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AMT Tech Trends: Automate Retire

Episode 65: Ben and Steve are attending conferences again! Stephen kicks things off with discussing trends in AM for radiation shielding and nuclear components. Benjamin talks about metal forming robots ...
Feb 11, 2022

Episode 65: Ben and Steve are attending conferences again! Stephen kicks things off with discussing trends in AM for radiation shielding and nuclear components. Benjamin talks about metal forming robots. Steve follows with another trend for adaptive robotics in additive repair. Ben closes with a guide to automating existing and legacy manufacturing technology.

For the latest in Manufacturing Technology news https://www.amtonline.org/resources


Benjamin Moses: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the AMT Tech Trends Podcast, where we discuss the latest manufacturing technology research in news. I am Benjamin Moses, the director of technology, and I'm here with?

Stephen LaMarca: Stephen LaMarca, AMTs technology analyst.

Benjamin Moses: Steve, how are you doing on this cold winter day?

Stephen LaMarca: It's actually warm.

Benjamin Moses: It's getting warm.

Stephen LaMarca: It is so much warmer than it's been. It's been cold.

Benjamin Moses: That's true.

Stephen LaMarca: I don't want be a cold weather denier because it has been extremely cold the past few days.

Benjamin Moses: It was 24 degrees when I got out this morning.

Stephen LaMarca: Peter Eman swung by the desk yesterday while he was waiting to talk to Doug. And he was telling me about the weather in Chicago. And it's like, they're regularly used to -15, at this time year. And I'm like okay it's not that cold. 20 is not that bad, I'm going to stop complaining.

Benjamin Moses: In comparison, it's not cold. But for me in isolated, Virginia is cold. Well, partly why it feels cold is because I was there in Orlando two weeks ago, for two things. We had the automation and manufacturing committee meeting that was held at the A3 conference. So at the committee meeting, we talked about quite a few interesting things. So they talk about a balance of technology and business applications. And where they are in the marketplace is they're still seeing strong demand for automation, obviously with the past recent years of issues of human capital and being available and work shortages. I see a lot of demand of people shifting toward automation.

And also there's a lot of market growth across a bunch of different sectors. If you're not relying on SEMICON you can produce as much as you want. And there's significant consumption for that. So they're seeing growth in their automation but they are running into supply chain issues. Obviously everyone's aware of the SEMICON issues but they are running into issues of just getting wire harnesses, getting connectors.

Stephen LaMarca: That's crazy to me. It's not crazy, I mean, it makes sense if you're going to be short on one thing, why not be short for the rest of... It's wild. The prices of both new and used cars are through the roof. And we all thought it was because of Silicon, but I actually have heard that wiring harnesses are tough to get their hands on too. But some companies are really powering through it. For example Toyota says they planned on it but they're lots are still a little thin not that I cruise for new cars that often but amidst this Silicon shortage, I bought a new motorcycle and all of the dealerships that I went to were all like, you're going to have to wait, we have test ride models.

And if you buy one today you're going to get it in six months. But that's okay. Because that's when the weather's going to be nice. But a few other dealerships, like the Japanese motorcycle dealerships that I went to the only bikes on the lot were Kawasaki. And Kawasaki is not exactly a big brand. I mean, I guess they are big. In Japan they're called the heavy industries. I don't know what that means, but Japan loves using that in their titles, their company titles. But Kawasaki's all over dealerships. It's what is normally a motorcycle dealership for multiple brands, they're now exclusively Kawasaki.

Benjamin Moses: That's fascinating.

Stephen LaMarca: Yeah. So I don't know what they're doing differently.

Benjamin Moses: Maybe no ones buying them. Some of the other things we talked about at the committee meeting was the progression of vision technology. We had a presentation on the very first applications of vision and manufacturing and then the progression to what current state of the art. And that was a very interesting look of how far we've come in both packaging of vision systems and the cost. So the first one was a quarter million dollars just to see through a part and they had disparate systems. So even getting a digital image to someone remotely, because they're using x-ray to check the part, they basically had a camera in front of the x-ray monitor and then they fed that camera feed via CCTV to some other station somewhere else.

Stephen LaMarca: Oh wow.

Benjamin Moses: So it's connecting a bunch of analog systems where you can normally just take the feed right off the sensor and take that somewhere else. But now you're forced to use a series of analog systems. So it was a very good look at where we are today and where we have the potential to go in the future.

