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The Technology and Automation Behind Fireworks - 06.20.17

These days everything can be automated, even things you may not think about. It's almost 4th of July, which means fireworks shows will be lighting up the sky in cities across the country. Long gone are the days when each fuse had to be manually lit while the one lighting it had to quickly run and duck for cover. The world of pyrotechnics is more technology-driven than ever before!

Over the years, the world of pyrotechnics has greatly improved, making it safer for the technicians setting off the displays, safer for the spectators watching, and safer for the property where stray sparks may land. And for the viewers? More spectacular and impressive shows!

Today's automation technologies allow fireworks display to be pre-programmed and timed. Pyrotechnics shows can be designed visually on a computer to fine tune every aspect of the display. This also allows the technicians to determine equipment needs, how to configure firing modules, and even how to build fireworks cakes for each effect. The show is then set off by a microchip remotely from a safe nearby location by a fireworks technician. Automation also enables the show to be shut down at any point, if needed, as well as to prevent specific parts of the show from being set off.

Wherever you are enjoying fireworks shows this summer, think of the automation behind the display and all of the technology that goes into planning such impressive shows. 


The Rise of Robotic Cafes - 05.22.17

The United State's first automated "coffee shop" opened earlier this year in San Francisco. People who are in the mood for coffee often want it quickly and want it to taste good. If they're in a rush, though, people will settle for bad coffee. Through automation, people can quickly place orders and receive their (tasty!) drink efficiently. 

Cafe X is a fully enclosed kiosk that looks almost like a vending machine. Customers make their coffee orders with a phone app or on an iPad kiosk. Since the order is entered digitally, this eliminates human error about whether the barista heard your order and wrote it down correctly. Inside the kiosk, two robotic espresso machines and a 6-axis industrial robot (made by Mitsubishi) can make seven different beverages with beans from one of three different local coffee roasters. Add-ons include different milks and syrups. All beverages are served in 8oz cups and cost $2-$3, which is drastically cheaper than your standard cup of gourmet brew from a coffeeshop. The average beverage is prepared in less than a minute. Once your coffee order is ready, you receive a text message with a 4-digit code that you enter at the kiosk in order to receive your drink from a personal pod, making it impossible for someone else to accidentally pick up your drink. Prepared coffees are kept warm on one of eight different warming stations for up to eight minutes before it gets tossed. If you don't get to your drink in time, you will receive a text letting you know you missed your drink and can have it remade for free once you arrive at the kiosk. 

An automated coffee kiosk guarantees consistency and helps to eliminate variables that could potentially result in your coffee tasting different every time you order it. This includes the roast or grind of the beans, how much foam is in your beverage, how well the drink is stirred, etc. The robotic coffee machines are calibrated to make every cup of coffee exactly the same every time. Cafe X is also more efficient than human baristas, preparing more than 120 cups of coffee per hour.


Ultimately, each Cafe X location will provide locally sourced coffee beans and will use geotargeting to prepare drinks so customers who are closer will receive their drinks first. Coffee is a universal beverage that the majority of people enjoy, whether it is plain black coffee or a vanilla latte. An automated coffee shop such as Cafe X is the first step towards shortening wait time and increasing consistency so every customer gets their perfect drink. 


Will Automation Eliminate Jobs? - 05.05.17

Many people fear automation and robots will replace humans and, in turn, their jobs. While its undeniable that automation is playing an increasingly larger role in business, particularly manufacturing, it has also created jobs. 

The jobs that robots replace tend to be mundane, repetitive tasks. For humans on the job, such repetition can lead to error, such as creating non-consistent products, which is a waste of time and money for the company. But these roles are perfect for robots, where tedious tasks can be streamlined and an identical outcome is guaranteed every time. Further, many of the tasks that automation has taken over can be dangerous for humans, such as high-rise construction or underground mining. By having a robot complete these jobs, the tasks can be done more efficiently and at a lower risk to humans. 

While some tasks have been turned over to automation and displaced certain jobs, new roles have also been created, opening up fresh opportunities. Removing mundane tasks has freed up the human mind for higher-order tasks that are more valuable. Jobs in software development, content creation, and machine maintenance are vital to support automation. 

At this point, we are still in the learning stages of what automation is fully capable of and its potential opportunities. But it will no doubt continue to develop and evolve. As data sets become more thorough and available, machine learning will only enhance human knowledge. While robots deal with strict information, humans can focus on creativity, touch, taste, and experiences as a whole that automation does not have the ability to control...yet. 


The Role of Artificial Intelligence in the Food Industry - 04.20.17

It's grilling season, and this time of year, who doesn't love a good burger? In 2016 alone, burger restaurants made more than $75.5 billion in sales. However, cooking hot greasy burgers and using grills, fryers, and knives can be potentially dangerous, causing burns and cuts. Automation can help to keep humans out of harm's way and help with dull prep work, improving not only food quality, but employee safety, as well. Flippy, the brainchild of Miso Robotics in California, is a small robot that can make burgers and other food to order. This automated cart can be installed next to any grill or fryer. A digital system sends food orders to Flippy, where it moves burgers onto the grill to cook. A 6-axis robotic arm can be attached to a variety of tools such as spatulas, tongs, and scrapers. A pneumatic pump allows the robot to change out its own tools. A "sensor bar" uses thermal sensors, 3D sensors, and cameras to keep track of how long each burger has been cooking and its temperature. When it's time for toppings such as cheese, Flippy alerts human cooks. Once the burger reaches the desired temperature, Flippy plates the burger and once again alerts cooks to add finishing touches such as lettuce or tomato. 

Flippy also uses artificial intelligence to learn how to cook new foods, such as a restaurant's seasonal menu. With such a range of tools and the ability to learn, Flippy can make not just burgers, but also chicken, bacon, onions, and other burger toppings. Food automation in commercial kitchens saves time by performing repetitive tasks so chefs can focus more on tasting food and creating recipes. It also ensures consistent, high-quality food.


Automating the Sushi Industry - 04.06.17

Japan is known for its futuristic technology as well as it's uniquely themed restaurants. One of the more popular eaten venues, Genki, was Japan's first conveyor belt sushi restaurant, where customers grab plates of sushi that look appetizing and pay per plate. In recent years, the conveyor-belt sushi industry has become a $3.5 billion market, and this type of restaurant is now found all over the world. In Japan alone, 84% of the sushi consumed is delivered by conveyor belt. Decades later, their most recent innovation is a fully automated sushi restaurant that is run with no human interaction.


