A new vision for U. S. manufacturing is emerging to strengthen U. S. competitiveness in the face of global trends that are driving manufacturers towards dramatically greater responsiveness and innovation in their enterprises. This vision proposes development of fully-integrated, collaborative manufacturing systems which respond in real time to meet changing demands and conditions in the factory, in the supply network, and in meeting customer needs. Because of their inherent flexibility and reusability, robotic systems are an essential part of achieving this vision. To succeed, robotic systems need to be highly-capable, perceptive, dexterous, mobile systems that can operate safely in collaboration with humans or other robots, are easily tasked and retasked, and can be integrated into the rest of the enterprise seamlessly and quickly. This program will provide the measurement science needed to enable manufacturers to characterize and understand the performance of robotics systems within their enterprises. NIST will deliver performance metrics, information models, test methods and protocols to assess and assure the key attributes of robotic systems necessary to enable this new dynamic production vision.
Program and Strategic Goal:
Robotic Systems for Smart Manufacturing / Smart Manufacturing, Construction, and Cyber-Physical Systems
To develop and deploy advances in measurement science that enhance U. S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by improving robotic system performance, collaboration, agility, and ease of integration into the enterprise to achieve dynamic production for assembly-centric manufacturing.
What is the problem?
Advanced Manufacturing plays a critical role in the global economy, contributing disproportionately to U. S. innovation, competitiveness, employment, trade balances, and even national security.1 Emerging trends, including globalization, and more demanding consumer expectations, have put pressure on the Nation’s manufacturers. Recent analyses2,3,4 recommend a rethinking of the manufacturing process to efficiently respond to the accelerating product and technology lifecycles through dynamic production systems and rapid design-to-product transformation. One pillar in the new approach to manufacturing is a dynamic production system, a fully-integrated, collaborative manufacturing system which responds in real time to meet changing demands and conditions in the factory, in the supply network, and in meeting customer needs. In particular, industries that entail high-value, high innovation products and technologies (such as electronics, medical devices, aerospace, and automotive) are rich targets for this program due to their needs for greater flexible automation in assembly operations.5 Because of their tremendous flexibility coupled with high-precision and repeatability, robotic systems are a disruptive technology essential to achieving a new vision of manufacturing that is smart.6 “Improved productivity in the increasingly competitive international environment” is one of 3 key factors driving the adoption of robots cited in a the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) Roadmap for U.S. Robotics7 – a key document guiding OSTP views on robotics R&D.
The President’s Framework for Revitalizing American Manufacturing recognizes the importance of “developing advanced robotics technologies that allow the U.S. to retain manufacturing and respond rapidly to new products and changes in consumer demand”.8 The PCAST report on Ensuring American Leadership on Advanced Manufacturing called out robotics as an “important technology area for advanced manufacturing.”9 The CCC Robotics Roadmap notes that “Robotics is a key transformative technology that can revolutionize manufacturing… the promise of flexible automation and automation for mass customization has not been realized except for special cases…. Robots [need] to be smarter, more flexible, and able to operate safely in less structured environments shared with human workers.” The same report also highlights the need for a measurement science infrastructure to help transition research into products and reduce the risk of adopting new robotic technologies.
Why is it hard to solve?
Although robots have been used in factories for decades, they are not yet able to meet the challenges posed by implementing dynamic production systems for smart manufacturing. As noted in the CCC Robotics Roadmap, “the promise of flexible automation and automation for mass customization has not been realized except for special cases…. Robots [need] to be smarter, more flexible, and able to operate safely in less structured environments shared with human workers.”
Robots currently still rely on customized fixtures and grippers for handling parts and performing their tasks. They are not very easily programmed to perform a new task nor are they able to deal with uncertainty in their surroundings. They are in their infancy with respect to collaborating with humans and other robots. Robot systems lack the interface standards to be readily integrated into the rest of the manufacturing enterprise. Current robot designs are ill-suited for most assembly operations, often counteracting typical design-for-assembly approaches by necessitating custom grippers, special self-centering and retaining features to hold parts in place while being assembled, and other specialized considerations.10
How is it solved today, and by whom?
Robots deployed on factory floors today require teams of specialists who have in-depth expertise for installing (the robots as well as the safety systems), calibrating, and programming them to perform the manufacturing tasks. Typically, this setup takes weeks and costs a multiple of the purchase price of the robot itself. Robots are utilized only in certain manufacturing operations and only by a subset of manufacturing enterprises. Most experts estimate that only about 10% of the U. S. companies that could benefit from robots have installed any and that small and medium-companies stand to gain the most benefit if able to utilize robots.11
The opportunities for using robotics to accelerate innovation and spur economic growth are recognized internationally. Investments in robotics research, including for manufacturing applications, has been very significant in Asia and Europe.12 Korea has been investing $100M per year for 10 years into robotics research and education as part of their 21st Century Frontier Program. The European Commission has been investing $600M into robotics and cognitive systems as part of the 7th Framework Programme. In the Horizon 2020 program, that investment will be supplemented by another $900M for manufacturing and robotics. Japan is investing $350M over the next 10 years in humanoid robotics, service robotics, and intelligent environments.
