The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) 2018 Outlook Survey confirms that finding skilled workers remains a top challenge for manufacturing executives. A skills gap study from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute – NAM’s social impact arm – projects more than half of the 4.6 million manufacturing jobs created throughout the next decade will go unfilled. The NAM study attributed this projection to the impending retirement of Baby Boomers, widespread misperceptions of manufacturing jobs among younger workers, and shifting skill sets mandated by advanced technologies.
Automation, computers, and robots are the latest manufacturing tools to require specialized training and knowledge. Demand for new skills shows that industrial revolutions and the Fourth Industrial Revolution will not be different. Computerization may have defined the last revolution, but Industry 4.0 technologies blur the line between human, computer, and machine. Collaborative robot (cobot) technology illustrates modern manufacturing, combining a robot’s physical abilities and digital control systems to safely collaborate with people.
Automating a process can allow the manufacturer to increase capacity and accept larger orders than in the past. Cobots take over dirty, dangerous, or repetitive jobs, improving product quality and enhancing productivity and yield. In exchange for lower payload capacities compared to traditional robots, cobots offer manufacturers several advantages:
- Designed to work right next to people, no safety fences – cobots don’t require disruptive redesigns of the plant floor. Many designs can be deployed 50% faster than industrial robots and often have lower installation costs than the annual new employee wage.
- Simple human machine interfaces (HMI) – The advances in artificial intelligence algorithms allow them to learn on the job. Often, a worker can reprogram a cobot by putting its arm through the desired motions; the cobot remembers the instruction and repeats it independently, without the need for new code. Eliminating formal education in programming or robotics shrinks the skills gap and learning curve. This also reduces the time, effort, and cost of re-tasking a cobot for temporary tasks or burst production during busy seasons.
- Return on investment (ROI) – Speeding deployment out and enabling minimally trained workers to use the technology allow cobot payback to be measured in weeks or months. Cobots multiply the value of an enterprise’s human assets, freeing workers to tackle higher productivity processes and acquire new skills for the modern manufacturing age. As Deloitte states in its “2018 Global Human Capital Trends” report, many organizations continue to seek ways to transform their business by rethinking work architecture, retraining workers, and leveraging technology toward human-machine pairing.
“The future wave is going to be robot human collaboration, working side by side,” Campbell says. “One of the advantages of our cobots is you can solve 80% of the problem and let the skilled operators handle the other 20%. Still a benefit. Still a good payback. Still a sound investment. We are helping manufacturing companies look at their processes differently. The old way to look at automation was all or nothing; automating part of the process was not acceptable. We are helping to change that.”
Aitech Group joins Boeing’s MQ-25 Industry Team
Aitech Defense Systems will supply key mission interface systems for Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aerial refueling program.
Aitech is providing Boeing with an advanced, customized remote I/O interface controller based on the commercial- off-the-shelf (COTS) Ai-RIO remote interface product.
The MQ-25, the U.S. Navy’s first operational carrier-based unmanned aircraft, provides refueling capability. The contract supports Boeing’s engineering and manufacturing development program to provide four MQ-25 aircraft to the U.S. Navy for Initial Operational Capability by 2024.
Load sensing by light
Fiber optic sensing uses optical fibers to measure forces in real-time, in difficult environments, without electronics.
The technology provides an instant overview of equipment performance – measuring parameters including load, speed, and temperature – opening new opportunities for closed-loop process control. Engineers can prevent unfavorable running conditions, misalignment, or wear before they lead to costly shutdowns.
The technology uses light rather than electricity for safe measurements in hazardous environments. The absence of electronics makes the sensors safe in electromagnetic fields, and fibers transmit light without disturbances at long distance (kilometers), allowing remote monitoring where wireless technology cannot be used.