Customers use an interactive touchscreen tablet to order their sushi. A network of 24 train tracks and mini bullet trains on 3 different levels delivers meals directly to the diners from the kitchen. Once customers are ready to go, they pay for their food on a self-service machine. This automated system can simultaneously serve up to 158 customers without the need for hostesses, servers, or bussers.

Automation means that the restaurant can run more efficiently, as well as cost effectively. Instead of customers waiting for individual orders of sushi, dozens of customers can be served simultaneously, reaching more consumers overall. Instead of wasted plates of food that are up for grabs and thrown away after being out for too long, food is made on demand. Lower labor costs mean that the restaurants can charge less for this food. 

While automation may eliminate some of the fun kitschiness of the conveyor belt sushi experience, it results in fresher fish, less food waste, cheaper food for consumers, and more revenue for businesses.


Automation: The Future of Construction Site Safety - 03.20.17

One constant need in today's society is within the construction industry. Looking around, there seems to always be construction going on, whether it's new construction, rebuilds, or renovations. The real estate market is currently in high demand. Automation could be key in this industry to build quicker while being more cost efficient in the long run.

Robots do not have the same limitations as humans that may constrain time, such as weather and fatigue. Robots can continuously work on job sites without having to take breaks or switch shifts, enabling them to complete a construction project in less than half the time. While working more efficiently, artificial intelligence also provides more accuracy than a human worker. Overall, a shorter timeline and precision reduce the cost of the project, meaning more output for construction companies and a cheaper product for consumers.

Construction site automation can also make it easier and safer to inspect sites while work is being done. High-rise buildings create high-risk situations, making it dangerous or even life-threatening to inspect projects throughout the site. Robots, however, are in no danger at extreme heights. Drones allow for site managers to check on the construction project daily, survey materials, check the blueprints etc. This real-time data can be analyzed in computer systems, streamlining the inspection process and, once again, shortening the project timeline.

Automation and artificial intelligence is the future in almost every industry. Robots and drones can save time and money, as well as provide safety to construction engineers and workers. This technology is just a stepping stone to increasingly animated work sites, such as 3D building printers or human-free dump trucks. But for now, even the smallest robot such as a drone can provide help.


Your New Best Friend: The Landscaping Robot - 03.06.17

Some people love yard maintenance. Others, not so much. For those that aren't a fan, there's good news -- your yard work can now be automated! "Kobi" is an autonomous electric-powered robot that has attachments for shoveling snow, blowing leaves, and cutting grass. 

Once Kobi is shown the parameters of the yard, it is free to roam and do its chores. Several positioning beacons in the yard help it to navigate and avoid barriers such as trees by feeding information about where it is, obstacles, and the height of the ground. Cameras and sensors help it to avoid colliding with people and pets. 

Outfitted with bluetooth and WiFi, you can communicate with Kobi through a mobile app to set times for it to work, as well as manually drive it, if so desired. The robot is battery-powered and will attach itself to a recharging station when the charge is low. 

Kobi conserves energy by doing tasks more often with less power. For example,when Kobi receives a weather report about inclement weather, it starts blowing snow once the snow starts and continually clears the driveway while it's snowing instead of waiting for a large amount of snow to accumulate. For many people, snow shoveling can be hazardous to their health and cause injury or death due to cardiac arrest or falls. Kobi can help prevent those situations. 

Since this is an expensive piece of equipment to leave in your yard, Kobi is also equipped with an anti-theft system. Once it goes beyond property boundaries, it will sound an alarm, send an alert to your phone, and disable itself.

With so many new advances in technology, robotics and automation are becoming more readily accessible to the average population and has the potential to simplify menial tasks and chores, as well as help keep you healthy and safe!


Automation: The Future of Shopping - 02.20.17

E-commerce giant Amazon has revealed their latest concept: Amazon Go. This brick-and-mortar grocery store is fully automated, promising the ideal shopping experience: walk into the store, grab your items off the shelves, confirm your purchase, and leave. Amazon Go is intended to eliminate waiting in lines and to expedite the whole checkout process for a quicker, less stressful experience. Amazon has created technology such as "computer vision, sensor fusion, machine learning, and artificial intelligence", as well as other technologies that are used in self-driving cars, to eliminate human employees. To shop at this grocery store of the future, all you need is an Amazon account, the phone app, and a compatible smartphone.

When customers walk into the store, they tap their smartphones on a sensor turnstile, connecting their personal Amazon account to the Amazon Go app. Surveillance cameras capture the customer's identity, as well as items they pick up and whether they go in their basket or back on the shelf. Microphones help determine where customers are in the store, and pressure sensors on the shelves know whether or not an item is moved. After a customer leaves the store with their groceries, they receive a bill through their Amazon account on their smart phone. Furthermore, Amazon Go is offering customers a truly customized shopping experience. Once the technology learns the customer's purchasing habits, the mobile app can offer relevant coupons, inform them if their milk was soon to expire, or let them know if they were likely to be out of toothpaste based on purchase frequency.

Amazon Go is a big step forward in the future of automated experiences of everyday tasks and will inevitably lead to the widespread adoption of similar technology from larger retailers and transform business models and the customer experience.


Artificial Intelligence and Pizza? - 02.06.17

Artificial intelligence is not typically associated with pizza, but a company in Silicon Valley is changing that, streamlining the process with the help of modern technology. Founded in 2015, Zume is a high-tech pizza company that is providing the first automated, robotic pizza delivery service. Every pie that is ordered is computer-optimized and baked en route to the customer's house so that every pizza delivered is hot and sizzling. In the van, robots use artificial intelligence to do every step involved in the pizza-making process, from accepting orders and dispensing sauce to customizing toppings and placing the pies in the oven to be cooked. The truck holds 56 ovens, and the cook-begin-time is dependent on GPS for each customer's address in order to be prompt and hot. 

Papa Johns, Domino's and Pizza Hut account for 58% of the American pizza delivery market. But a robotic automated kitchen has helped Zume create higher-quality, better-tasting pizza that is more affordable for the consumer. At a comparable price point, Zume has already shaved 10 minutes off Domino's 30-minutes-max delivery promise. The company hopes to reduce delivery time by an additional 5 by the end of the year. With technology such as artificial intelligence, automation, and machine learning becoming more common and important in production, why not apply similar technologies to an on-demand mainstream commodity?


