As manufacturing undergoes the revolutionary changes of the Digital Age, the people with the keenest leadership skills have taken up the charge to modernize the industry so that it leverages the cloud and Big Data and is connected and smart. Their success encourages the rest of the manufacturing world to follow.
To assemble this list of leaders, Smart Manufacturing needed to take account of the fact that change is happening inside startups, large corporations and public-private partnerships.
At a Ford Motor plant in the ’90s, workers produced a rash of cylinder blocks with unexpected levels of porosity, and the existing controls for the process didn’t provide any insight. It wasn’t until data from the melt furnaces was extracted onto floppy disks and analyzed that the root cause of the issue was discovered, Mikula said. The volume of material in the furnaces was reducing the head pressure, resulting in turbulent flow, and Mikula devised a solution. “I learned that intense focus on the correct inputs of the process are necessary to cost-competitively deliver results,” he said. “Focusing on the wrong inputs or on the results can mean significant losses in yield, time and effort, which leads to an uncompetitive operation.” His No. 1 job now is “to enable the incredibly intelligent, loyal and committed people in Ford’s plants through access to even more meaningful data from the processes for which they are responsible,” he said. “They can then leverage emerging data analytics tools to provide increasing value for our customers.” Yes, data is important. But so is personal engagement, he said.
We are in the experience economy, and companies need to get customer-centric products to market faster and cheaper by using smart production technology, Wadawadigi said. Companies need to combine their sales processes, inventories and operations to enable decision-making while balancing between the profitability of supply and demand and the optimal availability of products. In doing so, they can reduce inventory and working capital across the value chain. “My responsibility has been to drive the solution strategy in supply chain collaboration, lean manufacturing, demand networks, analytics and IoT, with my current focus being blockchain for supply chain,” Wadawadigi said. “I have had opportunities to work with companies around the globe in helping them address their business needs through use of innovative software solutions. I am passionate about technology and how it can be a key enabler to continue to achieve excellence and find new and innovative ways to solve problems. In the ever-evolving Digital Age, I plan to continue to work on innovative ideas to successfully create and realize value for businesses.”
At the top of Dyck’s to-do list: Revitalize manufacturing in the United States. To do that, CESMII, the national institute for smart manufacturing, has been developing the world’s first Smart Manufacturing Innovation Platform to dramatically reduce the cost and complexity of how real-time data from manufacturing operations can be used to create value in the plant and its supply chain via interoperability and open standards. In August, CESMII launched a preview of its Innovation Platform—the first step toward deploying it for members to use in mission-critical manufacturing operations. “There’s an expectation that the new technologies represented in the Fourth Industrial Revolution—like IIoT, AI/ML, AR/VR, etc.—will disrupt manufacturing and generate trillions of dollars in new value,” he said. “The reality for most mature manufacturers is that these capabilities aren’t accessible, either in terms of cost or available domain expertise. There’s a universal need to democratize these capabilities, which will require a concerted, industry-wide effort to contribute to de facto standards, to crowd-source domain expertise and to choose open and interoperable, instead of proprietary technologies.”
Jones is asked frequently about what smart manufacturing tech Steelcase will adopt next. “The truth is, there is still a lot of low-hanging fruit that can be harvested from simple analysis and presentation of IIoT data,” he said. “If I had to say what technologies look promising in digital transformation, they are machine learning, OPC-UA and the ability to collect shop-floor data using cameras along with image-processing technology.” For its first step into IIoT, Steelcase worked with Georgia Tech University to show what was possible on one of its production lines. Steelcase leaders were so impressed with the results, they wanted the technology available to all 13 plants. “Most of the time, seeing the data in a new way leads to some very intense discussions, and often opportunities for continuous improvement become immediately clear,” he said. “For me, the greatest success is to see many small changes that lead to significant improvements.” His advice to others: start small; make sure you really understand smart manufacturing before investing in technology, and get upper management’s buy-in.
After years of helping some of the most revered tech companies in the world see the benefits of smart manufacturing, White has advice for those considering going digital: Do not hesitate. “Oftentimes, when we try to decipher what is real vs. hype, we make the mistake of waiting too long to commit to a particular direction,” he said. “Well, smart manufacturing technology is really happening.” It may seem a little overwhelming to implement new processes, but the longer manufacturers wait, the more difficult it will be to catch up. They will accrue technical debt (for example, need to modernize legacy processes), lose out on the opportunity cost of increased efficiency and potentially fall behind competitors. “We ‘saw the light’ back in 1997/1998 when we first witnessed the GOM ATOS 3D scanning technology,” he said. “Barely anyone knew about the technology, and those who saw it were in disbelief. My partner, Johan Gout, who is COO, and I saw how it could impact the future–capture a physical object’s geometry digitally in an incredible amount of time with high accuracy.”