Stephen LaMarca: I also thought I wasn't there at the A3 meeting, but I saw an article yesterday quoting Jeff Bernstein talking about how robot sales in North America are up to 28%. Well, we're up 28% last year, 2021 over the previous year, 2020. And that caused me to look into the numbers a little bit more. At least a few episodes in the podcast have mentioned how South Korea is an automation superpower. They have four times as many robots per 10,000 people that the US have. The US isn't even in the same league compared to that. But then again, you look at the other numbers, like population, we've got six times their population. And in terms of robot orders, the number of robots purchased we're purchasing the same amount of robots as them annually. And I think that data goes back to 2017. But it is cool to look at.

Benjamin Moses: Yeah. And I mentioned the conference so I sat through a bunch of different sessions through the conference, so was the rest of the week. So they had automation outlook, interesting thing on cybersecurity and industry, which we've been getting into quite a bit. AMT has been writing a lot about. Automation, revolution and digital manufacturing. So not to look at obviously physical automation, but software side of it. And of course an economic outlook. And to be honest Steve one of the best parts about the conference was just being in Orlando in the middle of winter. Was going to ask you what your favorite winter conference was.

Stephen LaMarca: I haven't really been to many conferences in the middle of the winter. But around the winter, late winter, early spring and late fall, early winter, I can't say it's my favorite but the most memorable is probably SpaceCom. There's been a lot of additive research lately and been so for the past several years. But whenever Made In Space comes up, I think back to SpaceCom. Or like when we watch the movie Stowaway and they have a MakerBot right there on camera as if it wasn't product placement. And you heard me rant about how they have an artificial gravitational field on that space station.

And it's like 3D printing works best in Zero-G. But yeah, that makes me think of that. But also one interesting thing space automation, companion robots, not what you're thinking, I'm not talking about those. But like robots that... Astronauts, the small market, the small demographic that is astronauts they can't bring pets to space. And sure they have other human interactions up there. Like you've got colleagues that you have to sit with for like a year straight and you only have two of them and occasionally you get to call Houston or whatever, but you don't get to cozy up next to something warm and cuddly at night.

So there's a lot of, well, not a lot, but there's a surprising amount of automation companies that just make these companion robots for astronauts. They'll make a robot seal that is plushy, but also moves and interacts to your interactions with it. And has I guess a heater built into it. So it's warm to the touch too. And it's cool that there's a whole different world out there literally.

Benjamin Moses: That's fair. It is interesting when you consider the human element of space it's the world's longest working hours that you're up in space because you're working with colleagues, like you said. They were one of the first people to consider remote work when they have to call in back home to Houston and figure things out. So yeah, that's fascinating, but SpaceCom in general has been a very interesting experience to see the shift in Made In Space now there's a lot of need and drive and interest to do a lot more manufacturing in space.

Stephen LaMarca: And as cool as a lot of the companies that we get exposed to and our members are at like IMTS, for example, you don't exactly get to rub elbows with SpaceX or NASA at IMTS. I mean, occasionally they do, but they're not like wearing badges there. They're not wearing flight suits there, they're in normal civilian garb or business garb and you can't tell who's who. But at SpaceCom they do advertise that a little bit. And it's cool.

Benjamin Moses: And I do like the shift-

Stephen LaMarca: In coming home with SpaceX swag.

Benjamin Moses: Space manufacturing. I think SpaceX is launching like one rocket a week or something along those lines. Obviously SpaceX is using a lot more of the reusable rockets, but the manufacturing production needs for space has significantly grown. You've got so many different companies you've got the European agencies there's a lot more demand for manufacturing for space [crosstalk 00:09:58]-

Stephen LaMarca: And the drive for Additive Manufacturing to cut down on components that go into rockets to make them more disposable. Because a rocket is essentially a multimillion dollar, if no hundreds of millions of dollars investment to something that it is essentially disposable. It's thrown away.

Benjamin Moses: Speaking of which let's get into some articles, you've got a good one on Additive.

Stephen LaMarca: So I've got a great one from Additive that... Oh, it's not that great. It's from Hackaday, which is more of a consumer news source, but they reference, and of course I let my computer fall asleep on me. They're talking about 3D printed radiation shields, getting put to the test. And they reference a white paper on the use of what are essentially consumer grade 3D printers that are printing with thermoplastics. Specifically they talk a lot in the white paper and in the article about PLA. And there are a select few hobbyists or people that have small businesses that require... Maybe it's agriculture or farming, or you have a vineyard or what have you, some people have their own weather systems, their own outdoor weather systems instead of relying on a shady weather man that's going to tell you it's going to be sunny all day and it ends up raining.