Automation: The New Agricultural Revolution in the Wine Industry - 01.06.17

There are millions of acres of vineyards across the United States, and nothing is more important in the wine industry than a consistent, quality product. In fact, the profitability of the viticulture industry is dependent on the consistent production of high-quality grapes. Vineyard automation helps to increase the quality of wines produced by measuring factors such as vineyard soil, canopy, and crop characteristics, taking into account vineyard variation. Spatial data processing techniques create relationships with the information gathered and evaluate data such as the vineyard yield and fruit quality in order to produce the optimum grapes for the wine.

One of the biggest uses for automation in wine processing is mechanical harvesting. As opposed to hand-picking grapes, this process can be done at night and keeps the fruit cold, resulting in better wine. Sensors in a vineyard also help maintain the quality of grapes. They can measure everything from the amount of photosynthetic energy being absorbed by the vines and the moisture levels in the soil to windspeed and relative humidity. In-ground sensors measure soil moisture, organic matter, and electrical conductivity. An automated irrigation system can supply the perfect amount of fertilizer and water to each individual plant depending on its needs. All of the data from the sensors is collected and sent to viticulturists in real-time on smart phones or tablets so that they can make educated decisions as needed.


Are Self-Driving Cars Here to Stay? - 12.20.16

Ride-hailing app Uber is currently in a pilot program of self-driving cars, making it the first time that autonomous car technology has been so readily available to the public. While in test-mode, each driverless car is staffed by a human engineer who can intervene if necessary. Each car is outfitted with GPS, 3D cameras, and lidar (lasers that assess the distance and shapes of objects around them). These cars have the robotic capability of following standard driving procedures, such as braking safely, accelerating at green lights, passing slow vehicles, and slowing down for pedestrians. As such, autonomous driving on the highway is relatively easy. The problems arise when driving around city streets with traffic, construction, narrow streets, tunnels, and pedestrians. Cities with ample snow, ice, and rain also add to the complexity. It is speculated that it will be another 5-10 years of research and development before fully autonomous vehicles are on the roads, but ultimately, Uber plans to replace a majority of its 1.5 million drivers with these self-driving cars. 


AI + Auto = On-the-Go Convenience - 11.30.16

IBM is joining General Motors in bringing artificial intelligence to automobiles. This technology will make it easier for marketers to offer location-based products and services as you are driving your car. OnStar Go will partner with the OnStar vehicle's platform to deliver personalized content, such as reminding you to get infant formula at the grocery store if you have a new baby at home or offering dining recommendations if you eat out a lot. This cognitive mobility platform will learn your preferences and recognize patterns in your habits. Marketers will then be able to offer personal services and suggestions in order for you to make the most of your time in the car.

It will be an opt-in experience, but research has found that people are willing to exchange information if it will make their lives easier. This technology is the first of its kind in the automobile industry and will be coming to cars starting in 2017.


How the "Speed Factory" Revolutionizes Manufacturing - 11.03.16

German company Adidas is the second largest sportswear group in the world and is known for their clothing and sports equipment. In 2015, Adidas produced 301 million pairs of shoes. However, in order to reach growth targets by 2020, Adidas will need to produce 30 million more pairs annually. For the last 20 years, Adidas shoes have been hand-made in Asia. Starting next year, though, shoes will once again be made in Germany, this time being manufactured by robots, solving the problem of how to achieve growth. This will be done in the “Speed Factory” - a 4600 square meter plant in Ansbach that will automate shoe production.

The Speed Factory is the perfect example of how robots can revolutionize manufacturing. With one production line making shoe soles and one making the upper part of the shoe, the process of producing a pair of running shoes takes less than five hours, as opposed to the same process in Asia taking several weeks.

In this case, automation is not so much about replacing people as it is about speed, allowing shoes to be produced closer to the sales outlets and cutting transportation and storage costs. The current supply chain requires that retailers place orders months in advance, sometimes without much insight into future shoe trends.

There are currently also plans for a second “Speed Factory” in the United States in Atlanta.


The Power of Automation in Package Delivery - 10.24.16

UPS is the world’s largest package delivery company. Their international hub is Worldport in Louisville, Kentucky, less than 2 hours away from 75% of the world's population. When the facility first opened in 1982, 2,000 packages were manually sorted each night. Thanks to automation, UPS's international hub now sorts almost 7,000 packages per minute. Every night, 1.6 million packages are unloaded and loaded again on miles of conveyor belts, headed for their final destinations.

Most of the work at Worldport occurs at night. The small Louisville airport that services about 24 US cities is taken over at night, with more than 100 planes landing from as far away as Germany or Hong Kong.

Automation plays an important role in package delivery. When there are no issues, the only times a human touches each package is when it is unloaded and loaded again. Automation provides a robotic workforce, manually transporting packages around the facility. Once packages are being sorted on conveyors, scanners read each label and automatically tilt them into one of 3,700 bagging locations, organized by zip code. As the facility for next-day deliveries, automation in Worldport ensures packages are properly sorted for their final destination and that they get there in a timely manner.


Automated Cranes at Major Ports - 10.04.16

Singapore is home to the largest container shipment hub in the world, with goods coming in and shipping back out to 600 other ports, including daily shippings to every major port. With 7 terminals operating as one integrated facility and an increasing demand for goods, the port relies heavily on automation.

Automated crane operation controls key parameters such as sway control, ship profiling, collision prevention, truck positioning, optimum path, and stack positioning. In Singapore, 80% of the container transshipment process is automated and untouched by humans. Moving more than 30 containers an hour, they are the fastest terminal in the world.

Crane automation is safer and more efficient than human operators. For example, containers typically have to be brought up to the crane’s maximum height to ensure it clears all stacks, but an automated crane can operate on a precise optimal path on a case by case basis, increasing productivity.

Automation also helps with changes in transshipment. The business itself grows 10% annually, but not only is the number of ships coming into port increasing but the size of the ships themselves is also increasing. They are much wider, deeper, and longer than ships from the 1960s when the container business began. Larger container ships mean shipping companies save money, but harbor operators have to accommodate the changes without impacting productivity. For Singapore, automation is the key to advancing as a manufacturing hub and maintaining their reputation as the largest, fastest, and busiest transshipment hub in the world.


