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The benefits of robotics process automation

Process automation enhances business development with a vast return on investment.

Author: Deanna M. Murray

In automation’s 60-year history, business executives and workers often hesitated to implement new technology before they supported its benefits. Robotics process automation (RPA) is the use of software with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities to accomplish repeatable tasks, previously requiring human interaction. Though there are jobs in nearly every industry that in time will no longer require human interaction due to automation, keeping RPA at arm’s length is a rejection of progress for businesses that want to develop and cultivate a competitive edge.

Automation benefits

Like any new technology or process, automation implementation does require upfront costs. But the use of automation can result in increased return-on-investment (ROI) because automation reduces labor costs, allowing employees to focus on more business-critical tasks instead of focusing on repeatable processes. According to Information Services Group, automation’s returns have garnered double-digit productivity improvements over outsourcing, and cost reductions between 14% and 28% have been realized.

Automation can also streamline regulatory compliance that imposes fines by virtually eliminating human error. With the correct automation solution, the cost savings reverberate throughout an organization and the ROI impacts multiple budget lines.

Automation can be complicated, but the beauty of this technology is its ability to easily scale from simple to complex. The key to understanding what type of automation can work for a particular application is to rediscover every aspect of each process then realistically think through what can be streamlined or eliminated in each action. Keep in mind that many current everyday processes exist because of automation—from simple automated stamp machines to complicated medical procedures. Automation can be applied to every business when the right automation experts critically looks at an organization’s practices.

Customer-facing businesses setting themselves apart with personal touches and big smiles should not shy away from automation as a business enhancement. In fact, the opposite is true. Automation implementation on the back-end processes can free up valuable time for employees to spend on more meaningful customer interactions—not less.

Business development, automation

Automation technology is ever-changing. But an update to automation technology only will need to change when processes or the business needs change. Unlike other business efficiency tools, it doesn’t require numerous software updates, renewals, or pricey upgrades. While there might be routine maintenance, automation expenses are controlled by the desire to expand the business and employ additional automation capabilities to realize greater benefits.

Automation is a sign of growth. It is a sign of efficiency and an investment that will pay off for years to come. Business owners frightened of RPA and what it stands for in regards to the future of the business should think of it as a natural step in expanding and keeping up with the needs of an ever-growing clientele.

While there are growing pains and staff realignments associated with many RPA implementations, current employees can use this opportunity to learn about automation and expand skillsets. Also, if an automation plan is inclusive, employees can contribute meaningful insights into the best ways for the automation to function and hence, support a more efficient RPA implementation.

If experts with a vast understanding of automation implementation and rethinking processes are put to use, automation can open the door to a new world in business development.

View the original article and related content on Control Engineering

Copyright: Copyright 2017 CFE Media LLC

Five tips for automating your food processing plant

To optimize ROI, it’s important to learn which areas of your food processing facility are best suited for automation. Below are five tips for improving your plant’s automation capabilities.

Author: Michael Griffith, Manager, Stellar

Total automation may be an ideal for most food processors, but it can be difficult to determine how to connect every system in a food plant-or if they should even be connected at all. To optimize ROI, it’s important to learn which areas of your food processing facility are best suited for automation. Below are five tips for improving your plant’s automation capabilities.

1. Leverage existing connected automation systems—Many systems are well-integrated on a common network and platform, but they don’t do much good if they aren’t fully integrated.

Consider a brewery that had a manual data system in place that was generating a great deal of useful data. Because its systems weren’t integrated it couldn’t put that data into context, making it relatively useless. Once the brewery installed a manufacturing execution system (MES), its packaging efficiency increased by 30 percent.

2. Implement overarching integration—On the packaging side of food processing plants, I often notice that processors have yet to fully implement integration across the number of individual components and machines that must run to have a fully functional packaging line. Often times, when one piece of process equipment malfunctions, the entire system stops working.

It’s important to tie all your equipment together in an overarching system so that the whole doesn’t suffer when one element stops working.

3. Use software to connect processing and packaging equipment—When talking with food processors, I find there is a lack of plant floor connectivity between processing and packaging areas. Why? While the networking capability DOES exist, there’s no software in place to connect the equipment from each area.

