflects poor planning and unnecessary supply chain constraints.

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Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM): Major Challenges and Their Solutions

Article | December 16, 2021

Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) is a technology that revolutionized the manufacturing business. Pierre Bézier, a Renault engineer, produced the world's first real 3D CAD/CAM application, UNISURF CAD. His game-changing program redefined the product design process and profoundly altered the design and manufacturing industries. So, what is CAM in its most basic definition? Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) is the application of computer systems to the planning, control, and administration of manufacturing operations. This is accomplished by using either direct or indirect links between the computer and the manufacturing processes. In a nutshell, CAM provides greater manufacturing efficiency, accuracy, and consistency. As technology takes over and enhances many of the processes we used to handle with manual labor, we are freed up to use our minds creatively, which leads to bigger and better leaps in innovation and productivity.” – Matt Mong, VP Market Innovation and Project Business Evangelist at Adeaca In light of the numerous advantages and uses of computer-aided manufacturing, manufacturers have opted to use it extensively. The future of computer-aided manufacturing is brightening due to the rapid and rising adoption of CAM. According to Allied Market Research, the global computer-aided manufacturing market was worth $2,689 million in 2020 and is expected to reach $5,477 million by 2028, rising at an 8.4% compound annual growth rate between 2021 and 2028. Despite all this, each new development has benefits and challenges of its own. In this article, we'll discuss the benefits of CAM, the challenges that come with it, and how to deal with them. Let's start with the advantages of computer-aided manufacturing. Benefits of Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) There are significant benefits of using computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). CAM typically provides the following benefits: Increased component production speed Maximizes the utilization of a wide variety of manufacturing equipment Allows for the rapid and waste-free creation of prototypes Assists in optimizing NC programs for maximum productivity during machining Creates performance reports automatically As part of the manufacturing process, it integrates multiple systems and procedures. The advancement of CAD and CAM software provides visual representation and integration of modeling and testing applications. Greater precision and consistency, with similar components and products Less downtime due to computer-controlled devices High superiority in following intricate patterns like circuit board tracks Three Challenges in CAM and Their Solutions We have focused on the three primary challenges and their solutions that we have observed. Receiving Incomplete CAD Updates Receiving insufficient CAD updates is one of the challenges. If, for example, the part update from a CAD engineer does not include the pockets that are required in the assembly, to the CAM engineer. SOLUTION: A modeler that enables developers of a CAM programs to create intuitive processes for features such as feature extraction and duplication across CAD version updates. A modeler is capable of recognizing and extracting the pocket's architecture and the parameters that define it. Additionally, the CAM application can enable the engineer to reproduce the pocket in a few simple steps by exploiting the modeler's editing features such as scaling, filling, extruding, symmetrical patterning, and removing. Last Minute Design Updates The second major challenge is last-minute design changes may impact manufacturers as a result of simulation. SOLUTION: With 3D software components, you may create applications in which many simulation engineers can work together to make design modifications to the CAD at the same time, with the changes being automatically merged at the end. Challenging Human-driven CAM Manufacturing The third major challenge we have included is that CAM engineers must perform manual steps in human-driven CAM programming, which takes time and requires expert CAM software developers. Furthermore, when the structure of the target components grows more complicated, the associated costs and possibility of human failure rise. SOLUTION: Self-driving CAM is the best solution for this challenge. Machine-driven CAM programming, also known as self-driving CAM, provides an opportunity to improve this approach with a more automated solution. Preparing for CAM is simple with the self-driving CAM approach, and it can be done by untrained operators regardless of part complexity. The technology handles all of the necessary decisions for CAM programming operations automatically. In conclusion, self-driving CAM allows for efficient fabrication of bespoke parts, which can provide substantial value and potential for job shops and machine tool builders. Computer Aided Manufacturing Examples CAM is widely utilized in various sectors and has emerged as a dominant technology in the manufacturing and design industries. Here are two examples of sectors where CAM is employed efficiently and drives solutions to many challenges in the specific business. Textiles Virtual 3D prototype systems, such as Modaris 3D fit and Marvellous Designer, are already used by designers and manufacturers to visualize 2D blueprints into 3D virtual prototyping. Many other programs, such as Accumark V-stitcher and Optitex 3D runway, show the user a 3D simulation to show how a garment fits and how the cloth drapes to educate the customer better. Aerospace and Astronomy The James Webb Space Telescope's 18 hexagonal beryllium segments require the utmost level of precision, and CAM is providing it. Its primary mirror is 1.3 meters wide and 250 kilograms heavy, but machining and etching will reduce the weight by 92% to just 21 kilograms. FAQ What is the best software for CAM? Mastercam has been the most extensively utilized CAM software for 26 years in a row, according to CIMdata, an independent NC research business. How CAD-CAM helps manufacturers? Customers can send CAD files to manufacturers via CAD-CAM software. They can then build up the machining tool path and run simulations to calculate the machining cycle times. What is the difference between CAD and CAM? Computer-aided design (CAD) is the process of developing a design (drafting). CAM is the use of computers and software to guide machines to build something, usually a mass-produced part.

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Rex Moore Proves Project Business Automation Provides Predictive and Proactive Resource Requirements

Article | July 28, 2021

Rex Moore Group, Inc. is a Top50 electrical contractor delivering unmatched integrated electrical solutions. As an early adopter of Lean manufacturing principles, Rex Moore has created a company-wide culture of continuous improvement that drives significant value to their clients. The firm contracts and performs both design/build and bid work for all electrical, telecommunications, and integrated systems market segments. Rex Moore has a full-service maintenance department to cover emergency and routine requirements for all facilities, whether an existing facility or one that has been recently completed by the company. The ability to negotiate and competitively bid various forms of contracts including lump-sum, fixed fee, hourly rate, and cost-plus work as a prime contractor, subcontractor, or joint venture is enhanced with Project Business Automation (PBA) from Adeaca. This solution permits the company to propose work only if they are in a position to be competitive in the marketplace and provide excellent service with fair compensation. Rex Moore used Adeaca PBA as a construction management software for builders and contractors to integrate and facilitate its business processes in its ERP system. Together with Microsoft Dynamics, PBA integrated processes across the company on a single end-to-end platform. This allowed the company to replace 15 different applications with a single comprehensive system, eliminating the costs and inefficiencies associated with multiple systems and silos of information.

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