Safety In Automation - 09.11.16

New technology in automation is making physical interaction almost obsolete, which is particularly meaningful when it means improved safety for employees. Factory machines are one of the highest risk zones, with conveyors alone being involved in 30% of all machinery accidents.

Ideally, all plants would be equipped with smart machines, but really, most companies are still working to build safer facilities. Machine operators still engage with machines and semiautomatic equipment on a regular basis.

In each production area of the plant, risk assessment needs to make sure safety standards are met and solutions are tailored for each piece of equipment and the job it performs to ensure employee safety.

There are several ways new technology for machines can do this. Robots and humans working collaboratively results in the most productive and safest facilities, such as laser technology in high-risk zones. Or guard locks can allow an operator to alert a machine that they need to access it so the machine can go into safe mode, while also not impacting productivity. Or instead of an operator shutting down the machine to complete the task, sensor technology scans for humans, and the appropriate machines slow down or stop without completely shutting down and restarting. Improved safety can result in fewer accidents and improve plant efficiency, making better use of energy and productivity.


Fully Self-Driving Cars Within 5 Years - Is It Possible? - 09.01.16

By 2021, Ford Motor hopes to have fully self-driving cars with no pedals or steering wheel. Like Google, Ford feels that it is too difficult to safely switch control from a semi-autonomous car to a human driver in an emergency. As such, Ford is skipping semi-autonomous cars and putting all of their efforts into fully autonomous cars. They are doing this by developing partnerships with startups that specialize in unique advanced technology.

One of Ford’s partners is Velodyne, known for their light-detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors that send out light pulses 360 degrees around the vehicle, gathering data and creating high-definition 3D maps.

Ford also partnered with SAIPS, a company specializing in “deep learning” computer software. Algorithms process images and videos to help vehicles learn and adapt to the environment while driving.

Nuremberg Neuroscience has created technology to help cars improve their vision systems, processing information and visual sides the same way human drivers would but without humans to interpret them.

Civil Maps has developed 3D mapping for fully autonomous cars. Their artificial intelligence software collects 3D information from LiDAR, cameras, and other vehicle sensors and organizes the data into maps that the machine can read. The data is transmitted over cellular networks and crowd-sources, updates, and shares road info in real time.

Combining the advanced technology these startups offer, Ford Motor hopes to have one of the first fully autonomous cars within the next 5 years.


Food Industry - 08.21.16

As society changes, so does the way that consumers purchase things. In the food industry, these changes can impact yield, quality of the product, and the amount of food waste produced.

Compared to past years, households are smaller and require more single-serve or resealable packaging. And now you have some consumers choosing specific foods and brands that fit their lifestyle, such as focusing on health and wellness. Usually, the production lines that are the most profitable are those that run a single product for a long time. The challenge for the production companies lie in being able to quickly respond to changing customer tastes.

Automation, such as with regards to accessible information and advanced controls, can help to maintain flexibility and improve yield. For example, a typical packaging line is manually configured for something as basic as switching from a 12-pack to a 24-pack. Automation can reduce such time-consuming configuration.

Advanced controls such as automated recipe management use the correct ingredients, amounts, cooking temperatures, and times to produce consistent, high-quality products. This eliminates manual changeovers that can take time to reconfigure and may result in wasted product and time.

Society's changing needs and wants mandate production systems that can quickly respond and adjust in order to maintain quality, quantity, and consistency, and automation is the way to stay above the competition.


Toyota and Automation - 07.21.16

Automation plays a big part in the automobile industry, especially with the shift towards self-driving cars. But mobility is not just exclusively for cars. Toyota is currently working on technology reamed from automaking to help people get around inside theirs homes, as well as outside. They believe that if they have the technology for vehicles, why not use it to better society?

One of the new ideas Toyota’s researchers are working on is a stair-climbing wheelchair, where two sets of powered wheels rotate up and over one another so that the user can essentially “walk” up and down the stairs. Another device that Toyota is working on is a wearable GPS for blind people. Using voice commands for navigation, the device uses cameras and GPS technology to direct the blind person where they need to go.

Toyota has the technology for such innovative ideas, and as a “mobility company”, they are exploring the future of mobility and working towards providing a wider range of services.


Overcoming Resistance to Technological Advances - 06.27.16

The manufacturing industry has been steadfast for ages, and with the "don't fix it if it's not broken" mentality, many factories tend to resist new ideas. However, the pace at which market and consumer demands change requires speedier adaption to new technologies. Any new technology for use in the plant requires critical evaluation before use, but dismissing a new method right out just because it is different could be the company's downfall. Manufacturing improvements help companies save money, ensure organizations meet production goals, make sure safety standards are met, and ensure a consistent, quality product, as well as enable the company to better adapt the business in the future. With today's rapid advance of industrial technologies, companies that want to stay ahead of the competition need to accept and incorporate key technological advances into their factories.


Real-Time Robot-Fabricated Building Material - 06.15.16

Robotics and automation aren’t just for factories anymore. The latest technology is a stand-alone robot-fabricated building material that can be created on-site with real-time data. A team from the University of Stuttgart, led by German architect Achim Menges. has spent the past few years working on a new building material inspired by the structure of the elytra, a hard shell that protects beetles’ wings. This filament combines glass and carbon fiber to form an extremely lightweight and incredibly strong substance. By mimicking the properties of the elytra, they hope to develop a building material suitable for architectural structures.

Menges and his team then developed a robotic fabrication process where two Kuka robots wind glass fiber and carbon fiber material into hexagonal cells that make up the structures. The robots are fed real-time data from sensors that monitor structural loads and stresses that the architecture is experiencing at any given moment. The robots use that information to determine the geometry of the hexagonal cell, so each building element is unique. Currently, this robotic technology will be used to build canopies in green urban spaces, but long-term, the hope is to use it on a larger-scale, such as a stadium roof.


Automated Truck Convoys Help Hone Technology - 05.27.16

While the idea of autonomous vehicles is frequently discussed, it could be decades before they truly rule the road. In the meantime, semiautonomous convoys help to hone the technology, while simultaneously cutting fuel consumption and emissions. “Platooning” is a new automated driving technology, where a lead truck dictates speed and direction, while other trucks linked by GPS, Wi-Fi, cameras, and sensors automatically accelerate, steer, and brake in a closely spaced convoy. While drivers are still needed in the convoy, letting the “automated” truck do the work results in less passing, quicker braking, and greater fuel savings, as well as reduces road congestion. Currently in test runs, the convoys consists of two or three trucks traveling together as a unit, but the ultimate plan is for trucks to follow a lead vehicle for anywhere from a few exits to hundreds of miles, with individual vehicles pulling in and out as needed. Honing the technology for semiautonomous trucks in platooning is one of the first steps towards improving automated, driverless vehicles.