Sutton went to engineering school at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, but his engineering education started in childhood. “I grew up on a 2,000-acre grain and livestock farm, which was hard work,” he said. “Finding a smarter way to do simple tasks on a daily basis to minimize that strain was natural. As I went to engineering school and started my career, I always looked to find ways to work smarter and not just harder.” Responsible for launching the Deere manufacturing innovation initiative, Sutton has grown the movement to include the company’s global digital and additive manufacturing strategy and include active projects to prospect, research and develop manufacturing innovations in the U.S., Germany and India. He said the seeds to move toward digital were sown longer than 20 years ago when Deere adopted a strategy to implement CAD—which drove employees to think of their products and operations in a virtual context. “This has put in place a mindset to continue to implement digital and smart solutions in almost all aspects of our processes,” he said.
“Responsive,” “flexible” and “data driven” are all used to describe smart manufacturing, but that’s how King describes NIMS’ training and validation methods, too. “Essentially it’s smart training for smart manufacturing,” he said. King developed and programmed a digital platform that ultimately will be a sharable network for training materials and worldwide benchmarking using the established NIMS quality metrics and framework. “Essentially, we at NIMS have created an Industry 4.0 network, but in the world of training,” he said. King has a former boss to thank for inspiring his digital approach. He asked the man for funding to incorporate computer systems in a training program. About a week later, the boss handed King the books Excel for Dummies and Statistics for Dummies. “I mastered Excel and used it as a method of housing data about my students, and I used statistics to understand what that data meant and how to turn it into useful information,” he said. “That was the beginning of ‘smart’ manufacturing for me, but of course applied to the training endeavor.”
America Makes, which began in 2012 as a public/private partnership managed by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), has a portfolio of applied R&D projects valued at more than $180 million and aimed at making additive manufacturing a production-capable technology. The institute formulated an Additive Manufacturing Technology Development Roadmap to identify key challenges and coordinate efforts to overcome them. “This is an important step toward developing a national investment strategy in the AM technologies,” said Wilczynski, whose background is in private industry. “For me, the transition from working in industry to the non-profit world has been extremely rewarding,” he said. “I have been able to apply techniques and processes learned in industry to support our nation’s industrial base.” When he thinks about the future, he sees manufacturers making products of increasing complexity, finding new business cases for additive and other advanced manufacturing and developing new materials with amazing properties. His advice for those contemplating smart manufacturing? “Get engaged!” he said. “The additive community is rich with knowledge and the ability to collaborate.”
Since 2018, Lecrone has marked additive manufacturing, IIoT and collaborative robotics on her Industry 4.0 checklist. Next on the list are analytics and virtual reality for remote service support. The effort at Cummins originated at the grassroots level with a few manufacturing engineers but has grown to be a global initiative. A corporation like Cummins can face challenges with communications for parallel projects going on at multiple locations, but size also offers the benefit of providing best practices already proven and standardized at other company locations. She has high expectations for 4.0 implementation, including greatly reduced machine downtime, improving quality and, ultimately, creating manufacturing processes that are more responsive to customers and tailoring products and services to their individual needs. “I want to see us get to the point where all the information we need to manage our manufacturing operations is instantly accessible,” she said, noting the Industry 4.0 initiative at Cummins is her greatest accomplishment. “We still have a lot of data locked away in silos, so we need to make those barriers irrelevant and invisible.”
Since its founding in 1968, Hurco has delivered machines with sophisticated and intuitive control technology. “We have a long list of products and technologies we’ve invented or included in our products to help customers be more productive,” Volovic said. While brands like Harley-Davidson, Caterpillar and John Deere use Hurco CNC machines, most customers are family-owned firms. “The vast majority of our customers find ways to bring order to the ever-changing, competitive landscape of high-mix manufacturing that defines job shops,” he said. “Delivering machines equipped with technology that helps them reduce setup time and be more productive is simply part of our DNA.” Ultimately, he points to Hurco technology that democratizes manufacturing. “The most recent example surrounds automation. For years, automation has been a practical solution for traditional manufacturing to deal with the skills gap and increase efficiency. However, it was out of reach for many customers who have a high mix of parts. Automation didn’t have the flexibility they required, and integration could be costly. We made job shop automation a top priority and have utilized the power of our control’s architecture and partnerships with automation firms to provide effective and efficient CNC automation.”
