INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: Robotics Drive the Factory of the Future

Each generation will define how it interprets the term Robotics. I happen to fall at the tail end of Gen X and grew up with an understanding that robotics were simply for automating mundane tasks and the most exciting and truly useful applications were closer to sci-fi than reality.

These days, the reality is that some of the most practical and exciting developments in robotics have and are taking place in manufacturing. Yes, these tools of the trade are used to automate mundane tasks, reduce labor costs, and accelerate throughput. What most people do not know is what is fueling these advancements. It is technology driven, more on the virtual/software side than on the mechanical. This is the grounding of internet of things (IoT).

Manufacturing is an extremely savvy business that focuses on metrics such as Return on Investment (ROI), Return on Investment Capital (ROIC), and relationships between top and bottom line growth like no other. Mix this focus on financial metrics with mechanical intuition and then layer on some technology and now you have the factory of the future.

Follow the digital thread at Proto Labs (click to enlarge).

IoT and factory of the future are built on the concept of the digital thread (see graphic above). It is the electronic path and communication medium that is the backbone of state-of-the-art facilities. Let’s begin with an example we are all familiar with. The garage door opener is an awesome tool—when it’s raining you don’t have to get out of the car to close the door. But if your kids leave after you do, you have to ask yourself if they shut the door. Thanks to IoT, I can now get on my smartphone and verify that they closed the door at 7:10 a.m., in time to catch the school bus.

Now let’s bring this to robotics in a factory. End-of-arm tooling supporting post-secondary operations in an injection molding cell may pick a part, pass it to a laser scanner for physical inspection, and then place it into a pad printing fixture. This operation is quite simple and had been around for years, but today you have the ability to track each activity remotely, receive feedback, and collect data on performance.

Many companies that are focusing their efforts on the technology side of these improvements to their factories are in need of more custom real parts than ever before. This technology is driving the need for unique parts that can be 3D printed or machined.  Proto Labs is a leader in digital manufacturing and a crucial supplier for unique parts to support this growing business sector.

See how digital manufacturing is changing the industry in our recent Journal cover story. Read here.

Webinar: How to Design Efficient Parts for Rapid CNC Machining

Join us for a live webinar on rapid CNC machining. The presentation, hosted by our technical specialist Tony Holtz, will share how to design quality, machined parts.

During the webinar, you will learn how to:

  • Reduce manufacturing costs by simplifying part design
  • Select materials to improve part functionality
  • Design with moldability in mind to better prepare for injection molding

In addition to general design considerations, we’ll discuss how to leverage rapid manufacturing processes for accelerated product development.

TITLE: Designing for CNC Machining
PRESENTER: Tony Holtz, Technical Specialist at Proto Labs
DATE: Thursday, December 1 at 1 p.m. CST
RSVP: Click here to sign up

If you can’t attend the live event, you can still register to receive an on-demand recording afterward. And, if you have any colleagues that may interested, please feel free to forward this invite.

Proto Labs Receives Tekne Award for Advanced Manufacturing

Vicki Holt, Proto Labs CEO, accepts the Tekne Award for Advanced Manufacturing.

Each year, the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) brings together the Minnesota technology community for the Tekne Awards. The awards highlight advancements in science and technology in Minnesota—ranging from innovations in cyber security to agriculture.

Last night, we were honored to take home a Tekne Award for the Advanced Manufacturing category. The nomination was based on our technology-enabled manufacturing that accelerates product development and provides a low-volume, on-demand solution for production parts.

Other notable winners include:

We are proud to have been nominated alongside other innovative manufacturing companies like Ecolab and Uponor. And, we are truly grateful to be a part of the thriving tech community in the Twin Cities. Here’s to another year of innovation!

Security Device with GPS Tracking Wins Cool Idea! Award

Product designers at Sleeping Beauty, a German-based company developing an internet of things security device, are the latest recipients of the Proto Labs Cool Idea! Award.

After having his automobile stolen, Jakob Lipps, co-founder of Sleeping Beauty, went searching for a solution to make sure it never happens again. Unable to find a solution, Jakob and his co-founder began developing it on their own. This led to the creation of a compact security device now known as Sleeping Beauty.

Photo courtesy: Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty uses GSM and GPS technology to track the location of valuable possessions anywhere within cellular network coverage. Thanks to the “Prince Charming” processor (ARM Cortex M0+) inside Sleeping Beauty, the standby time is unprecedented. Sleeping Beauty will sleep undisturbed for up to one year and report its location and remaining battery life at regular intervals via the smartphone app. In Sleep Mode, “Prince Charming” needs only 270 nanoampere. If the device detects movement, it will wake up and send location data to its owner’s smartphone.

“In a market cluttered with complex gadgets, Sleeping Beauty is an elegant solution for a variety of common problems,” said Proto Labs founder Larry Lukis. “Its simple and intuitive design makes it well-suited to succeed in the consumer marketplace. We are excited to support them as they bring the device into production.”

HAVE AN INNOVATIVE PRODUCT DESIGN? APPLY FOR THE COOL IDEA! AWARD TODAY!

3 Ways to Improve Operations with On-Demand Production

On-demand production of parts not only accelerates time to market, but reduces total cost of ownership since it eliminates the large capital expenses of traditional injection molding. Here are three ways on-demand production reduces your design risk, accelerates your product’s time to market, and saves you money along the way.

1. Bridge Tooling
Once you’ve finalized your product design, there’s often a gap between the end of product development and production. Leveraging rapid injection molding with cost effective, aluminum tooling can help you get to revenue more quickly while you wait for your production manufacturer to finalize steel tooling.

2. Supply Chain Emergencies
On-demand manufacturing provides a reliable alternative if global shipping delays or other disruptions in your supply chain arise—minimizing any potential loss of revenue. Further, products with high demand volatility can be more easily managed with on-demand manufacturing.

3. Low-Volume Production Runs
Before committing to large-volume production runs, validate your product design with low-volumes. Pilot runs can aid in testing assembly processes or gauging market demand. And, on-demand production is an economically viable solution for products with relatively low sales volumes—typically in the few thousands or hundreds of units.

Click to enlarge the on-demand manufacturing infographic:

The Short List is a regular compilation of quick tips, trends, and timely topics of interest.