Automation in Food Production - 05.15.16

Regulatory demands for food companies to deliver safe products are continuously evolving and have changed substantially in the last decade alone. To help efficiently reduce operating costs and ensure a consistently safe product, food companies have turned to automation and software in their plants. Prepared food producers want uniform, high-quality products that are consistent across plants. In a food processing plant, automation can help at any step of the process, from receiving raw materials to delivering packaged goods. Automation helps to avoid recalls, maintain consistent product taste, and reduce waste. It also helps to reduce labor, increase output, improve yield, and efficiently handle more product SKUS. Ultimately, a fully integrated automation system decreases costs while improving effectiveness, keeping prices low for consumers.


Cyber Security for Manufacturers - 04.27.16

Each company has its own types of information that must be protected; for manufacturers, that valuable data is intellectual property in the form of trade secrets, patents, and designs. The advancements of technology and the Internet of Things are making cyber security an even greater concern for manufacturers. In fact, the number of cyber incidents has increased 20% over the past year, while the time it takes to resolve the issue has increased 33%. Further, over half of manufacturers are not confident in their ability to prevent a cyber-security breach. Booz Allen identified several reasons for this situation including cyber-security gaps between suppliers and vendors throughout the supply chain, limited controls to protect sensitive data, and inconsistent oversight as supply chains expand globally. Further, many manufacturers don’t have a plan in place for when intellectual property is stolen or compromised.


What is Industry 4.0? - 04.12.16

Industry 4.0 refers to the development of the “Smart Factory”, where cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, and the Internet of Services cooperate with each other and humans in real time to add value to manufacturing. McKinsey refers to Industry 4.0 as “the next phase in the digitization of the manufacturing sector”, where trends such as 3D printing, augmented reality, and business intelligence become applicable at scale. A 2015 study from Accenture reveals that Industry 4.0 could add $14.2 trillion to the global economy over the next 15 years. This transition has major implications for manufacturers, as only 48% currently consider themselves to be prepared. Potential challenges include cyber-security, data-management, a lack of industry standards, employee training, and the cost of new technology investments. As PWC says, “If we do not succeed in establishing uniform standards for the exchange of information and data, then Industry 4.0 will fail”, emphasizing the need for manufacturers to be current on the latest technologies.


How Social Media Drives Customer-Centricism - 03.25.16

Social media has become an essential component to any marketing plan, regardless of the industry served. Today’s consumer is more informed and better connected, so organizations must adapt. Now this technology is helping to drive manufacturers toward becoming more customer-centric. Social media is no longer used as a marketing tool where the purpose is simply to promote a company or product. Instead, it has become a vital aspect of the customer interaction and communication with the company. Social media is the easiest way to collect voice-of-customer data and to get a pulse on the customers’ needs and demands. Considering the vast reach of social media platforms, as well as the relatively low resource demand of a social media presence, companies are now able to fully engage with their customers while adding incredible value to the conversation. In fact, data from HIS GlobalSpec shows that 69% of industrial sector professionals follow manufacturing companies on social media, and almost 50% look for a product or industry news on social media.


The Rise and Convergence of the SMAC Stack - 03.12.16

Many manufacturers already use at least one aspect of the SMAC Stack – that is Social, Mobile, (big data) Analytics, and Cloud. Companies can use social media to get product and customer feedback, connect with vendors, and share ideas globally, helping to drive innovation. Mobile technology on the automation floor can help improve productivity by enabling problem-solving on-the-go. Analytics are important for manufacturers to make data-driven decisions, crucial to finding areas for improvement. Lastly, cloud technology leverages mobile capabilities so that employees can easily access and share information. Recently these individual components (along with the Internet of Things) have converged into a single IT concept that is designed to leverage a sustainable data collection approach. The result is a streamlined and targeted overall strategy, which leads to a simplified customer experience while boosting efficiency and adding value to your company’s footprint.


The Importance of Embracing Technological Advances - 02.15.16

The oldest operating mine started in 1354 in Garpenberg, Sweden and has been in continuous operation since. It is also the most technologically-advanced mining operation in the world.

In 1957, the Garpenberg mine was producing 300,000 tons of ore annually. In 2011, $580 million was spent to expand the mine and turn it into the world’s most advanced and integrated mine system. Incorporating mobile and remote technologies to boost safety and productivity, an automated system controls the mine’s drives, hoists, and electricity. With the completion of the project in 2014, ore production increased to 2.2 million tons, and is expected to continue growing annually.

On the surface, benefits of the automated system include decreased energy consumption, decreased water usage, and a reduction in noise level for nearby residents. Business-wise, mine automation has optimized performance, countered rising energy costs, increased safety, and accommodated stricter rules. Automation helps to ensure that a mine as established and steadfast as Garpenberg meets changes over time such as stricter environmental regulations, increased labor costs, and the heightened demand for employee safety.

The automated system controls and collects data from the mine’s 400+ electric motors, 280 variable-speed drives, and 2 hoists that carry both people and ore up and down the 1,200 meter shaft. It integrates critical functions, such as conveyor belts, crushers, water management, and pumping stations. Operators and engineers stationed at 33 different workplaces are all linked to tablet-equipped workers via a communication network. Everyone can access the same data instantly.

Garpenberg mine continues to look for even more ways to automate mining and increase safety and productivity while minimizing environmental impact.


Man vs. Machine or Man and Machine - 01.23.16

People commonly view automation as 'man against machine'. But in modern industry, can man and machine work together to drive a more productive workforce, as well as improve human safety and technology?

Technological advances have benefited manufacturing by providing a safer work environment, reducing manual labor, and increasing reliable production output (just a few examples). Automation also eliminates human errors that result in inefficiencies, production loss, and accidents.

The role that humans play in industry is that they are able to reason and adapt to change better than an automated system. People have the ability to observe, detect a problem, have quick reflexes, and solve a problem creatively in order to save production runs. These abilities highlight important skills that are learned over time and cannot be duplicated in an automated system.

