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Investigators work to crush barriers to automation route

Brett Brune
By Brett Brune Editor in Chief, Smart Manufacturing

To get to smart manufacturing, the industry needs integration, simulation and analysis. But the historic use of proprietary software by the makers of machine tools, robots, conveyors and the like—for their operation and communication with each other and with components like sensors, drivers and PLCs—is a big obstacle, contributing editor Ilene Wolff writes in this issue’s not-to-be-missed cover story.

“The prevailing thought at one time was that if I’m going to invest my funds and provide solutions, I want to protect my sales,” said Matthew Robinson at ROS-Industrial (ROS-I) Consortium Americas, Southwest Research Institute. “If I’m providing machine tools, I would like customers to use all my products … my software, my hardware and interconnected technologies associated with them.”

Until now, the task of enabling communication among all the technology in a plant has fallen largely to systems integrators. But that approach is too slow and costly, causing some to avoid automation.

Thankfully, some projects aiming to bridge communication among robots and other factory components are underway.

John Wen at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is leading a project entitled “Robot Raconteur (RR): An interoperable middleware for robotics.” RR collects data and invokes function, like operating a camera, as well.

Also, Juan Aparicio at Siemens Corporate Technology is working to create a plug-and-play, open-source software, or gateway, for interoperability and communication among automation systems, simulators, cloud platforms and a robot (which is controlled by ROS-I).

The gateway will work with three widely used standards and protocols in manufacturing: OPC-UA, MTConnect and DDS.

Facilitating all of these efforts is the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute. It is part of Manufacturing USA and one more example of tax dollars at work to advance manufacturing in the U.S.

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