Ford, Ekso team up for ‘bionic’ auto workers

Ford, Ekso team up for ‘bionic’ auto workers

Nov 15, 2017

By Nick Carey, Rueters The U.S. automaker said on Thursday that workers at two U.S. factories are testing upper-body exoskeletons developed by Richmond, California-based Ekso Bionics Holdings Inc (EKSO.O), which are designed to reduce injuries and increase productivity. The four EksoVests were paid for by the United Auto Workers union, which represents hourly workers at Ford, and the automaker plans tests for the exoskeleton in other regions including Europe and South America. The cost of the exoskeletons, which were developed as part of a partnership between Ford and Ekso, was undisclosed. The lightweight vest supports workers while they perform overhead tasks, providing lift assistance of up to 15 pounds (6.8 kg) per arm through a mechanical actuator that uses torque to take the stress off a worker’s shoulders. If you try one on, if feels like an empty backpack, but it enables you to hold a weight such as a heavy wrench straight out in front of you indefinitely and without strain. Ekso began by developing exoskeletons for the military and medical fields, but branched out in manufacturing and construction in 2013. Paul “Woody” Collins, 51, a worker at Ford’s Wayne plant, has been at the automaker for 23 years and has worn an EksoVest since May. He attaches bolts and parts to the undersides of Ford Focus and C-Max models, raising his hands above his head around 1 million times a year. Since wearing the vest, he has stopped having to put ice and heat on his neck three or four days a week and finds he has energy after work instead of feeling exhausted. Russ Angold, Ekso’s chief technology officer, said the aim is to get workers used to the technology before moving eventually into “powered” exoskeletons that “will help with lift and carry” work. “The idea is to demonstrate this isn’t science fiction, it’s real and it has real value,” Angold said on Thursday. “As we prove its value, we will be able to expand into other tasks.” The No. 2 U.S. automaker has been studying for years how to lower its workers’ injury rates and the exoskeleton venture is the latest step in that process. From 2005 to 2016, Ford...

Robots With More Common Senses

Robots With More Common Senses

Sep 25, 2017

By ThomasNet The ability for a mechanical device to understand tactile sensations and process reactions accordingly has long been a goal of medical researchers. Recently, a team from the University of Houston was able to realize this goal with the use of a stretchable material that can be used with robotic hands to sense the difference between hot and cold water, as well as other sensations. The new material is being referred to as an artificial skin with stretchable electronics. In addition to more lifelike prosthetics, the team led by mechanical engineering professor Cunjiang Yu feels their new advancement could serve a number of biomedical applications. And outside of the medical field, this new stretchable electronic skin could be used for creating wearable electronics and human-machine interfaces (HMIs). The key was creating a rubber composite semiconductor that would allow the electronic components to continue working even as the material was stretched over the robotic appendage. Traditionally, semiconductors are brittle, making their use in flexible environments challenging without complex mechanical support. In addition to gauging temperature, the rubber semiconductor allowed the new “skin” to understand computer signals sent to the hand, and translate them via American Sign Language. The skin is comprised of a silicon-based polymer called polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). The composition of PDMS was crucial for accurately placing and holding numerous nanowires. These nanowires transport the electric current used to generate the robotic hand’s ability to feel and...

Reshoring Initiative: Automation is Not the Bad Guy

Reshoring Initiative: Automation is Not the Bad Guy

Jun 22, 2017

By Anna Wells, Industrial Equipment News Automation has long carried the blame for the outflow of jobs from the manufacturing sector, but the Reshoring Initiative says that it is actually key to job growth in the U.S. The Reshoring Initiative is reporting that, for the first time in decades, more manufacturing jobs are returning to the United States than are going offshore. According to a recent press release promoting the Reshoring Initiative’s 2016 Reshoring Report, the combined reshoring and foreign direct investment (FDI) trends grew by over 10 percent in 2016, adding 77,000 jobs and exceeding the rate of offshoring by about 27,000 jobs. “The 2016 results bring the total number of manufacturing jobs brought back from offshore to more than 338,000 since the manufacturing employment low of February 2010,” said the release, adding that there are still “huge opportunities and challenges to bringing back all the 3 to 4 million manufacturing jobs cumulatively lost to offshoring.” Secretly, I’ve always wondered if these kinds of stats were a little overhyped – playing into our desires to latch on to a feel-good story with a positive trajectory. But when the Reshoring Initiative takes a deeper dive into the “whys” of reshoring, they make a pretty compelling case that is clearly resonating. Some of the reasons they cite for the ramp-up include things like proximity to customers, government incentives, skilled workforce availability and “ecosystem synergies,” which I take to mean that intangible of culture that drives so many successful businesses. Transportation equipment remained the strongest industry, accounting for nearly 40 percent of total jobs returned, and plastics/rubber and furniture saw the largest increases in industry ranking. Preliminary 2017 data trends are looking to be at least as good as 2016, but it certainly begs the question as to how we can sustain this activity over time. The Reshoring Initiative believes that government plays a big role, but also, in a recent e-newsletter, has pointed to an unlikely champion: automation. For years, automation has been carrying the blame, rightfully or not, for the outflow of jobs from the manufacturing sector. But the Reshoring Initiative takes a different tact, going so far as to say that automation is...