Considering space and labor are relatively inexpensive, the ROI on installing software like a material handling systems (MHS) can take up to 15 years, which is much longer than most processors have an appetite for (typically no more than three to four years). So, only recently have food processors recognized the value of a more integrated system.

Subsequently, older plants were often built with such an array of hardware and software that the integration isn’t always so easy.

4. Define a vision of the future—At Stellar, we’re typically involved with food plant owners on a project basis for automation. My focus in conversations with clients is to try to help them define a vision of the future-the sort of “blue sky” version of where they would like to be at some point in the future. Then, we define the scope of the current project as a logical step on the path to achieve the long-term vision.

You must understand the vision for where the system is intended to go. Then, make intelligent decisions about how to best spend capital on current projects to support that vision. It’s best to have a standard for hardware and software that is geared toward the fully integrated system you want to own someday. But keep in mind, technology changes:

  • On one hand, a small increase in costs now can sometimes future-proof the automation system purchased as part of the current project or equipment purchase.
  • On the other hand, it is not useful to add costs to a project to build in functionality that won’t be useful for two or more years.

5. Move toward becoming a data-driven business—The benefits of using real-time data outweigh the cost of implementing the systems that generate it. Automated data collection helps companies determine the root causes of performance issues, as well as enhance the efficiency of day-to-day processes. Automation isn’t limited to big companies; food processors of any size can make good use of data collection. For smaller processors looking to become more data-driven, there are resources available at a reasonable cost.

A historical data repository (historian) is the foundational technology food processors need to add value to their existing equipment and processes. A historian connects to all the existing automation, and is also scalable to include additional points when future automation projects are completed.

Manufacturing execution systems (MES) help track and document in real time the transformation of raw materials to finished goods, which is vital to the efficiency of daily processes.

 

View the original article and related content on Plant Engineering

Copyright: Copyright 2016 CFE Media LLC

Standards revisions: robots and robotic systems

Automation standards update: The current version of the Industrial Robot Safety Standard, ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012, is a U.S. national adoption of the ISO 10218-2011, Part 1, Robots, and Part 2, Robotic Systems. Look for new versions of these documents in the 2020 or 2021 timeframe. Also see information on collaborative robots, loading and unloading stations, end-effectors, and lockout and tagout.

Author: Carole Franklin

Various standards and guidance documents govern and help those working with robotics and motion control. The current version of the Industrial Robot Safety Standard, ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012, is a U.S. national adoption of the ISO 10218-2011, Part 1, Robots, and Part 2, Robotic Systems. Those in compliance with the R15.06, 2012 version also are in compliance with the 10218, 2011 version. These standards will continue to be the current versions at least through 2020. Look for new versions of these documents in the 2020 or 2021 timeframe.

The ISO (international standards) group will begin updating the 10218 standard later this year; the revision process is expected to take about three years, which gives us the 2020 target publication date. Following that revision of the 10218, our standards committees in the U.S. will revise the R15.06 as well. In both the ISO and ANSI (U.S.) robotics communities, we currently are working on supplemental documents to help people apply these standards.

Some key things to know about robots and robotic systems:

  • For the purpose of ISO 10218 and ANSI/RIA R15.06, it’s important to distinguish between the terms “robot” and “robot system.”
  • “Robot” includes the robot arm and controller; “robot system” includes the robot, the end-effector (end-of-arm tooling or EOAT), and any other machinery, equipment, devices, etc., supporting the robot in performing its task.
  • The ISO 10218:1,2-2011 and ANSI/RIA R15.06:2012 require that a risk assessment be conducted for each integrated robot application. It is the integrator’s responsibility to ensure that this required risk assessment is completed.
  • RIA TR R15.306:2016 describes one task-based risk assessment method that meets the requirements of the standard.

Collaborative robotics, safety

In the U.S., these supplemental documents are registered with ANSI and are known as Technical Reports, or TRs. We are just about to publish a U.S. version of the ISO TS 15066:2016, the RIA TR R15.606-2016, on safety of collaborative robot systems. We also are starting work on two new TRs in the U.S., one of which is on guidance for users, which we hope to complete by the end of 2017; the other is on testing methods for power and force limiting for collaborative robot systems, which will likely be published in 2018.

