Two Leading Automation Minds on Race Car Driving and Robotics
Both friends enjoy the thrill of mountain bike racing and the even bigger thrill of race car driving. The first race car Sooknanan competed with was a car Allford loaned to him. Despite the fact that Sooknanan blew that car up during his second race, they’ve continued to race together, with Allford helping instruct Sooknanan in the art of race car driving.
How Fast Cars and Automation Bring Friendly Competition
Another interest – and perhaps friendly competition – these two share is high-level robotics. Having so many interests in common allows Sooknanan and Allford to keep each other on their toes, both on the race track and in their work.
One such example is their ongoing debate regarding the differences between autonomous and teleoperated robots. Allford believes that a machine should run entirely on its own, without human instruction, whereas Sooknanan believes a robot can be autonomous with some level of human instruction, which he refers to as supervised autonomy.
Having a level of supervised autonomy is key in the space industry, according to Sooknanan, so that robots can do their jobs safely.
“You know, with some level of oversight, [we can] make sure we’re not going to take one of these massive manipulators on the outside of a space station and poke a hole in it or something crazy like that,” Sooknanan said.
Allford on the other hand is looking for autonomy where the robot will do the same thing over and over, but also wants it to have sensor systems that give it sight and touch sensors that encourage it to adapt. According to Allford, adding sensor systems is a key element of autonomy.
“It can not only repeat a repetitive task – it can adapt to its environment. It can adapt to its parts, and then do something that it wasn’t originally programmed to do,” Sooknanan said.
A Bond Built for the Long Haul
A little friendly competition is something Sooknanan and Allford enjoy, and they don’t mind disagreeing on robotics.
“I like to pick on Josh, largely to stimulate conversation, because we’re solving similar problems in very different ways. So, by provoking him, I can get him to talk a little bit more,” Allford said.
Robotics aside, the really big question is clear – who is the better race car driver?
“What I like to remind Josh of is that a good instructor is defined by the fact that their student exceeds their skill,” Allford said.
“I concur,” Sooknanan said with a laugh.
Is the answer I dread when I ask a technical question. Unfortunately when customers ask: “How accurate can you plasma cut parts with a robot?” I reply: “It depends”.
Recently we were asked to cut 1.575″ (40mm) holes in 3/16″ plate with a circularity of +/-.005″. This is a tight tolerance for plasma. Normally we would have recommended laser cutting. But I tell people that a watt of electrons is much cheaper than a watt of photons. Plasma has a number of advantages over laser: system cost, power efficiency, maintenance costs, and safety.
So we went to the lab to explore the limits of robotic plasma cutting. What made this project unique and doable was the fact that hole position tolerances were achievable. Our challenge was hole shape and size. We used a Hypertherm XPR300 High Definition Plasma and a KUKA North America robot. Jim Walker & David Luce programmed the cut in small segments to optimize torch path and cutting parameters and cut holes +/-.005″.
BUT your part accuracy depends on many variables. In the video, I stick out my neck and QUANTIFY best, worse and typical effects of 7 issues on part dimensions. This should start an argument!
ARC Specialties thrives on problems, send us yours!
Some things are challenging enough, but an extra element takes the degree of difficulty up several notches. That’s how it is for Josh Sooknanan, an aerospace engineer with NASA, who takes robots and puts them into space.
In addition to the already steep curve of working with robotics, Sooknanan also has to face things like delays in how long a robot takes to respond.
“Robots in general are hard. Anybody that is getting into robotics, the problem you’re getting into is always harder than you’ve scoped it to be,” he said. “That’s when the robot is in front of you on your lab bench. You put the robot 200 miles above your head orbiting the earth or, even more difficult, on the moon or on Mars or a probe doing deep-space research, and the delays are unbelievable.”
Dan Allford, president of Arc Specialties, is a friend of Sooknanan and noted there are different challenges he has to face in the industrial world.
“I think one of the biggest differences between your world and my world is gravity. I’ve got to work with this stuff called gravity and it’s 32 feet per second squared, and it’s pretty constant,” Allford said. “A lot of times when we have to design and build a robot, it’s because the loads exceed that of any available commercial robot, and that’s a gravity problem. You’re up in space and you don’t have to fool with gravity.”
Of course, while Allford has gravity, he also has more sources of power than simply the sun – and less delay between the time it takes to send a command to a robot and see it carried out.
The two friends, who race cars and mountain bikes when not talking shop about high-level robotics, come together on more things than they diverge on, with both eager mentors of high school students interested in robotics.
Both marveled at programs like the BEST Robotics team competition and U.S. First Robotics, which give kids like them who were obsessed both with science-fiction and tinkering with machines a year-round outlet to learn in a more structured environment.