What role will robotics and 3D printing play in the future…

What role will robotics and 3D printing play in the future…

Jun 15, 2017

“What role will robotics and 3D printing play in the future of manufacturing?” By Nell Walker, Manufacturing Global Digitalisation is taking over the manufacturing world, forcing traditional fossil-fuelled methods out of the way and improving the flexibility of processes globally. IIoT and Industry 4.0 are a looming presence spurring businesses to adopt advanced automation solutions in order to hasten production, lower manufacturing costs, and remain competitive. Top Technologies in Advanced Manufacturing and Automation, 2017 is part of business consultancy Frost & Sullivan’s TechVision Growth Partnership Service program. The study covers the technologies of robotic exoskeletons, metal 3D printing, computer integrated manufacturing, nano 3D printing, collaborative industrial robots, friction stir welding/solid state joining, magnetic levitation (Maglev), composite 3D printing, roll-to-roll manufacturing and agile robots. These are expected to have the most impact across a variety of market segments, including automotive, healthcare, consumer electronics, aerospace and transportation. “Developments in 3D printing materials, metal inks, printing techniques and equipment design are driving the global uptake of metal 3D printing,” said Frost & Sullivan TechVision Research Analyst Ranjana Lakshmi Venkatesh Kumar. “R&D can enhance metal 3D printers’ ability to print high-strength, lightweight prototypes and parts at low costs, making these printers highly relevant in the aerospace and automotive sectors.” The robotics market has also experienced huge advancements recently, and collaborative robots have the highest impact. “Collaborative robots are gaining traction due to their ability to work alongside humans, ensure worker safety and integrate with existing environments,” noted Frost & Sullivan TechVision Research Analyst Varun Babu. “R&D efforts to improve the level of interactivity and customization will bolster the adoption rates of collaborative robots, particularly in automotive, aerospace, logistics and warehousing, healthcare, and consumer electronics industries.” Robotic exoskeletons and agile robots are also important developments of note. The former is a wearable device that can increase strength and mobility of the wearer, and the latter are small robots which offer superior agility, efficiency, and uptime. Overall, with greater government support and deeper convergence, advanced manufacturing and automation solutions will surely be the cornerstones of Industry...

Massive Industrial Robots Vulnerable To Being Hacked

Massive Industrial Robots Vulnerable To Being Hacked

May 11, 2017

By Meagan Parrish, Manufacturing.net Imagine what you could do if you controlled the 220-pound arm of an industrial robot. That’s exactly what researchers set out to do in an experiment that revealed security vulnerabilities in robots that manufacture everything from phones to cars. Conducted by the security firm Trend Micro and Politecnico di Milano, an Italian technical university, the researchers spent over a year finding different ways to hack industrial robots connected to the internet. The robots in the study were made by five of the industry’s biggest manufacturers: ABB, Mitsubishi, Fanuc, Yaskawa and Kawasaki. Ultimately, the researchers found multiple inroads into the robots’ operating systems. In one case they were able to reconfigure a robot’s programming to make it draw a line two millimeters off from the intended target. That change might seem miniscule — unless you consider how it could dramatically alter the safety of a car or an airplane. “If these robots are welding a car chassis together or a wing on an airplane, two millimeters can be catastrophic,” Mark Nunnikhoven, the vice president of cloud research at Trend Micro, said. What’s more, if a hacker was able to physically access the robot or get onto the same local network, they could rewrite the device’s firmware. This would allow the hacker to wield the robot even though it would appear as though the operator was in control. Sound a little frightening? In the study, the hackers imagine a scenario where the robot arm bends backward and destroys itself. An even more gruesome possibility: a compromised robot that appears to be functioning normally could trick an employee into entering its cage and cause physical harm. “The operator thinks it is safe to walk or stand near the robot even if in that very moment, an attacker is controlling its movements,” the report read. After the researchers contacted ABB — the main subject of the study — about the security issues, the company responded by sending out fixes for all of the bugs. “Testing is a critical process to stay ahead of new cyber security threats,” the company said in a statement. “The results [of the Trend Micro tests] emphasize the importance of using...