They can make their own judgment specifically for their area because they have the tech for it. And there's the availability of things like Raspberry Pis that allow you to make your own weather radars effectively. The problem with that stuff is those fragile PCBs and single board computers you don't necessarily want them to get wet if it does rain. You don't want them to be exposed to the elements and even if they're not exposed to the elements, like even if you have perfect conditions, a lot of those fragile computer chips are affected by the sun's radiation. So how effective is printing a simple shield with PLA?

Benjamin Moses: Fair question.

Stephen LaMarca: And PLA does a decent job at protecting radiation however, it does a terrible job at holding up against the elements. And the paper talks about how PLA radiation shields degrade considerably after 30 days and effectively are totally destroyed and are scrap material after 90 days.

Benjamin Moses: 90 days, that's fascinating.

Stephen LaMarca: And PLA is extremely accessible, especially to a consumer with a 3D printer. But they also determined at the end of the article, they concluded that an ideal substitute, and this is all inform that the industry already knows. But they, conclude at the end that an ideal replacement for PLA is ASA. It's chemically the same as ABS plastic, but it doesn't require as high temperatures to use, to print with.

Benjamin Moses: So you can extrude it.

Stephen LaMarca: It's much easier to extrude. I wanted to highlight this because it's a trend right now in terms of Additive Manufacturing parts for radiation protective purposes. And I wanted to link this back to an earlier article from 3D Printing Industry, USNC the Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation totally sounds trustworthy. I mean, they are like, man if this was a video game that company would not be trustworthy with a name like that. USNC licenses ORLN national labs method to 3D print nuclear reactor components. And I touched on this a while ago, weeks ago, and it was in the tech report, but I just wanted to reference this quickly as there is a demand for 3D printing components for radiation. And radioactive exposed components.

Benjamin Moses: Extremely harsh environments.

Stephen LaMarca: Yes.

Benjamin Moses: Yeah. That is a fascinating look. So a lot of it depends on the application, like in this the plastic, the PLA's situation they're using as a shield and the nuclear condition example using a different application. I do like the problem statement and doesn't work. I really like the Hackday article.

Stephen LaMarca: Yeah. And not just like problem statement, testing observations, does it or does it not work and if it doesn't, they even have replacement solution. I don't give Hackaday enough credit.

Benjamin Moses: The article I have is from a fast company and they talk about industrial origami. So for a long time, we've seen articles of Additive getting into automotive. We've seen some of the early examples of wheels being printed, then they started shifting to calibers and Czinger started doing the entire body frame or components of the body being grown.

Stephen LaMarca: Czinger with a Z? With a C.

Benjamin Moses: CZ?

Stephen LaMarca: Yep. Hypercar cost territory, not quite production.

I just want to make sure it wasn't like the Restomod Company Czinger that does 911s.

Benjamin Moses: No completely different Czinger. And then we've seen applications in bicycling and motorcycles. Now we have a startup company that's looking at creating electric scooters by basically just forming material. Now you could say you could use dies and presses to obviously form any type of sheet metal that's been around for a long time, but they're taking a much simpler approach where they're taking basically flat sheet and using brake presses to bend the sheet that you want. Basically very, very simple forming along the same lines as origami. And some of the reasons that they're looking at doing this is for a couple things. One is, they've compared the components counts for an off the shelf scooter, they're on 130 component for a body, for an older design. With this new process or revised process, they're able to drop 70% of that. Now they're down to 15 components for the scooter.

Stephen LaMarca: That's wild for a gas powered scooter?

Benjamin Moses: Correct. So not only are you able to use less number components, obviously you can bring in less material, you start off with the flat sheet I mean, there's bend a and then joining as you go.

Stephen LaMarca: And that reminds me, I'm sorry, quick sidebar there's a lot of attention in eco-friendly, environmentally friendly use of material. It's not meant the material is specifically environmentally friendly, like it's biodegradable but there's a lot of research showing that if the material's good enough and strong enough, you don't need to use as much. And that by default is environmentally friendly.