When Man and Machine work together, there is a balance between minimizing human error and maximizing system performance. Automated solutions need to take into consideration this important human component and capture the strengths of both. Moving forward, humans will remain an integral part of the manufacturing process and will continue to be key in successful automation systems. Working best together, a successful factory is best characterized by Man With Machine.


HondaJet's Innovative Light Jet - 01.06.16

Aerospace company Honda Aircraft has spent almost $2 billion over the last 30 years designing an advanced technologically-sound light jet. After more than 3,000 test hours at 70+ locations across the US, the US Federal Aviation Administration has given final approval for the HondaJet. This light weight aircraft is faster, more spacious, and more fuel-efficient than other light jets thanks to its unique design, including engines over the wings and other aerodynamic innovations. Currently, Honda Aircraft's Greensboro, NC factory has a workforce of 1,700 people finishing the first 25 aircraft.


2016 is Set to Be a Pivotal Year in Manufacturing Technology - 12.17.15

The manufacturing industry is showing signs of reinvention in automation, data analysis, and 3D printing. With improved 3D printing techniques, the ability to print new materials, and more affordable printing, it is expected that in 2016, the technology will reach a point where one customized part and one million parts will cost the same to produce. This means more distribution and custom manufacturing.

Robotics has also become more affordable, which means even small manufacturing companies can make use of automation to optimize the manufacturing process. The automation trend will create new jobs in training and maintaining robots, resulting in a new era of innovation and product development.

Because of these developments, the manufacturing industry to going to increasingly rely on data in order to make automation more efficient and streamlined. By 2020, over 30 billion machines will be connected. Harnessing data and making decisions based on this information creates value, such as supply chain visibility and predictive machine maintenance.


Automated Lightweight Vehicle Manufacturing - 12.01.15

Over the past decade, global automakers have been incorporating lightweight materials in their vehicle construction. Car body's typical sheet metal has been replaced with carbon fiber, aluminum, and steel to create lighter weight vehicles that are more fuel efficient. Consumers tend to value a larger vehicle size with comfort and high performance, and a lighter vehicle can better accommodate the extra weight of hybrid and electric vehicle batteries.

Many automotive plants produce a variety of vehicles on one line, and lighter materials can add complexity. The range of materials can require a die change, and the ability to quickly and efficiently adjust the equipment keeps the productivity level up.

Automation solutions are being designed to help automakers achieve the manufacturing flexibility needed to meet consumers' demands by streamlining the processes and creating an easy flow of production. These automation solutions help make a complicated production environment less complex and better equipped to handle change.


Smart Manufacturing - 11.15.15

Smart manufacturing consists of connected machines that talk to each other and change how products are designed, made, shipped, and sold. Not too long ago, every decision was made by humans, based upon limited information that was constantly and manually tweaked to achieve desired results. Now, the manufacturing decisions are shared by humans and machines.

Smart manufacturing is growing. This year, there were almost 5 billion connected "things", a 30% increase from 2015. This number is projected to grow to 25 billion in the next 5 years.

This manufacturing includes:

  • •  Real-time insights that allow proactive decision-making in areas such as production, operation safety, and maintenance
  • • The ability for machines to sync together and keep production volumes level regardless of delays or fast runtimes
  • •  Equipment that automatically adjusts to improve quality, energy use, and safety

Savvy companies that employ automated smart manufacturing have a competitive advantage in terms of production and market share.


Robotics Use and Job Growth - 11.01.15

As robots and automation have become an industrial reality, many are concerned that this means a reduction of certain types of jobs. However, data shows that in the last 10 years, as the number of robot installations grew, American employment increased as well. Since 2010 as the US robotics industry set new records in production, US employment continued to grow, demonstrating that the use of robots parallels employment growth.

There are several key trends that effect how robots are improving the US manufacturing industry without negatively impacting job growth, such as less offshore manufacturing and using automation for dangerous and repetitive tasks. There has also been a greater effort to keep production in the US.

Implementing robotics also allows companies to train employees in new skills that will give them more value and provide them with jobs that cannot be automated, resulting in company growth. Robotics can optimize and speed up production, making the process more efficient and driving an increase in sales, and the employees are freed up to perform more challenging tasks. The shift towards industrial robotics use has also created a need for people capable of installing, maintaining, and operating new automated technologies.

Ultimately, a driving force for robots is exploiting technology and not people (such as with low-cost labor or dangerous tasks), and if a company does not adopt new technology, the chances are their competitors will.


The Future of Machine Design - 10.13.15

When considering the future of automation, there is a need for manufacturers to be more innovative in order to reach maximum profitability. Thanks to globalization, customers have ever-changing perceptions and needs, and consumer demand continues to change at an increasing frequency. This situation means that factories must be able to produce an increasing number of products on the same machines. As such, shorter product life cycles require efficient line changeovers, meaning that machines should have similar price and functionality worldwide so that consumers have global support.

Additionally, manufacturers are phasing out of set infrastructures in plants. Outdated equipment is being replaced, and machine operators who understand how to use older equipment are aging out of the workforce. With new technology and staff worldwide, machines avoid language barriers by having intuitive displays that are text-free and color-coded. Factories that offer system integration services become a single point of contact, being responsible for both the line products and packaging. This results in lower costs, higher performance, and an increase in revenue. Smarter, sustainable automation design allows for changing market demands and a leg up on the competition.


Are Modern Cars Hack-Proof? - 09.19.15

These days, many people look for luxury features in their cars, including automation. However, not many people take into consideration how this is yet one more technology that can get hacked! Cars have essentially become computers on wheels and have the same cyber-security risks as any other technologies. A hacker could potentially take control of your car remotely and manipulate it to behave erratically, such as changing your radio station, blasting your air conditioning, or even turning off your car's engine. The entry point for hacking is the car's WIFI connection, where they can then break into the car's entertainment and navigation system. From there they can go into more critical systems such as the car's transmission. As long as the hackers have a car's IP address, they can access the car from miles away. To date, there has not been a real-world incident of remote hacking, but the possibility exists. Because of this potential threat, a bill has been introduced into Congress to toughen vehicle security and privacy standards. We look forward to these advancements in automation technology.


Agricultural Automation - 08.14.15

High-tech automation is no longer just for factories and cars- it is starting to make an impact in agricultural settings. From robotic tractors that plow fields on their own to aerial drones that monitor crops from above, this high-tech equipment can be a big help on the field.