In 2014, Gulick led the implementation of informed/augmented reality into AGCO’s manufacturing processes via Google Glass and Proceedix, a platform that enables digitizing workflow documents. As a result, workers with incredible amounts of experience and expertise who used to make numerous trips to a computer to look up information on complex configurations are now taking advantage of the wearable device, making their work easier, she said. Also as a result, employees have the information they need to be successful, AGCO attained a 30 percent reduction in processing times, halved the amount of time employees train on the job and reduced quality and safety incidents. Now, AGCO is embedding digital enablers through globally established centers of excellence—to fast-track collaborative solutions on its plant floors—and pursuing AR in its assembly process, along with digital twins and additive manufacturing to increase efficiency, reduce costs and minimize downtime. “IoT and manufacturing process automations not only advance our workforce but shorten our response-time to our customers, allowing us to focus and engage on their overall satisfaction,” she said.
Nausley’s official title is “president,” but in essence he is a complexity simplifier. “Technology has advanced on so many fronts that managing the resulting complexity has become a big dilemma,” he said. “Those who can simplify the implementation, use and maintenance of these technologies will be the most successful.” He joined Promess in the 1980s when it was in founder Larry Stockline’s garage. A major milestone in the mid-1990s, the EMAP Assembly Press Controller, was one step in a string of innovations and added value. “Part of that, of course, involves developing new technologies and methods,” he said. “But even more important and difficult is putting these new ideas into a form that can be widely used. It is one kind of challenge to develop a new process or method in a lab and a whole different challenge to move it to the manufacturing floor. And, it’s an entirely different challenge to package it in a way that can be used across a broad range of different industries. That’s what we do, and it never gets old.”
Fifteen years ago, Siemens conceived of the merging of Industrial Automation and PLM software and thus began a multi-billion-dollar investment cycle in R&D and technology acquisition that has resulted in the company’s “Digital Enterprise.” “It’s a powerful new approach to becoming faster, more flexible and more productive,” Batra said. “Our customers know that we are here to help them succeed, and they know that we invest heavily in making these technologies practically available in their operations. We see more companies of all sizes turning to Siemens for guidance in their digital transformation, and that is what inspires us most to continue to improve and invest.” This paves the way for the next level of the digital transformation of industry: the convergence of information and operational technologies. “We’re well equipped for that step because today we already continuously connect every step in the value chain, from design and engineering to production and services,” he said. “In the future, we’ll intermesh that aspect even further with IT applications, such as CRM and ERP systems.”
When Suica thinks about the future, he finds it helpful to understand the past. “When reviewing the history of manufacturing automation, we can see that we began with a ‘push’ methodology,” he said. “What I mean by that is robots putting together cars, robots tending machine tools by loading and unloading, and the like. Now, automation is evolving into a ‘pull’ approach, with the purchase order at the top, and automation ‘pulling’ all the resources that are required to complete that order.” It’s now possible to blend intelligence with manual, unintelligent machinery, which he calls “edge” machines or operations. Examples are simple saws and drill presses. They can now be pulled in from the ‘edge’ of the shop into an automation system. When manufacturers start doing that, he said, then we get to the real potential of a digital-based manufacturing operation. “And this is where I think the whole smart manufacturing world needs to be aiming. It’s the total, true duplicate of whatever factory parts you must have in a digital format,” he said.
FANUC’s M-2000iA may be the world’s strongest robotic arm, according to Guinness World Records, but do robotics automation or products like the company’s IIoT platform have the might it will take to transform American industry as a whole into smart manufacturing? “I feel strongly that unless we change as quickly as the market’s changing, we’re going to fall behind some of the other global regions,” Cicco said. “I want to do a better job of understanding the fears our customers have and try to convince them that utilizing automation doesn’t take away jobs. It creates opportunities for workers to do more rewarding things. In addition to that, end users also recognize there are so many areas where human interaction with the product is the best way to create things.” He is convinced that through education everybody in manufacturing can “take one step up” and become better at programming a robot, for example. It’s a process of upskilling labor. “We think that’s what’s going to make people more successful and able to compete on a global scale,” he said.
