Roundtable on robotics: More, smarter robots

Advice on robotics: Where should robotics be used? How are collaborative robotics progressing? What’s the value proposition for robotics? And how is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) affecting the future of robotics? Get some answers from Concept Systems Inc., a system integrator with expertise in robotics, and a 2016 System Integrator of the Year.


Michael Lindley is the vice president of business development and marketing at Concept Systems. Courtesy: Concept SystemsConcept Systems Inc., a CFE Media 2016 System Integrator of the Year, participated in a robotics panel discussion at the Global Automation and Manufacturing Summit at IMTS 2016. Robotic answers follow from Michael Lindley, vice president, business development Concept Systems, who augmented his replies from the summit.

CFE Media: Where should robotics be used and why?

Lindley: The areas that companies should first select for consideration are those where workers are required to do repetitive, dirty, or dangerous tasks. These tasks are often the easiest to replicate with a robot and/or provide a high value by removing workers from hazardous environments; grinding and painting are examples of jobs that fit this criterion. Not all manufacturing tasks are suited for robotic automation because of the complexity of the task or production volume isn't great enough to create necessary savings. We advise clients to use a return on investment (ROI) analysis and consider all contributing factors: increased throughput, reduction in rework, labor savings, and work safety. Material handling, dispensing, painting, and assembly are common areas for robotic automation.

CFE Media: Will there be more collaborative robotics used?

Lindley: Definitely. The applications for collaborative robotics will continue to expand in coming years. Robots will become more aware of their surroundings as technologies used for feedback and vision continue to advance. We will also see a continued trend towards programming collaborative robots through fast teaching methods and simple operator control. The leaders in industrial robotics: ABB, Fanuc, and Kuka each have their own variation of what collaboration looks like. The current range of robot options spans from dual-arm capabilities, ABB YuMi, to handling payloads up to 35kg (Fanuc CR-35i). Based on the level of interest and investment in collaborative robots I think this category will rapidly grow.

CFE Media: Is the value proposition for robotics changing?

Lindley: I don't think it is changing as much as becoming a lot more attainable. Companies are seeing 2- to 3-year returns on their investments because of competitive pricing and easier integration. The added bonus of a robot investment is that the platform will often last 10 to 15 years, allowing it to be repurposed perhaps several times. Another advantage is that by using area scanners or collaborative solutions, robots can be integrated almost anywhere on a production floor.

CFE Media: Is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) affecting robotics?

Lindley: Many of our clients are asking questions about how they can upgrade their process control platforms and prepare themselves for IIoT. They see the benefit in production visibility, real-time reporting, and interconnectivity but are grappling with how to keep data secure while opening their manufacturing environments to cloud data. As companies work to develop their enterprisewide IIoT strategies, they can presently take advantage of investing in robots and machine solutions that are capable of preventative maintenance and condition-monitoring functionality. These abilities reduce costly unplanned downtime events and keep operators informed via real-time reporting. We encourage clients to look for opportunities to incorporate IIoT readiness into their retrofits and new capital investments.

CFE Media: How's the future for robotics?

Lindley: Based on what leading technologists are predicting, we should expect to see exponential growth in industrial robotics. Robots will continue to be smarter, faster, and more agile making them applicable for a wider range of applications. Robots will also become mobile, whether moving on guided rails or mounted atop of automated guided vehicles. These culminating factors will create significant cost savings and efficiencies for manufacturers.

Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

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