In the ISO world, supplemental documents can be either Technical Reports (TRs), similar to the ANSI-registered TRs, or Technical Specifications (TSs). The difference is that the ISO TS describes requirements that are expected to mature to an International Standard (IS) level in the future. In the standards world, this means a TS is a “normative” document and can contain normative requirements. On the other hand, the TR is an “informative” document—that is, it cannot contain requirements but can only inform. The recently-published ISO TS 15066:2016 on collaborative robot safety is an example of a normative document. Because it is so recently published, it will not be revised for several years.

Some key things to know about collaborative robot safety include:

  • The application is key. There are some tasks which are simply not well suited to collaborative operation, even if the robot that is performing the task is power- and force-limited and called a “collaborative” robot.
  • The concept of a robot system is also important. The robot is not working in isolation. The workstation, the end-effector, the workpiece itself, the potential presence of multiple robots and other equipment in a cell are just some of the many factors that also must be taken into account when planning for a safe robotic installation. This is still the case even when using robots designed for collaboration.
  • A risk assessment of the collaborative robot system is also important. Even when using a robot designed for collaborative use, it’s really important to assess and mitigate any risks of the system—precisely because we anticipate people and robots working in close proximity.
  • It’s important to understand the foundational standard in addition to the collaborative supplement. TS 15066 builds upon the 10218 standard. That is, effective use of TS 15066 assumes that the robot system under consideration is in compliance with Part 1 and Part 2 of ISO 10218:2011.

Loading, unloading; end-effectors

The ISO group also is working on two TRs, both of which are expected to be completed in 2017. One is on the safety of manual load/unload stations, and the other is on end-effector safety.

Those with interest in robotics in food and beverage applications may be interested in a non-RIA standard.

The “3-A Sanitary Standard 3-A 103-00, Robot-based Automation Systems,” for use in the food industry, was published in September 2016, by 3-A Sanitary Standards Inc.

Outside the robot-specific world, there are some other standards on industrial safety that RIA members may want to know. These are the recently updated ANSI/ASSE Z244.1 on Lockout, Tagout and Alternative Methods, published in late 2016.

B11.20 on Safety Requirements for Integrated Manufacturing Systems is being updated right now, with an anticipated publication date in 2017.

Carole Franklin is director of standards development, Robotic Industries Association (RIA), part of Association for Advancing Automation (A3), a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

MORE ADVICE

Key concepts

  • ISO 10218-2011, Part 1, Robots, and Part 2, Robotic Systems, and the U.S. adoption of it, R15.06, will likely be revised in the 2020-2021 timeframe.
  • ISO TS 15066:2016 on collaborative robot safety was published in February 2016. The U.S. adoption of this, RIA TR R15.606-2016, will be published soon.
  • Standards covering lockout/tagout and safety of integrated manufacturing systems also are important.

 

View the original article and related content on Control Engineering

Copyright: Copyright 2017 CFE Media LLC

The internet of services in Industrie 4.0

Manufacturers need to think through their business model with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or Industrie 4.0 and ask how can a product become a service with a long-term revenue stream.

Author: Mike James

There is much talk about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). However, ‘things’ are just part of the plumbing. We connect devices, giving them, no more than, nominal intelligence. The real innovation is the internet of services. Manufacturers need to think through their business model and ask how can a product become a service with a long-term revenue stream. Many manufacturers, however, recognize this and are exploiting the opportunity to improve their operations. For example,

Tesla is delivering vehicles with hardware and software which can be upgraded, their cars are sensor ready and software upgrades will provide extra intelligence, delivered via the internet. The customer could pay for the upgrades which then generates extra revenue for Tesla.

Otis is supplying elevators/lifts with sensors which send data into their cloud. The data is analyzed and Otis sells a predictive maintenance services package, again adding a long-term revenue stream.

Additionally, a catering company in The Netherlands is supplying custom meals to hospitals. Each meal is prepared for the patient based upon data received from the hospital about the patient’s needs. The meals are prepared in an automated plant.

The individualization of mass production and the internet of services add additional revenue. The smart manufacturing plant needs to be flexible and deliver intelligent products. A major misunderstanding is that this is not a cost saving exercise; it’s a new business model to increase revenue and profitability.