Smart manufacturing chose Foster. “I was part of a five-person team that built an entire ERP/MES system 100% in the cloud,” he said. “This is notable not only because ERP in the cloud is very hard but we did it in 2001 when enterprise software in the cloud didn’t exist in any industry.” They built structures that connected to every possible machine on the shop floor, to reduce manual data input. They built systems that provided real-time, accurate information on inventory location and usage. And they created algorithms that anticipated when tooling would need replacing and when material needed ordering. In the years since, Plex was one of the first to recognize the value of AR and wearable devices. It built a full system for manufacturers using Google Glass at its introduction in 2013. Plex also enabled manufacturers of all sizes, especially smaller operations, to take part in Industry 4.0. “Our customers participate in a 100% cloud-based ERP/MES ecosystem that provides a path to smart manufacturing without a huge outlay in expense,” he said.
Bright Machines is focused on automating automation. “To accomplish this, we’re taking a software-first approach to factory automation, in order to redefine and democratize how physical products are made—what we call Software-Defined Manufacturing,” Hanspal said. Rather than providing periodic snapshots or simple binary decision data, this approach utilizes all available data from any given machine. Quality issues are easier to pinpoint, and the root cause of a quality snafu can be identified across the entire production line. The software suggests corrective action, and the operator can help decide and close the loop. Bright Machines’ initial focus is on assembly and inspection, but the ultimate achievement will be when software defines the entire manufacturing cycle. In shorter than 18 months, Bright Machines built a team of more than 500 employees and deployed nearly 40 microfactories, its first product, at 20 manufacturing sites in eight countries in Asia, Europe and North America. Microfactories are modular, multifunctional robotic systems that take advantage of intelligent software to deliver significantly better assembly efficiency, while getting more intelligent and automated over time.
Collens lives the public-private model. She is chairwoman of MxD, the national digital manufacturing and design innovation institute, part of Manufacturing USA in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense. Since its founding in 2014, as the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, the organization has: formed a network from industry, startups, academia and government and brought together more than 300 partners; educated members about cybersecurity and workforce development, and awarded more than $90 million to more than 60 collaborative R&D projects in 35 states. Collens is also CEO of a manufacturing startup, Dimension Inx, an advanced biomaterials and additive manufacturing company. It harnesses the power of a patented 3D-printing biomaterials design and manufacturing platform to create regenerative “medical devices” to treat a range of medical conditions. “We are taking some of the same principles that we foster at MxD around collaboration to bring what we do best in materials science and tissue engineering and partner with the world’s best clinicians and surgeons and leading medical products companies to deliver new medical solutions to patients,” she said.
We are just beginning to wrap our minds around the potential of digitization in manufacturing and have just scratched the surface of how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can contribute to an industrial renaissance, Tamburini said. He wants to become a student of AI and ML and seek out new applications for design and manufacturing that help deliver better and more sustainable products. To do that, he’ll use Microsoft’s cloud platform, Azure, which provides the building blocks of IoT, AI, ML, mixed reality, data analytics and more, for developers of smart manufacturing software solutions. His vision for the future of smart manufacturing is one in which the things we design and make are more tailored to our needs and preferences, have little or no environmental impact and are affordable for most people. He envisions humans being augmented–not replaced–by digitization, automation and tools like Microsoft’s HoloLens, a self-contained, holographic computer. Lastly, he wants to see a time when no one has to perform menial or dangerous jobs to make the things we use.
One might expect Taylor to tout his company’s precision metrology systems, its Smart Factory Manager, an in-house technology ecosystem to enable smart manufacturing, or its Pulse real-time monitoring device. But no, Taylor says his greatest career accomplishment is taking an active role in working with higher education institutions to highlight the need for more STEM career study to solve critical workforce challenges. “My greatest career accomplishment is my community engagement work to push STEM career development initiatives to make manufacturing more attractive to the next generation,” he said. “Since 2011, I have served on the Board of Directors of the International Engineering Program at the University of Rhode Island (URI), working closely with their leadership to emphasize the human resource requirements of growing, multi-national companies like Hexagon,” he said. “We have hired several URI IEP graduates who are involved, along with other employees, in STEM-related advocacy. We also offer internships and overseas work-study programs for students interested in international engineering as a career. Watching these initiatives unfold and take root in the community is very rewarding.”
