Manufacturing Value Chain

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Industrial inspections, regardless of the reason for inspection, can be a very dirty and dangerous job. While not necessarily dull, industrial inspections definitely cover 2 of the 3 D's of robotics deployment (dull, dirty, and dangerous). Industrial inspections can range from inspecting operational assets and operational facilities to inspecting defunct facilities during the de-commissioning process or evaluating the health and risk of non-operational holding tanks. There is no shortage of reasons to conduct industrial inspections, and there is a big business emerging for robotics to be leveraged in the inspection process.


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Commercial service robots are robots that perform some useful task, with the exception of those robots operating within the realm of industrial automation or those considered consumer robots. This basically means that any robot that is not involved in industrial automation or for strictly consumer purposes are commercial service robots. This category includes robots that operate within logistics operations, hospitals, in the retail store, providing security services, and even delivering your takeout orders. There is a massive opportunity for commercial service robots to take on tasks that enable people to spend time doing other things that humans excel at, while stepping away from the dull, dirty, or dangerous tasks.


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Mobile robots in the fulfillment processes is something that many organizations are looking at as a way to drive up productivity and efficiency while at the same time helping to manage cost and mitigate labor related risks. Such robots are taking on a variety of shapes, sizes, and capabilities, as different vendors build out their vision of the best robot for warehouse operations in the hopes capturing position in a rapidly growing market. The thing in this market is, not all fulfillment operations have the same set of requirements and therefore it is important that there be a wide variety of options for companies considering robots in the fulfillment process to choose from.


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Robotic Technology Goes Beyond Automation

By John Santagate

Automation is a clearly a top reason for companies looking into the use of robotic technology within their business processes. However, it is important to realize that, while many robots are designed for automating tasks, there are others that are designed to augment human capabilities rather than automate tasks. We tend to think of robots as either robotic arms or autonomous mobile robots operating autonomously in business settings. Such devices often focus on improving productivity and efficiency in business operations. On the other hand, there are several elements of robotic technology that are focused on improving human safety or giving humans increased strength, stamina, or precision. This post will take a look at a few examples of how robotic technology is enhancing human operators rather than automating tasks.


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AI Enabling Intelligent Robotic Picking

By John Santagate

The evolution of robotic technology is, in part, a function of the related technology ecosystem and the rapidly improving capabilities of the technology areas that are being built into robots. One of the most influential technology areas that is helping to deliver modern intelligent robotics is Artificial Intelligence (AI). In this sense, I am considering Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Cognitive Computing, and such under the umbrella of AI. AI is not just about technology that can think for itself, in fact, AI is more a function of a robust set of inputs and outputs that allows a machine to make intelligent decisions based on a deep data base of existing knowledge, coupled with the ability to continuously add to that data set and respond to its environment in real time. In January, IDC spent time visiting with Kindred.ai, RightHand Robotics, and Nvidia to discuss the role that AI plays in the evolution of modern commercial service robotics. One particular use case, which was the focal point of several of these conversations, is the use of robotics for picking and handling eaches within the fulfillment process.


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Robots and the related technology is such a hot market right now. IDC projects the market for robotics and related technology and services to reach over $207 billion by 2021, a CAGR of 22% from 2016-2021. The bright future of this market is not going unnoticed by the venture capital community that has continued to inject cash into this growing market.


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The market for robotics is rapidly growing, which is leading to the emergence, and subsequent maturity, of mobile service robots across a broad range of industries, applications, and use cases. Mobile service robots are gaining ground in areas such as manufacturing, logistics and distribution, hospitality, healthcare, retail, and more. As the market for these robots continues to evolve and these devices are being used in new ways, it becomes important to take a look at what it means to be an autonomous mobile service robot and evaluate the differences relative to the term “autonomous and mobile.”


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As the market for robotics continues to grow, innovators are capitalizing on this growth by developing components, in this case an end effector, that help to give robots a boost in terms of their capabilities. It is such innovations that are capturing the attention of the VC and private equity communities, where 2016 saw an increase of over 100% in the value of investements to robotics related companies reaching over $1.8 billion and 3x increase in the number of deals. The money that is flowing into the robotics market is certainly helping to fuel innovations, such as the RightPick, that are making robotics a viable technology in a broader range of industries and use cases.


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The Human Touch in Smart Manufacturing

By John Santagate

Smart manufacturing, industrie 4.0, and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) have been the focus of manufacturing initiatives lately. A big part of these ideas is to "connect" the manufacturing process through the use of sensors and connected equipment. With smart manufacturing, it is all about leveraging these connections to deliver a more granular level of understanding about the manufacturing process through data capture and analytics of the manufacturing equipment. But what about the processes that are conducted by human hands? As much as manufacturers continue to automate the manufacturing process through robotics and automation equipment, many environments and processes still require a human physically putting something together or physically doing something. Traditionally, these processes would be "disconnected" and managed largely through paper. To address the challenges associated with managing, analyzing, and optimizing such processes, a start-up out of Somerville Massachusetts has developed a technology that augments the human operator to deliver digital transformation of the human element of manufacturing.


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10 Predictions for Worldwide Supply Chain

By John Santagate

Over the next decade, IDC expects that a majority of manufacturing industry growth will accrue to those companies that engage successfully with their consumers. The number will vary by industry, with those companies that are inherently consumer facing seeing a much larger percentage of growth being tied to consumer engagement and those that are not seeing less growth. But in all cases, the ability to be "relevant" to consumers will be critically important to the majority of manufacturing segments. This does not mean new business models necessarily, though there will be many such examples, but it does mean transforming the business from one focusing on products and customers (retailers, resellers, etc.) to one also focusing on consumers.


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