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A3 Robot Industry Podcast – 6 Takeaways for Manufactures

Kel Guerin was a recent guest on The Robot Industry Podcast hosted by Jim Beretta. The Robot Industry Podcast is dedicated to advanced manufacturing capital equipment and the robotics and automation industry. 

In this podcast, Jim and Kel discuss why Kel founded READY Robotics, the key problems READY is solving, and how our customers have had success using our products.

Here are some key takeaways from the podcast:

Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand and they’re starving for automation, but automation is very difficult, and that’s something that READY is solving. 

How do you make automation, specifically robotic automation, easier? One of the case studies that we have is a company called Alicat Scientific. They make a wide variety of components, but they critically make components for ventilators. Because of a surge in demand for ventilators in early 2020, they had several processes that could not keep up with the demand. Alicat had to produce huge quantities of these components for ventilators, and with READY’s technology, they could unbox a robot system powered by Forge/OS, program it in a couple of days by themselves, and were up and running lights out production in just over a week. 

So in just 10 days, Alicat had the robot running overnight, with no one there at the factory, by themselves. They could get a return on investment of that robotic hardware in 30 days. The reason they had that success was because, as opposed to the traditional way of buying a robot, sending your people out for extensive training, or you have to bring in an outside integrator, all of which takes a huge amount of time, they could do it themselves. 

The transformative part of our technology for manufacturers is that their own workers now can work with robotic systems, even if they don’t have a background in automation. They don’t have to be an engineer or computer scientist. They can just take all the experience that they have and add robotics as another tool on their belt. And that’s something they can do rapidly

Why Forge/OS being robot agnostic matters.

The robotics industry today looks very much like the PC industry in the early eighties. A lot of different computers all running their own operating system. You had to learn to use the specifics of whichever one you wanted, and robots today are exactly the same. Each robot has its own operating system and own programming language. And if you want to switch from one robot to another, you have to relearn everything. You have to take more training and pay more money, and it just becomes a massive barrier because different robot companies provide different hardware, and as a customer, you want that choice. You want to be able to use any robot, whichever is the best from the standpoint of performance or cost, whether it’s a fast non-collaborative robot or a collaborative robot where you can work next to it without a cage. All of those different considerations are important, but right now you’re sort of tied into a single brand because it’s so much effort to learn that brand.

Manufacturers also want the ability to pick and choose different robots for different markets. If you’re building in the United States, you might have one brand of robot. If you have a factory in Asia, it may make more sense to have a more local brand of robot that is less expensive.  They don’t have that ability to choose right now. Manufacturers are locked into a single robot brand because they’ve invested a lot of money in learning and training their people on that brand. So with our software and technology, they’re unlocked; they now have the freedom to pick whichever robot they want. They can deploy it however they want, and they all have the same interface because it all runs that same software.

The lack of robot programmers in manufacturing today.

There are only about 30,000 robot programmers in the US today, so about one per every 10 factories in the United States, which is a paltry number. We’re thinking about what the future is going to look like in 20 years when there are 500,000 people or a million people instead of 30,000 people who can program robots. What interface do they need in order for it to be accessible to them?  It can’t be something that’s difficult to use. It has to be something that’s easy to use.

What we’re saying is anybody can use a robot, and a robot should be a much more widely available tool as a byproduct. And then we’re enabling that with our software.  The result of easy-to-use software is that robot companies could sell 10 to a hundred times more robots than they are selling now in the next 20 years. It will be absurd that we’re only selling around 400,000 robots a year, it’ll be millions of millions of robots a year, just like we’re selling billions of computers a year today. That’s the transformative power of usability, because as soon everyone will view a robot as a tool. Although we’re looking at manufacturing now, in the future, you’re talking about robots in your home, you’re talking about coffee shops, you’re talking about pizzerias, all of those places where robots might be used. They’re not there right now because they are such a heavy lift in terms of usability.

We discuss how our most talented people often spend 90% of their time doing dull, dirty or dangerous work rather than the super valuable tasks.

So at a manufacturer, you’ll have a machine tending task where a machinist, who probably has 30 years of experience, is a wizard at setting up this machine to make a component. They spend roughly 10% of their time setting up that machine, doing that super valuable task. The other 90% of their time is spent putting pieces of metal into the machine and taking them out. They’re not spending their time doing what they’re good at, what they like doing, or what they’re valuable at, instead spending their time doing this drudgery task. The ability that we have with our software to democratize robot programming means that this worker with all of that domain specific knowledge, is able to learn how to use a robot in a day, and install that robot in a couple of days, or a week, as we saw with Alicat. We have a lot of examples of this exact situation, where you had a machinist who learned how to use a robot and ended up programming the robot themselves to do the machine tending. Instead of doing pick and place, they’re off being valuable a much higher percentage of their time. They’re running five machines instead of one, and they’re spending the majority of their time setting up these machines to hold incredible precision. That’s massively more valuable than them spending most of their time slinging pieces of metal

What kinds of companies are using READY’s Forge/OS.

READY works with a wide variety of customers, everything from smaller entities, like Alicat Scientific, all the way up to large, billion dollar corporations. The reason is because they all need automation and they all see the value of automation. Now different size companies have different needs. A smaller company might have a much more urgent need where they need to install a robot right now, that was the case with Alicat Scientific, and our technology enables that because it’s so accessible. For the larger corporations, the easy-to-use cross platform, cross-brand technology really allows them to think differently about automation because they’ve had to make strategic decisions around a single robot brand because they want as few platforms as possible. They want all of their people to know one programming language, one robot language, so that they can move people from different facilities and they have that flexibility.

How READY is addressing the educational component of advanced manufacturing.

READY Academy is an online educational platform that is designed to teach you how to use an industrial robot to do real tasks. And when we say you, we mean, anyone. You don’t have to have any familiarity with robotics. You don’t need to be an engineer. When you go to any other educational course for a robotic system, you’re going to spend between two and six weeks learning how to use the robot, to learn the basics of how to make the robot move. You’re not going to learn about automation. You’re not going to learn how to actually get value out of that device.

With our course, you learn how to move and use the robot in a day. The rest of the course actually is not about the robot, it’s about how to use the robot in production, and do all of the other things necessary for a valuable robot production cell. How do you hold parts with the robot? Where do the parts come from? What device do you have that provides parts for the robot? How do you interact with the machine? Where do the parts go when they’re done? All of these questions are things that have to be solved in addition to programming the robot. The programming makes the robot go between all of these different devices, but the usability of our software means we can create an educational platform that focuses less on the robot and more on how you create value with the robot.

During our course, while delivering the educational content, we have different robots that we play with. So some of the courses are done with a FANUC, some of them are done with a Yaskawa, some of them are done with a non-collaborative robot, some with a collaborative robot. We don’t differentiate because it doesn’t matter which robot we are using because the software is the same. You’re using a robot. You’re going to learn about the device in general. Since you’re using that same, easy-to-use software to program any of those robots, you now can have experience with a lot of different robotic systems. The online course material is really designed to prepare you for actually deploying robots into a real production setting. For our first course we chose to focus on machine tending because this is something robots are extremely good at.

We also have a huge amount of other content that is designed to teach you about other things that robots are typically used for as well. That’s really the differentiator, being able to go to an online course where you can learn about these different types of applications. It’s all about, frankly, how to use the robot to make money. Rather than just learning how to move a robot around, which doesn’t solve anything, you have to have all of the other knowledge at your fingertips to get the robot to do the thing you need it to do. You learn to make a robot creating value for you or your organization. We are really excited about that, because it really allows anyone to log on online and learn about industrial robots in a very real way, and how to create value with them.