Summerville predicts smart manufacturing will continue to evolve at an astonishingly quick pace helped in part by Mitsubishi Electric’s iQ Platform, a completely integrated control system that enables sequence, motion, robotics and numerical control CPUs to share information at high speed. Tedious and strenuous manufacturing tasks will be performed by machines and robots while the human labor force learns new skills that include the engineering and deployment of automated production assets, implementation of predictive maintenance technologies and the development of more cost-effective products and the means of producing them. That future will usher in Industry 5.0, which will be focused on leveraging the human connection with computerized machinery for new levels of speed and precision. Perhaps by then, U.S. manufacturers will have taken advantage of enormous opportunities presented by reshoring, which has been taking place over the last several years and led Summerville to choose smart manufacturing. And possibly they may have overcome challenges of an aging workforce, lack of skilled labor entering the workforce and global competition that led them to adopt smart manufacturing at an unforeseen pace.
Bennett’s experience is a snapshot of manufacturing’s evolution. At the start, she worked in a clothing manufacturer’s factory as a “checker,” a job with a lot of manual tasks and paperwork. As a graduate student, she used data to map brain activity for medical imaging. Then, one of her first professional experiences was “leveraging data to transform professional sports and news production,” she said. “Leveraging data at scale to transform manufacturing not only made tremendous sense, it felt critical to our future.” Now, there are research and early use cases of capabilities like federated learning and specialized hardware to perform machine learning more efficiently. “We will likely see less ‘build to stock’ and more real-time demand, plan, build and fulfill, enabling a shift to mass customization,” she said. “As we leverage machine learning to better model and predict, we will likely see more advanced prediction of disruptions in the supply chain and therefore make it more adaptive. Cybersecurity will be paramount to our success in smart manufacturing because of the hyper-connected nature of the factories.”
Anagnost is excited about the progress his company has made with generative design, which gives designers and engineers the ability to quickly and thoroughly explore design variations and deliver higher-performing products in less time. What’s next? “I want to connect our customers to their data, their collaborators and tools to help them design and make smarter, more sustainable and efficient products, cars and buildings,” he said. “We’re getting there, but we still have a way to go.” He has a vision of transforming design and making it into a massive multiplayer online game, like the Oasis in Ready Player One. “Maybe not exactly like that, but you get the idea,” he said. With AI/automation and cloud technology, he said we can reimagine how industrial designers work, how manufacturers lay out and run their factories and how engineers build intelligence into products. “Industries like architecture, engineering, construction and manufacturing are being reimagined, if not overhauled, as automation powers their collective ability to make better, more informed decisions quickly,” he said. “That’s what this technology will help them do.”
At an AR in Action talk at an MIT Industry Summit, Heppelmann used humor to explain why PTC—what some view as an older CAD software firm—could be found at the intersection of augmented reality and IoT: “MIT is an old university, but even old universities work on new ideas.” PTC’s industrial IoT and AR tech platforms, ThingWorx and Vuforia Studio, along with its solutions like CAD and PLM, help companies design, make, operate and service things for a connected world. “At PTC, we always wished we knew what was going on with the product after it left the factory because then we could more properly do life-cycle management,” he said. “What led us into AR was an understanding that many times you do have to go into the field, and you have this rich information in your Digital Twin. Sure would be great if there were a way to bring that into the field and put it in the context of the product that you’re trying to repair or optimize.”
With a 35-year career in software development for industrial automation, Wodzisz has worked on the full stack—from internal architecture to user interface and the code that connects the two. “As a co-op student in computer science, I was first thrown into computer engineering writing firmware for wire-wrapped boards for industrial communications products,” she said. “I surely didn’t learn how to do that in my computer science curriculum!” Her experience at Rockwell Automation includes running two lines of business, an opportunity that let her introduce how engineering teams work to the business side of the house. In turn, she brought her biz experience back into day-to-day engineering leadership. The total experience refined her leadership skills and empowered her. As for the future, she still wants to make cybersecurity ubiquitous in the development of a product lifecycle. And then there is the evolution of the workforce. “Today’s workforce is beyond comfortable with technology, and they learn in ways that people didn’t learn a few decades ago (that’s me!)” she said. “How do organizations evolve to harness the value from those differences?”
