Another year, another show. After four days at the Advanced Manufacturing Expo in Anaheim, Calif., it is time to go back to the real world. I say this because the show is primarily a look into the future, an indicator of what is to come for next year and the trends that potentially may dominate the market.
Last year I remember there being a large showcase of 3D printing. There were several booths that were displaying their unique printers and showcasing the materials they could manipulate. It is hard to forget the booth that showcased clothes and shoes produced by 3D printing. The only experience I had at the time regarding 3D-printed parts were the designs for production prototyping. However, this year the 3D printing companies on display were minimal with only the more well-known companies, like Stratsys, having a large presence at the show.
This year, in my opinion, was dominated by automation and robotics. Many of the booths had robots of all shapes and sizes. FANUC and their line of robots created an impressive site. They had their popular line of yellow robotic arms running demonstrations and showing off their capabilities, but it was their green collaborative robots that caught many people’s attention. The robots are painted green to indicate safety and that they can be used in a collaborative environment with people, not requiring a safety cage or light curtain. ABB Robotics also had its collaborative robot on display. “YuMi” is designed to work with humans without the need for a cage and can replicate human functions, providing assembly assistance in the plant. OMRON had its collaborative special robots rolling on the show floor and demonstrating how they would work in the collaborative environment. They can detect humans in their path, stop or avoid if necessary, and communicate politely to please move and let them pass. Denso Robotics highlighted its new line of IP 65-rated robotic arms that can be used in the food and pharmaceutical industries. It also was a personal favorite because it warmed up a chocolate chip cookie for me.
Many companies that previously focused on linear actuators and liner guide rails introduced their capabilities with gantry systems. Bishop-Wisecarver is well known in the gantry world and had a large display of new powered and non-powered linear motion solutions. Companies like ROLLON and LinMot had all-in-one gantry solutions for their customers that were made from components in their product line. And for companies not highlighting a robotic solution, they featured products to help miniaturize products while still delivering high power and efficiency. Maxon Drives introduced its new line of ECX brushless motors. The highlight of these motors is their high power and customization. They can be ordered custom and delivered within a few days’ time. MICROMO had several of their FAULHABER brushless and coreless dc motors on display which provide powerful performance in a compact space. Smalley Springs was showing new 4mm springs and retainers to help create smaller products based on customer demand.
In my opinion, while the show focused on robotics solutions, it alludes to the bigger picture of modernizing automation solutions. The worlds of operated machinery and humans are bleeding into each other and becoming of a more combined effort. Rather than have a human program a robotic arm via a computer, they now can grab the robotic arm, put it in place, and program it via manual manipulation. Along with this push is the need to make products smaller while still retaining their efficiency. Small automation products are needed so that the average-size person can interact with them. Instead of programming a robot that is taller than 7 feet, you have robots that are 4 feet tall with similar payloads.
In my preview blog for the show, I mentioned how you can develop tunnel vision at your current engineering job. It is true that if you keep yourself up-to-date and informed, you can prevent this from happening, making yourself a flexible engineer. That can work in several venues. These shows are one of the best ways to achieve that goal. They provide the current and future trends in the engineering world to help you know which path to follow.
See you next year!