Large companies such as John Deere are currently working on ways to make new technology more accessible and easier to use for the average farmer. Instead of building bigger, faster, stronger machines, farmers need smarter, easier to use machines that help them save money on each crop.

One of the latest technologies is the LettuceBot—a robot that uses sensors, cameras, and algorithms to make decisions for each plant to increase yield or precisely apply pesticides. Such an advancement ultimately derives more value from the same acre of crops, while using less chemicals and saving money.


MCity: The World's First Urban Lab for Automotive Safety - 08.01.15

MCity is a new 32-acre simulated metropolis at the University of Michigan, with partners that include Ford, Nissan, Honda, and Toyota. It is the world’s first full-scale urban lab that is designed to test the safety and performance of automated and self-driving cars.

Unlike the test tracks that most global automakers use to test vehicles, Mcity simulates the broad range of complexities vehicles encounter in various environments. The site was specifically designed to be challenging: there are highways that have entrance and exit ramps and complex downtown intersections with traffic signs and signals, sidewalks, benches, fake buildings, street lights, and obstacles such as construction barriers. Researchers manipulate the driving conditions in order to test vehicle response in any scenario, such as when a pedestrian walks out from between two vehicles, or when snow covers the road so navigation sensors are useless.

This ability to replicate real-world scenarios in a controlled environment is what makes MCity unique and will be immensely informational in the future of automated cars.


Make Like a Start-Up & Crowd-Source - 07.17.15

GE has started leveraging their consumers to build better appliances. They are the first major company to move from industrially-designed products that sell in chain stores to crowd-sourced products sold on a crowd-funded site. One of their first products is Opal Nugget Ice Maker, "Nugget Ice" being the chewable ice pellets that restaurants such as Sonic use in their drinks. The idea for this innovative product came from GE's online community, FirstBuild, and will be sold for $500 through Indiegogo.

This product will be built in small batches according to volume at FirstBuild's microfactory. Time from concept to production is 4 months, with upfront costs being 20 times less than a traditional product release.

FirstBuild invites members to submit their ideas for new appliances. If the idea garners enough support, a team of engineers and designers make a limited edition run to sell online. If that proves popular, the product will be produced large-scale. GE pays 1% royalties, with half going to the lead inventor and the rest being split among everyone else who contributed. There are currently 6 crowd-sourced products on the market. This could be the future for appliance manufacturing!


The Drive Toward Autonomous Automobiles - 07.03.15

Ford Motor Company is working on bringing driver-assist technologies to all of their cars, with the ultimate goal of developing cars that can drive themselves. In the meantime, however, there is value in technologies that can help drivers park in tight spaces or stay in their lane on the road.

Tech giants such as Apple or Google have been developing their own autonomous cars. In response, Ford has partnered with tech start-ups such as Carbon3D, a company that uses advanced 3D printing to create plastic resin car parts 25 to 100 times faster than standard 3D printing processes. This technology allows them to quickly create automotive-grade prototypes and potentially production parts, resulting in new vehicles reaching consumers sooner rather than later.

Some of the current technologies that are employed in cars are also being improved, such as vehicles equipped with cameras. Ford is introducing a new system that employs 180-degree views in front of and behind the vehicle to enable drivers to see around corners. These are just a couple of examples of automotive technology as building blocks towards the end goal of autonomous cars.


The Case for Additive Manufacturing - 06.12.15

Additive Manufacturing, aka industrial 3D printing, is an exciting technology that is gaining popularity. It is unique because it is "additive" and "grows" parts or products with technologies such as lasers or electronic beams, as opposed to typical machining that "subtracts" materials.

Additive Manufacturing can be applied to any industry, from cranial-plate implants to Victoria's Secret angel wings and will drastically change future business because it is quick and relatively inexpensive. Such innovations can be made anywhere in the world, promoting domestic production and consumption. Because Additive Manufacturing is a build-it-where-you-sell-it technology, products can be created locally as needed, as well as increase product functionality.

Over the past few decades, there has been a push to combine individual components into fewer, more functional parts, which lowers cost and increases quality. With standard machining, shapes could be cut out of blocks of material, saving time and money. Additive Manufacturing, though, creates items in layers and can produce organic shapes with more features and a greater value, as well as optimizes the process for less assembly labor and product weight.

While Additive Manufacturing can produce unique individual items for domestic production, its ability to mass customize has business-profit dimensions, as well, making this technology a logical next step for many industries.


Automated Quality Inspection for Automobiles - 06.02.15

ABMW's motorcycle production facility in Berlin assembles all BMW motorcycles sold worldwide, and is also BMW's oldest manufacturing facility. What makes it unique is the automated quality inspection stations. Here the robot conducts quality inspections of connecting/piston rods that drive the crankshafts of the engines. BMW parts must be at a level of 100%, because even a 99% quality level mean that about 80 parts in a car or about 40 parts in a motorcycle could potentially be problematic.

So what are the most critical factors when it comes to automating a quality inspection process?

  • Accurate reference data for every part and product specifications that need to be met.
  • Tracking whether components pass or fail the quality parameters, and the ability to have this information for real-time overviews or production quality.
  • The ability to control how the material moves through the process and having the automated quality system prevent it from moving further until it either passes inspection or has other actions performed on it first.

The BMW facility currently has the leading edge of automated quality inspection. With such high standards, this seems to be a logical next step in the automobile industry.


The Robotics Revolution: Can Robots Replace Human Factory Workers? - 05.17.15

A recent study from Boston Consulting Group reveals that robots currently perform about 10% of manufacturing tasks, but they will do 25% of US jobs that can be automated by 2025. Two of the main drivers of this trend are that the cost of industrial robots has fallen to about 1/10 of what it was 10 years ago and that robots are becoming more advanced. They can operate in unpredictable environments and be reprogrammed faster than humans can be retrained. These factors allow manufacturers to replace factory workers and lower labor costs by up to 16%. While there will be fewer jobs, the remaining workers will be more skilled and in higher demand, thus earning a higher income. The US automotive industry is expected to be one of the more aggressive adopters of this system. Further, when low wage labor is no longer a requirement, more manufacturing operations could be returning to America.


