Alliance for robotics in manufacturing will improve innovation, industry growth

The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) institute was created to empower American workers, create and sustain new jobs, and lower the barriers for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) along with new large companies to adopt robotics technologies.


In January 2017, the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute was formed to help prepare the next generation of workers with the skills needed for the fourth industrial revolution. Boosted by $253 million in public and private funding, ARM is the first nationwide initiative of its kind to bring together leadership and expertise from academia, research, industry, government, and nonprofits in a collaborative effort to help revitalize American manufacturing. 

ARM has a four-pronged mission:

  • Empower American workers to compete with low-wage workers abroad
  • Create and sustain new jobs to secure U.S. national prosperity
  • Lower the technical, operational and economic barriers for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as well as large companies, to adopt robotics technologies
  • Assert U.S. leadership in advanced manufacturing.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) will invest $80 million in the program over a five-year period. The additional $173 million will come from over 225 partner stakeholders.

The DOD's list of ARM partners reads like a Who's Who of robotics and automation. The consortium includes suppliers, integrators and large multinational end users of robots; universities and community colleges; STEM, workforce and industry advocacy groups; and state and local government agencies. The Robotic Industries Association (RIA) and many of its members are consortium partners.

"RIA is excited about the opportunity to partner with the ARM Institute," said Bob Doyle, director of communications at the Robotic Industries Association. "We're looking forward to working with the institute and our RIA membership to strengthen U.S. manufacturing and support the robotics industry's continued success."

ARM is the 14th institute in the Manufacturing USA network, a program in which industry, academia, and government co-invest in the development of manufacturing technologies critical to future competitiveness. The other manufacturing innovation institutes focus on smart sensors, photonics, hybrid electronics, 3-D printing, biopharma, advanced composites, and revolutionary fibers and textiles, among other initiatives.

Nationwide collaboration for robotic manufacturing

The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) institute was created to empower American workers, create and sustain new jobs, and lower the barriers for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) along with new large companies to adopt robotics technologieThe key to ARM, and the other manufacturing innovation hubs, is collaboration. Shared expertise and resources across public-private sectors and across industries has the potential to achieve much more, and at an accelerated pace, than individual organizations can do alone. The large multinationals bring experience and vast resources, while academia and startups come with fresh new ideas that challenge conventional thinking and spark technological innovation. Connecting industry with education and local governments will help bolster the current and future workforce for the changing employment landscape in the age of automation.

Advocates from all over the country with knowledge of the unique challenges and opportunities in their regions will come together to work towards a common goal. The possibilities are tremendous for an unprecedented alliance of this magnitude, and this for an industry that has already pushed the boundaries time and again.

ARM's main hub is located in Pittsburgh, amidst a thriving robotics cluster bustling around Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Beyond ARM's nationwide reach, two other factors are integral to the initiative.

"For the first time we have a concerted effort to make robots more versatile, easier to deploy and redeploy, and more cost-effective," said Howard Choset, CMU Robotics Institute professor and the new chief technology officer at the ARM Institute. He notes that the program also emphasizes collaborative robotics, where people work hand in hand with robots.

This last point is important because it stresses the symbiotic relationship between humans and robots. Each complements, not substitutes, the other. Robots will perform the repetitive, programmable or easily learned tasks, freeing up humans to perform more value-added contributions that require creativity, problem solving and critical thinking.

In turn, we advance the capabilities of robots and their enabling technologies, e.g., sensors, software, end-of-arm tooling, AI, cloud computing. Robots get better at what they do. Humans get better at what we do. The cycle loops, always pushing us to raise our game.

Automate or evaporate

ARM will work to democratize manufacturing, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. Choset says the goal is to make automation and robotics more accessible to SMEs. While he and a team were writing the proposal, they spent nine days traveling around the country surveying industry.

"We learned from small companies what they want. They want automation. Their phrase was 'automate or evaporate.' They understand that if they want to compete effectively on a global scale, they have to adopt robotics."

In the 1980s we heard a similar battle cry from then General Electric executive James Baker, addressing rising competitive threats from East Asia for manufacturing dominance. "Automate, emigrate or evaporate," he said, meaning that American manufacturers must either adopt automation, move production overseas, or succumb to certain demise.

As global wages rise, we are learning that offshoring is not a long-term solution. The new reality is much simpler. Automate or evaporate.

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