A discussion about accelerating industrial robotic workcells

July 22, 2020
The partners tout a paradigm shift in the way robotic applications are programmed and deployed.

Realtime Robotics recently announced a strategic partnership with Siemens Digital Industries' software division to simplify robot programming and workcell coordination by automating motion programming. 

According to the partner companies, multi-robot workcells currently require prohibitive amounts of calendar and engineering time in the simulation phase prior to going to production. Once deployed, they are inflexible, requiring significant re-programming for every modification, which makes multi-robot workcells cost-prohibitive for all but the most stable high-volume manufacturing processes.

“Our combined solution provides manufacturers with the flexibility and efficiency they have been clamoring for to expand the deployment of industrial automation,” said Peter Howard, CEO, Realtime Robotics. “Together we will accelerate the pace of automation.”

“Our partnership with Realtime Robotics reflects a paradigm shift in the way robotic applications are programmed and deployed,” said Zvi Feuer, senior vice president of manufacturing engineering software with Siemens Digital Industries. “Together we have created a unique value proposition that will open up a world of possibilities for robotic automation.”

We wanted to learn more, so we chatted with Zvi and Peter about the state of robots. Take a look…

Smart Industry: Where are we at with robotics in the industrial/manufacturing space? How is the pandemic changing adoption of robotics here?

Zvi: During the last few years we have seen a growing penetration of robots into new manufacturing domains; robots performing product assembly, robots assisting humans, robots for machine tending, robots for material handling, sorting, packaging, and so on. This growth was accompanied by some changes in the environment on the production floor, like training of people and establishing a new kind of profession—the Robotic Expert—and led to a significant increase in productivity. During the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen some conflicting situations—in some cases, robots on the production floor help maintain social distancing—yet in other cases, because of the challenges of social distancing, we see a slowdown in implementation of new systems. Many customers are telling us, “If we had done this work before the pandemic, our production throughput would not have been affected by it.”

Peter: The pandemic has really put some fire behind the desire to expand automation, across the board, but particularly in the retail-fulfillment industry, which has struggled to keep up with the rapid pivot to e-commerce. We are seeing evidence of this new push through upticks in activity with the key system integrators. The automotive and electronics industries, which are the traditional consumers of robotic technology, have also started to come back from plant closures with a renewed focus on innovation, with an eye toward accelerating the adoption of new robotics technologies.

Smart Industry: How big of a deterrent is time-to-deploy regarding robotics? 

Zvi: When we talk about time-to-deploy, we must look at the breakdown of the whole process and take a good look at each of the steps. In some cases, new autonomous or smart-robot programming solutions can help us in reducing time-to-value, time-to-quality and time-to-first-time-right. Nevertheless, there are steps in the process that will stay more or less the same—since it is still very critical to develop an accurate digital twin of the production system and the environment (the cell, station, line, the tooling, conveyer, etc.); it is still critical (in most cases) to run the automated program generation process in the virtual world (the digital twin of the manufacturing process) on the digital twin of the production system—to make sure we have a clean and efficient robotic process—and right after, run the real production system.

The use of solutions like the one from Realtime Robotics can potentially cut the overall robotic-planning cycle time by about 50%, which is quite a lot. The benefits can be achieved faster even in the case of just two robots—yet they will grow significantly for cells with multiple robots.

Peter: Time is an important factor, as it ties up physical and financial resources increasing cost. Underlying that time is also labor-intensive work being done by highly skilled, scarce and expensive specialists. The time we can save customers in our joint offerings with Siemens will be part of tipping the ROI scales to enable new projects to look attractive. The technology underpinning our joint offering also encompasses an elegant way of automatically and instantaneously creating and releasing reservations for common space in multi-robot systems. This is far more effective than traditional interference zones, enabling run-time efficiency improvements that will also tip the ROI scales further toward additional deployments.

Smart Industry: What does new capability with adapting robots on the shop floor enable manufacturers to accomplish now?

Zvi: Among others, manufacturing-as-a-service, very small lot sizes (almost to lot size of one), flexibility, rapid deployment and changeover of robotics cells and deployment of robotics into new domains.

Peter: By reducing the programming cost to handle variants to almost nothing, and being able to switch between them instantly on the fly, lot sizes of one become not just possible, but economically feasible.

Smart Industry: What excites you about the near future of robotics?

Zvi: As a believer in the role of Industry in the reduction of economic inequality and poverty, I claim that the western world—specifically USA, Canada, France, Italy and other countries—has sent out their manufacturing industries to other countries looking for low-cost production and low-cost labor. While doing so over the past 20 years, the western world lost a lot of jobs, IP and manufacturing-related knowledge. Yet, with the arrival of new autonomous and smart-robotics solutions and other digital-manufacturing software-lifecycle solutions, we can restart industry and manufacturing in the western world. By utilizing more and more digitalization, robotics and automation, we can reduce the overall cost of manufacturing, even in locations where the labor cost is higher. With this we can bring back jobs and knowledge to the west, while creating new jobs, new products and new innovations.

Peter: There are many reasons to believe that we are nearing a tipping point where robotics can help automate ever larger swaths of the one billion or so global jobs that fewer and fewer young people anywhere are willing to do. I believe this will fuel the continued transition away from dehumanizing repetitive work, toward work with greater flexibility, creativity and individuality. This trend has been gaining momentum since civilization first enabled a small portion of the population to rise above subsistence activities millennia ago. In spite of persistent beliefs that there is some part of the human population that is just not suited, year after year, century after century, smaller proportions of us “toil” for a living, and more of us find roles with greater scope, freedom and autonomy. I am as excited about playing a role in accelerating this, as I was to support healthcare professionals create life saving devices earlier in my career.