The Apple Car: Rumor or Reality? - 05.04.15

Rumors have been floating around that Apple may be entering the automobile market and that it will happen within the next 5 – 7 years. Let’s take a quick look at whether there may be any truth in this speculation:

  • In the past, Apple’s growth has been driven by the iPhone, but they have pretty much exhausted this market as industry growth plateaus. The car market, on the other hand, is sizable enough to actually make an impact on Apple’s revenue.
  • Apple has a large budget to spend on R and D and explore new industries. With the auto market generating over $1 trillion in sales annually, it could be the perfect fit for the technology company. Further, Apple has been in talks to acquire Tesla, a leading electric-car maker in the world, and could easily execute a similar business model.
  • Apple’s premium-priced products have historically commanded a disproportionate share of the respective industry, a trend that could reasonably extend to the automobile market. Additionally, the luxury segment of the automobile industry is expected to out-grow the mass-market through 2020, presenting a great opportunity for Apple.
  • Car manufacturing is expected to grow and further develop in China, where Apple currently has close ties and sources a majority of their smart device manufacturing. This situation gives Apple the chance to leverage their relationships and extend manufacturing to automobiles.

Apple has yet to confirm these rumors, but if Apple does enter the market, one thing we know for sure is that they will produce a very technologically advanced car.


Manufacturing Set to Grow in the US in 2015 - 04.16.15

The manufacturing industry in the US is flourishing, as the economy continues to invest in the processes, equipment, and human capital necessary to meet increasing demand. From a global perspective, the United States will outpace Western Europe’s industrial production in 2015 and continue the trend through 2018. Why? Despite global, social, and political issues throughout the Middle East and surrounding areas, there has been little impact on the US economy. The U.S. Industrial Production Annual Average Index was up 4.2% at the beginning of the year and is expected to continue accelerating. This trend can be attributed to a competitive US dollar, lower fuel costs, rising employment, an increase in insourcing, happier consumers, and a healthy American economy. As is evident, the resources are all in place to support a long-term upsurge in manufacturing in the US.


Shifts and Trends in the Automotive Industry - 04.01.15

As the automotive industry grows, it has been undergoing some major changes:

  • Demand is rising, with 72 million cars sold across the globe in 2014 and an anticipated 92 million to be sold in 2025.
  • A shift in manufacturing from mature markets to emerging markets signifies globalization of the industry and buyer-supplier relationships.
  • Though components are still globally sourced, more than 75% of vehicles are now built in the region in which they are sold, indicating a rise in localization.
  • Supply chains have become more complicated as vehicles become increasingly complex. Over the past ten years, the number of components per vehicle has more than doubled, and this trend will continue as consumer expectations for comfort, safety, and fuel efficiency rise.
  • Automotive product lifecycles have decreased from approximately five years to three, thanks in part to a platform production strategy where vehicles are produced in multiple plants around the world rather than one.

Together, these trends signify increasing complexity throughout the supply chain and bigger challenges, as well as greater opportunities to gain competitive advantage.


3D Printing Becoming a Manufacturing Mainstay - 03.20.15

Often viewed as a design and prototyping tool, 3D printing is quickly becoming a regular aspect of manufacturing operations, transforming the traditional manufacturing space. Advances in the technology have enabled more accurate and precise printing, while lower costs have made 3D printing more accessible to manufacturers. The challenge is for companies to identify early on how they can use 3D printing to increase efficiencies and drive value through the supply chain to gain a competitive edge. This trend also has some other implications for manufacturers. With shrinking product lifecycles and increasing demand for customized products, 3D printing allows manufacturers to keep pace with accelerated demand.


Meet the Factory of the Future - 03.05.15

The Internet of Things is changing the face of manufacturing with the highly anticipated Factory of the Future. At the core of this technological advance is machine-to-machine communication and automation of the entire manufacturing process. What does this mean for the industry? Increased efficiency and productivity, better responsiveness, and lower costs could add $10-15 trillion to global GDP by 2035, the equivalent of adding another China or US. In an SCM World-MESA International Survey, 70% of manufacturers indicated that they are currently working towards this factory of the future, further emphasizing the impending technological shift.


Shortage of Talent in the Automotive Supply Chain - 02.15.15

According to recent research from logistics and full-service e-commerce company DHL, the automotive industry is undergoing a crisis in the supply chain. While the product innovation and technology are there, talent is in short supply, and as the automotive sectors continue to grow, as will the resource problem. The research cites five main reasons for this shortage:

  1. 1) Rising Demand – The demand to supply ratio for supply chain professionals is currently 6:1 and could grow as high as 9:1 in the future.
  2. 2) A Growing Demographic Gap – The workforce is aging; 25-33% of supply chain professionals are at or beyond retirement age. By 2025, 60 million Baby Boomers will leave the industry, but only 40 million workers will enter.
  3. 3) Expanding Skillset Requirements – As the supply chain becomes more complex, the breadth of skills required increases and becomes more specialized.
  4. 4) Potential Faculty Shortages – Enrollment in supply chain management, transportation, and logistics courses is declining. The number of faculty members to teach these classes is decreasing as well.
  5. 5) Industry Image Problems – The supply chain industry is often perceived as an unattractive career path. This image is furthered as the industry expands into emerging markets.

“Greening” the Manufacturing Industry - 02.09.15

“Going green” is good for the environment but also manufacturers’ bottom-lines. It can also save manufacturers money by minimizing pollution and waste and increasing savings. One way the industry can be ‘green’ is to create eco-friendly factories that reduce energy consumption, such as through weatherization of the building and upgrading machinery. They can also consider alternative forms of energy, such as wind and solar, to power factories. The importance of these environmentally-friendly initiatives is reinforced by President Obama’s commitment of $6.2 billion to weatherization assistance.


Modular Platforms: A New Generation of Ultra-Efficient Assembly Plants - 01.19.15

Toyota Motor Corp. has announced a new streamlined production strategy called the Toyota New Global Architecture, or TGNA, which will decrease costs by 50%, shorten lead time, and even reduce the size of factories by 25%. The strategy involves a shared-platform plan, which groups vehicles together for production, and demand-responsive lines, which can be shortened or extended in a matter of hours. The ultimate outcome is improved efficiencies and lowered capital investment.


The Consumerization of Manufacturing - 01.07.15

Consumer power has peaked, and manufacturers are feeling the impact across their supply chains. As the need for customization increases, consumer demand becomes more complex. And, with shortening product lifecycles, the pressure is placed on manufacturers to deliver product on time. Fortunately, increasing investment in advanced robotics, 3D printing, cloud computing, and other manufacturing technology lend themselves to more flexible production runs and shorter production times.