Benjamin Moses: Yeah. I'll get to that in a second. And so the cost of article is we're creating a strength in the structure that actually makes it possible to have substantially less material and substantially less weight. So to your point, they're able to design it and form it and get the residual stresses in the place that they want, where it's preloading and they don't have to worry about adding more material. And the other benefit is instead of being manufactured in a big factory, where you need large space for forming presses, they're able to go to a smaller manufacture footprint and produce much closer to the end customer. And getting to your point of sustainability, so there's a third party that did a life cycle analysis. So a lot of people are very interested in electric cars because of the low impact once they purchase and use it.

But there's quite a few studies that you should look at the entire life cycle of harvesting batteries in the manufacturing process. The break even point to the carbon footprint of a gas powered car is about 900,000 miles. So if you're going to drive a car for 200,000 miles, you're net positive. But realistically, you're going to turn a car over every 70 to a 100,000 miles you're going to be consistently at equal to the overall carbon footprint of a gas fired car in current manufacturing. So where they are now is that they feel that in their manufacturing process, they are significantly more efficient than producing that good. Right now they're producing electric scooters, but if they are switched to gas powered, they think that the gas power will be significantly less carbon footprint overall because of their shorter manufacturing process.

Stephen LaMarca: I don't know about you that's music to my ears as an enthusiast. Obviously we can't burn Dino juice forever, but, it's good and it sounds even better.

Benjamin Moses: If I was in the scooter market, I would jump on this.

Stephen LaMarca: Yeah. Very cool.

Benjamin Moses: You got an article on Additive machine visions and adaptive robots for Additive?

Stephen LaMarca: Yeah. So Metrology News pulls through once again, and they have an article from February 8th, yesterday, Additive Manufacturing Repair Solution uses advanced machine vision and adaptive software. So this is basically a corporate financial announcement from Optima. They're basically saying how they've just received or they've just filled an order one in a quarter million dollar order for their AM Solution that implements adaptive software, AI powered software and advanced machine vision to more effectively distribute additive material to repair worn components. And this is corporate level, but I have... From 3dprintingindustry.com a supplemental article of this from a few weeks back, German Canadian project set up to automate 3D printing part repair using AI technology. This is very similar. It doesn't have the buzzwords added to it of advanced robot vision systems or adaptive technology.

At least it doesn't use the buzzwords, but it includes the same stuff. This is a collaboration between German and Canadian institutes and companies working for the same goal. They're just doing the research. They're not trying to sell solutions at this point. But it's a fascinating trend and it's really exciting because robots are... Not even speaking about additive yet, but robots are used commonly in automotive production, especially for example, robots using to paint the outer components of a car like the body panels.

And that employs a relatively dumb robot. It's an industrial robot. No humans need to be around it, especially if it's programmed perfectly, which if it's doing mass production, which cars are, especially something like Ford is then it's programmed to do its job perfectly and then it's set it and forget it. The problem with that is it applies the paint and usually that's it. Especially if it's an economy car. If it's a higher level, like luxury brand, it may apply a few layers of paint and then a clear coat to protect said paint, but then it goes to the lot and it's done with it. However, if you're looking at like the super premium, like an English brand car, like an Aston or a Rolls Royce those customers who are spending that crazy amount of money and don't care about dealer premiums because of Silicon shortage they want perfect paint and they're willing to... At least they're willing to pay for it. They might not necessarily want it, but they expect perfect paint.

And to get that perfectly smooth, zero orange peel or swirl marks whatsoever, which you're not going to get swirl marks from the factory, but without orange peel, you're definitely not going to get that from a robot spraying paint on alone. That needs to be buffed by hand and smoothed out by hand, and then maybe a robot can apply a clear coating once it's been polished perfectly by hand. But there's not robots implemented right now to do hand buffing because the components between vehicles and between parts differ. Advanced manufacturing techniques dictate that the parts might not differ that much, but the work holding absolutely will.

And if you have a dumb robot, like an industrial generation one robot with a buffing wheel, you're going to get hot spots and it's going to ruin that body panel after another robot perfectly painted it, near perfectly painted it. So it needs to be done by hand and adaptive robots will take care of this. And that's why the drive for these advanced vision systems and AI controlled robots or adaptive robots can detect these small nuances, not even changes or blemishes, just these nuances between parts and the work holding to hold them in place differs enough that it requires an adaptive touch to it.