It’s important to map out opportunities and match them against the realities of today’s technology. A manufacturer who was heavily investing in a factory of the future did not build this type of strategy. Enthusiastic engineers ordered additive manufacturing (3-D printing machines only to learn they could not connect them to their network using international standards. They paid a heavy price for this error and damaged the initiative’s reputation. It’s worth taking independent advice before completing a company’s manufacturing strategy.

The best way to avoid these mistakes and build a successful strategy is to learn from other manufacturers in a safe space. MESA is a safe harbor to share best practices and lessons learned so that the industry can collectively rise to Industrie 4.0.

Mike James is chairman for MESA International Board of Directors. This article originally appeared on MESA International’s blog. MESA International is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

 

View the original article and related content on Control Engineering

Copyright: Copyright 2017 CFE Media LLC

Automate Showcases Future of Industrial Robotics, And It’s Remarkable

Attending the recent Automate Show in Chicago was an extraordinary experience that allowed me and more than 20,000 other attendees an opportunity to peer into the future of industrial robotics. Being part of a company that is at the forefront of the industrial robotics and manufacturing automation industries still provides only one perspective, and Automate brought together leaders from all corners of the industry, such as Fanuc, ABB, Kuka, Keyence and Cognex, to showcase advances and share insights. The range of technologies on display that were designed to enhance processes, improve product quality and lower manufacturing costs was astonishing. I walked away from the show with a deeper sense of awareness of two notions: the rise of robots is upon us, and machine vision provides robots with the artificial intelligence that will forge the future of robotics in our increasingly globalized society.

The Rise of Robots

Material removal, end-of-arm tooling by Concept Systems

As many in automation are aware, robots are becoming an increasingly popular answer to completing dangerous or repetitive tasks: grinding, deburring, bin-picking, part inspections, etc. Several manufacturers and esteemed integrators assembled elaborate booths displaying various robot capabilities, many currently in use and others as possible future applications. This alone is indicative of the rise of robots, but it is only the beginning. The leading robot manufacturers all appear to be focused on making robots simpler to program/configure and easier to integrate with technologies that create incredible functionality. The result: collaborative robots.

The show floor featured a number of collaborative robots performing a wide variety of tasks from part handling to packaging, some even bagged candy to hand out or served ice cream in a cone. Using various sensing technologies, the applications for collaborative robots to work with human counterparts are infinite. Long gone seem to be the days of robots in hard guarding and being tucked away in the corner, wrapped in ominous metal fencing. Today’s robots are becoming more flexible in their range of applications, friendly in their interface, and free to be placed anywhere on the manufacturing floor.

Forging the Future

machine vision, part inspection, Concept SystemsAfter seeing the surprising versatility of machine vision applications on display at Automate, it became clear that machine vision is the technological advancement that will launch industrial robotics into the future. When combined with the interconnectivity of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and other smart tools such as mobile analytics, machines equipped with technologies like 3D embedded vision, multispectral and hyperspectral imaging, and deep learning will possess a primitive form of artificial intelligence that allows greater flexibility in application and the ability to actively learn processes without programming.

For example, Cognex and Keyence both have solutions that can compare 8-10 different part characteristics in a fraction of a second. These are designed to be mounted on the end of a robot so you have a complete solution that is capable of part picking and inspection. Part picking and part inspection are tasks that are often hard to fill and results can vary widely as operators tire throughout long shifts.

In another instance, Fanuc is working on developing the ability to configure a robot through learning instead of programming, specifically the capability to give a robot a task, like picking objects out of a bin and putting them into another container. In this scenario, once the robot it is configured it will spend some amount of time figuring out how to complete the task via trial and error, and within a short time the robot will have mastered the task as well as if it had been programmed by an engineer. It seems apparent that as we continue to combine advancing vision technologies with low cost, power processing abilities the future is endless as to what can be accomplished.

Although the next Automate isn’t until April of 2019, I highly recommend that you get this event on your calendar early and plan to attend. The Automate show attracts more than 20,000 visitors, all looking for new ways to enhance their manufacturing processes, lower production costs, and increase their competitive edges.