Automate 2023 took place in Detroit in May, and it brought with it a lot of trends—things that will be in full force in 2024. How nice it is to get a sneak peek of what will be happening next year, and we will share what we learned. Some of the biggest trends were:
The continuing growth of robotics. This is no surprise to anyone. Manufacturing leaders are finding robots and cobots to be very helpful, work any shift, they can lift and place things without the risk of injury, and getting easier to implement. Particularly in the cobot world, the programming is becoming improved and much easier. Some vendors are even retrofitting traditional robots to be more like cobots, only bigger and stronger (KUKA is one, www.kuka.com/en-us).
And now…they’re mobile. Somewhere between robots and automatic guided vehicles (AGVs, those warehouse denizens that crept along wires embedded in the floor and moved things) lie AMRs—autonomous mobile robots. These moving worker bee robots are well-behaved co-workers; they can tell if a human is nearby, or if some obstruction is in their intended path. They can handle loads of hundreds or even thousands of pounds. (A boost from ROEQ’s carts, lifters and rollers that fit atop an AMR can help load and offload, plus double the weight capacity of the AMR, www.roeq.dk.) Some of the AMR firms include KUKA, Agilox (www.agilox.net), ForwardX (www.forwardx.com), Mobile Industrial Robots (or MiR, www.mobile-industrial-robots.com), and Stäubli (https://www.staubli.com/us/en/robotics.html), to name only a few.
For the autonomous mobile robot owner on your list. I believe AMRs will begin replacing AGVs immediately. They are too autonomous and flexible to do otherwise. For those who are planning to move to AMRs (even those who do not currently have AGVs), there is a subject that is not discussed much, and that is charging. How do you line up a bunch of these helpful mobile units to charge them? If they are all in the same area, that creates a burden on the electricity provision, unless you have a bunch of service at a collection spot. Wireless to the rescue! Via Wi-Fi, you can charge your mobile robots easily. A metal plate on the robot and one on the wall or on a stand (or even buried in the floor, which is a great idea) and a Wi-Fi link between the plates, and you have a charging system just like Nikola Tesla intended. Think of the wireless cradle some people have for their phones, and you’ve got the idea (although this is on a grander scale, of course). Two of the vendors I met with (and was impressed by) are Wiferion (https://www.wiferion.com/en/) and Conductix (www.conductix.us).
Programming for non-programmers. This trend goes way beyond manufacturing automation but is finding an enthusiastic market here. We are seeing it among the machine tool vendors, but it’s happening in robotics too. It is a multi-year trend and it is changing the face of programming machines to do what we want them to do. FANUC (www.fanucamerica.com, particularly the welding offering which we also covered as an Under the Hood story at https://fifthwavemfg.com/welding-with-the-fanuc-crx-10ia-under-the-hood/), OnRobot, particularly its new D:PLOY software, which covers a lot of ground (www.onrobot.com/en, also on our YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fm3gsSLhIN0), and Universal Robots (www.universal-robots.com, its ActiNav software is now part of its operating system, we looked at it separately in our Under the Hood story at https://fifthwavemfg.com/universal-robots-actinav-with-the-ur5e-cobot-under-the-hood/).
Expect to see more content about the things we unearthed at the Automate 2023 event.