This program supports the EL mission of promoting U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness in areas of critical national priority by anticipating and meeting the measurement science and standards needs for technology-intensive manufacturing, construction, and cyber-physical systems in ways that enhance economic prosperity and improve the quality of life. The program supports the EL core competencies in intelligent system and smart manufacturing. Public sector involvement is necessary to overcome the initial barrier of developing the measurement science to support advancements in robotic capabilities, since the benefits will accrue broadly. EL is uniquely positioned to leverage its strong ties to industry stakeholders, academia, and standards organizations and its dedicated measurement science facilities, and build upon its sterling reputation for developing measurement science for robotic systems in manufacturing as well as response applications.
What is the new technical idea?
The fundamental idea is to focus on the measurement science needed to ensure that robotic systems can be confidently applied to smart manufacturing assembly-centric operations. Four principal facets of robotic capabilities will be investigated, while taking a holistic approach in having a unified set of testbeds and assembly-centric scenarios developed jointly with industry.
First, the overall robotic system performance must be assessed and assured. This entails being able to characterize the performance of the foundational constituent capabilities of the robotic system – perception, mobility, dexterity, and safety – and being able to compose these into an overall system performance model that provides manufacturers with currently-missing data to reduce the risk of adopting this key disruptive technology.
Robots must function as trusted co-workers, alongside humans, as well as being able to collaborate with other robots to accomplish tasks. This facet is lacking test methods, protocols, and information models to assess and assure the collaborative performance whilst achieving assembly performance objectives.
Wider use of robotics in manufacturing, especially within assembly, is hindered by their lack of agility, their lengthy changeover times for new tasks and new products, and their limited reusability. This program will provide manufacturers with an integrated agility assessment framework so that they can evaluate how well a robotic system will be able to function within their application environment.
The fourth facet focuses on integration and interoperation and will address the obstacles to easily integrating robotic assembly systems within manufacturing facilities. Models of the underlying information required to automate the composition and integration of complex robotic assembly systems, along with a suite of tools to foster interoperability will address the existing incompatibility between robots and the next generation of perception, mobility, and manipulation technologies needed to achieve automated assembly.
Why can we succeed now?
The manufacturing and robotics industries are at a cusp right now. The growing recognition of the importance of automation to strengthening and accelerating U. S. manufacturing, along with the flourishing of new robotics capabilities and models, sets the stage for this program to succeed. There is a new sense of urgency among end users – including small and medium enterprises – who are anxious to reap the benefits of flexible agile robots. Complementary to this industry pull, there are a number of technological advancements in grasping, arms, sensors, safety, and software that hold great promise for enabling robots to be much more capable, collaborative, agile, and easily integrated into manufacturing enterprises.13 This is the optimal time for NIST to contribute the measurement science to ensure that these new technologies address industry’s needs.
What is the research plan?
The research plan is aligned with the four facets identified in the new technical idea section. The four facets (system performance, collaboration, agility, and ease of integration) are addressed by four corresponding research thrusts, which will share the Program’s testbeds and jointly work with industry to define relevant scenarios to drive the research.
1The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Capturing Domestic Competitive Advantage in Advanced Manufacturing, Report to the President, July 2012.
2The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Ensuring American Leadership in Manufacturing, Report to the President, June 2011.
3Manyika, J., et al., Manufacturing the Future: The Next Era of Global Growth and Innovation, McKinsey Global Institute, November 2012. 4Executive Office of the President National Science and Technology Council, A National Strategic Plan for Advanced Manufacturing, February 2012.
5Manyika, J., et al., Manufacturing the Future: The Next Era of Global Growth and Innovation, McKinsey Global Institute, November 2012. 6Smart Manufacturing systems are self-aware and predictive with the ability to make decisions for diagnosis, prognosis, and optimizing system performance
7A Roadmap for U.S. Robotics: From Internet to Robotics, (NSF-funded), updated in 2013, http://www.us-robotics.us/
8A Framework for Revitalizing American Manufacturing, Executive Office of the President, December 2009, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/20091216-maunfacturing-framework.pdf 9Report to the President on Ensuring American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing, PCAST Report, June 2011, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast-advanced-manufacturing-june2011.pdf
10Strategic Business Insights, Robotics Technology Map, September 2012.
11Casey Nobile, Robotics Business Review Perspectives 2013: Outlook for Next-Gen, New-Gen Industrial Co-Worker Robotics, 2013.
12A Roadmap for U.S. Robotics: From Internet to Robotics, (NSF-funded), updated in 2013, http://www.us-robotics.us/
13Casey Nobile, Robotics Business Review Perspectives 2013: Outlook for Next-Gen, New-Gen Industrial Co-Worker Robotics
Start Date:October 1, 2013
Lead Organizational Unit:el
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Elena Messina, Program Manager
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