That humans have by nature, which is why it's called artificial intelligence, a trained human can do this. This is very similar to that in that it's applying when you're repairing damaged or worn part, like for example, a screw to a large ship or submarine, if it's worn they may wear similarly, especially if it's a well manufactured part. It may wear in a predicted and controlled manner, but if it's damaged, then you absolutely need additive and high tech vision systems so the machine knows when, okay we need to apply a thicker layer here and a thinner layer here, and it needs to vary so you don't have air pockets in the material being printed out.

Benjamin Moses: Explore that a bunch of years ago. So like in aerospace repair is a huge aftermarket industry. And back to sustainability, I'm a big fan of repairing more as opposed to just replacing. So you talk about big screws for boats and things like that you could have a rotating inventory to keep your ship up and running, so you're going to replace it with a new one, but the old one instead of just chucking it, you're just going to repair that and put that in your inventory pool. And being able to streamline the repair process... So like weld repair's been around for a really long time, but that's been done by humans. Because they can see the variation from part to part, even in variation, within the defect itself-

Stephen LaMarca: Manual additive.

Benjamin Moses: Exactly. And they can compensate and either they'll execute entirely and then they'll backfill it. But being able to shift to a more automated process where you don't have to program every single time. So that's the key is getting to cutting material or getting to welding the part soon as possible. So yeah, I think that's a very good article. I'm glad to see we are doing significant more effort on streamline the repair process. The last article I have is automation related. A new guide to automate existing machine tools.

Stephen LaMarca: I love this one.

Benjamin Moses: And it's a good one to talk about, at my old factory, we had equipment that was like 30 years old and this was 20 years ago. So they're probably still around probably 50 years old at this point where physically everything works. They're machines that just keep producing parts as fast as that cell needs to produce.

So the question is how do you automate those type of pieces of equipment? And the article has some very interesting takeaways on getting to improving that process. Obviously they make the case of why would you go want automate? And they talk about not automated machines cut approximately 20% into a full day. And if you look at the entire year, that's about 1700 hours or 8,700 total available annual production hours being used. So if you want to try and improve there automation is one key element. And the article talks about two different paths, software automation, and of course, hardware automation. So the examples we've been talking about are physically connected the part and if you include AI, you're also including some of the software automation where you allow the decision making to be done on the fly, as opposed to programming everything up front.

They give a pretty good guide of how you can optimize workflow and material using software, and then determining spin time using schedule builders and optimizing raw material, tools and being able to keep the machine up and running as much as possible with digital automation. And of course, now that the information and tools are there keeping the tool up and running as much as possible by physical automation and how to best implement those for existing tools. So I would say, it's a good look. And everyone's looking at, if I automate something, do I have to revamp my entire factory? At some point you should be replacing 50 year old equipment, but if you've already... I mean, it's basically-

Stephen LaMarca: [crosstalk 00:27:50] 50 year old equipment. You're crushing it.

Benjamin Moses: Yeah. So the key is how do you grow that business? How do you continue harvesting more value from that aging equipment, which you can, you just want to run more. So it was a good guide and that's a pretty good read from Cutting Tool Engineering.

Stephen LaMarca: I really like Cutting Tool Engineering because I don't want to call this a remedial article, but every now and then they come out with a simple article, that gets you up to speed into a high level, like current state, relatively quickly with minimal amount of text and in an easy explanation, this is a bad example. I don't have an example offhand, but I've posted articles from them that was like, what are cutting tools? Or what is CNC? Something like that. But they really are fascinating reads. And this one, when it came across my desk yesterday, I loved it because I've only been in this industry for like six plus years now.

But if I had a nickel for every time I was at a conference and somebody asked either a speaker or during a networking session, how do I get started with industry 4.0? Especially that comes up a lot in the MTConnect, working group or not working group, but whenever MTConnect is discussed at a conference how do I get started with industry 4.0? I had a nickel for every time somebody asks that.

Benjamin Moses: That's a lot nickel.

Stephen LaMarca: Which this article effectively answers. I'd be retired by now.

Benjamin Moses: Yeah. We had a tangible prepping talk about retirement. All right. Steve, besides finding us in a retirement home in a couple years, where else can they find more info about us?

Stephen LaMarca: Amtonline.org/resources. We've got a lot more content there now. We've got the AMT Magazine. Other things they can subscribe to, but especially the podcast and the weekly tech report.

Benjamin Moses: Awesome. Steve. Thanks everyone.

Stephen LaMarca: Bye everybody.

Benjamin Moses: Bye.

Benjamin Moses
Director, Technology
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