Schell has always considered 3D printing one of the most promising growth opportunities for HP. “Our digital manufacturing business is an example of reinvention and how we’re transforming the future of manufacturing, which was traditionally siloed from the consumer,” he said. “They weren’t involved in the supply chain until the point of sale. Smart manufacturing and 3D printing are changing this.” He cites HP’s partnership with Smile Direct Club. Its patients take an imprint of their teeth to make a 3D-printed mold used to create invisible aligners. This matters, he said, because an estimated 80 percent of Americans could benefit from orthodontic care, yet only 1 percent receive it annually due to cost. “Our vision at HP is to create technology that makes life better for everyone, everywhere,” he said. “That’s not something I’ve necessarily seen from the private sector throughout my career. Now, it appears the tides are turning. In fact, the World Economic Forum’s Davos Manifesto 2020 challenges business leaders with several directives, among which is to consider how technology can be used to improve people’s well-being.”
Under Isele’s technical leadership, RUAG Space set up the world’s first manufacturing center for serial production of satellite structures and flat panels for satellites, in Titusville, Fla. “In the space industry, we are behind when it comes to mass production,” she said. “The material selection and process definitions of space applications are much more stringent and, therefore, moving from prototype to serial production was a big achievement.” Today, the plant has 25 employees on two shifts making satellite panels for Airbus-OneWeb communication microsatellites to expand internet connectivity, a joint venture between Airbus and OneWeb Satellites, although other clients are possible. “In order to be profitable, there is no other way than being ‘smart’,” Isele said. “However, ‘smart’ for me means more than intelligent and logical. We have to combine the best practices from all smart manufacturing techniques out there and select those methods which apply for our processes.” OneWeb’s founder called RUAG’s Titusville plant “the world’s first high-volume satellite manufacturing center” in a press release. The companies are part of Florida’s burgeoning commercial space industry.
Manufacturing is not for the faint of heart, Storm said in his company’s initial Industry 4.0 podcast. Take automation, for example, which many people fear despite its ability to shift mundane, repetitive tasks from humans to machines. “Millions of human beings do jobs they … quite frankly dread when they wake up in the morning,” he said. “There are so many other things we can do in society to gainfully employ people to help them solve very challenging, difficult problems that need solving. I think there is an enormous opportunity there for us as manufacturers to harness the intellectual capital of people and give them value-added roles.” Storm is heartened by the political discourse he hears about bringing jobs back to the U.S. via reshoring, but thinks we need a national policy for manufacturing. In his company’s work, which focuses on integrating Industry 4.0 tech into plants in North America, Storm sees the medical and aerospace industries as having greater appetites for smart manufacturing and thinks companies on the sidelines will have a difficult time catching up.
When he was in the industrial automation sector, large manufacturers were retaining McPhail’s company for data-collection systems for their equipment. The problem was that these systems were custom, expensive one-offs, which would not transfer from customer to customer, McPhail said. “This unfortunately left many small/medium enterprises unable to afford them,” he said. “We at MEMEX took a productized approach with our MERLIN suite of hardware and software products to connect and visualize discrete manufacturing data, including the first commercially available MTConnect hardware adapter that enables legacy manufacturing equipment to communicate intelligently.” This not only lowered the financial barrier to entry, it means there is no piece of manufacturing equipment or process that can’t be cost-effectively monitored for status, efficiency, productivity, maintenance, etc. “We have identified many important accretive business use cases that can be built upon the foundation of connectivity, dashboard visualization, operator input, and bidirectional ERP integration that we have already laid,” he said. “Taking great ideas and generating a product that solves a real need is extremely satisfying to me and the team here at Memex.”
Universal Robots, the company von Hollen leads, started in 2003 when its original founders tried to automate very simple pick-and-place tasks but found the only robots available were unwieldy, heavy, expensive, very complex to program and relegated to operating inside safety cages. “That’s when the idea of Universal Robots was conceived: We discovered a significant need in the market for lightweight, flexible, easy-to-program robots that could work right next to people with no safety guarding,” von Hollen said. “Our first robot model, the UR5, became the first commercially viable collaborative robot, or cobot” in 2008. Traditional automation, rooted in the automotive industry, has been an all-or-nothing proposition, he said: Either automate every step in the entire process, or the project can’t succeed. This approach naturally leads to large investments, long project timelines, high risk and staff disruption. “Universal Robots believes in the incremental approach to automation,” he said. “Target the three ‘D’s of manufacturing—dull, dirty, dangerous—with collaborative robots and let the skilled operators handle the higher value/more difficult tasks.”
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