During the last two months of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing shutdown, ARC Specialties has continued to work to build the machines necessary for the critical infrastructure of America.
As I walked through the shop today, I was proud to see my team working on an interesting array of systems.
Most folks think of MIG when they think of robotic welding. At ARC, we consider all welding processes and match the solution to the problem rather than the other way around.
Currently, we are finishing up MIG, TIG, Subarc, resistance, drawn arc stud, laser and plasma welding robots, as well as diamond valve lapping and thermal spray systems. All of these innovative solutions are designed to provide highly tailored growth and success instead of pushing a tired, “one-size-fits-all” approach to unique operational needs.
I suspect that the tough economic environment we currently find ourselves in is the reason we are rebuilding three failed systems that were originally built by others.
We like the work, but we hate to see the customer have to pay twice.
This is yet another reason I am a huge advocate for the Robotic Industries Association Certified Integrator program, which ensures you can be confident an integrator has high-level capabilities regarding delivering safe, reliable and high-quality robotic solutions.
I am happy to report that ARC has not experienced any order cancellations. Our backlog is going up, and America is getting back to work. It’s an exciting time to be doing business, and we’re ready to keep pace.
If you would like to become more efficient and competitive, contact us today.
At ARC Specialties, we thrive on problems. Send us yours!
To view our video please see my recent post on LinkedIn.
Dan Allford, President, ARC Specialties
Dan Allford, President, Arc Specialties, and Brett Hubbard, OEM Sales Manager, Hypertherm joined the Roboticist chronicles to detail the long-standing partnership between Arc Specialties and Hypertherm.
Hypertherm is an industry leader in utilizing plasma for cutting alloys. Arc Specialties uses Hypertherm’s power supply and technology to cut parts with Arc’s robots.
“What we do is take plasma cutting and apply it to a three-dimensional world,” Allford said.
Hypertherm’s technology provides the cut, and Arc’s technology provides motion control.
In a collaborative partnership with Hypertherm, RobotMaster, and KUKA, Arc Specialties co-developed FlexFabTM, a flexible fabrication 3D Robotic Cutting Cell that converts CAD models into a 3D plasma cut steel part. This process saves time and labor hours due to its precision control and the ability to program offline while cutting work continues.
“The FlexFab can be just that – flexible to whatever your application may be in the 3D world,” Hubbard said.
What does the future hold in plasma cutting technology? Hubbard said Hypertherm is continuing to expand its plasma capabilities in the 3D space, as well as looking to its past in developing new non-ferrous metal cutting technologies.
In manufacturing, these are your only choices. Fortunately, there is still a place in the world for people. Some things humans do best. Any task which requires flexible adaptation to unpredictable dynamic environments is a good example. But sometimes the best man for the job is a robot, or possibly a machine.
When your only tool is a hammer the whole world looks like a nail. When your system integrator is a robot house you should expect a robotic solution. Over the last 30 years, robots have become faster, more reliable, cheaper, and easier to integrate and operate. So, we use ‘bots on an ever-increasing percentage of our systems. But not always.
Sometimes the best solution is a purpose-built machine. The reasoning may be a smaller footprint, or maybe you don’t need 6 axes of motion or standard robot software won’t fit your needs. What I have found over my 40 years of building machines is that a purpose-built machine is typically faster and more precise than a robotic solution. Today’s video showcases two welding solutions that my team decided to automate with an ARC Specialties purpose-built machines.
At ARC Specialties we thrive on problems, send us yours!
It’s now early May, and here’s where we stand in the United States regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The death rate sits at 0.023%, while the unemployment rate has ballooned to 14.7% (as of May 8). COVID-19-related stimulus spending has reached $3.5 Trillion.
I keep a $10 trillion Zimbabwe bill tacked up on the wall in my office to remind me of what rampant inflation will do to a currency when too many dollars chase too few goods.
Printing money will not solve this pandemic-turned-economic-crisis. You can’t eat money, and it won’t keep you warm in the winter or protect you from the rain. All these things come from the segments of our economy that create real wealth and real goods – mining, farming, manufacturing and construction.
To solve our problems, we need to get back to work. We also need to manufacture critical infrastructure items here in the U.S. Because of these two points, I expect an onshoring trend in U.S. manufacturing to result from efforts to get back to business as usual.
We are the largest exporter of food in the world because we automated farming, and automation will continue to enable the U.S. to compete with low-cost labor while creating high-value jobs right here at home.
We can do this!
For example, our ARC-06S welds parts seven times faster than the semi-automatic technology used overseas. If we could help you make parts 700% faster than your competition, would that help?
ARC Specialties thrives on problems. Send us yours, and find out how we can solve them.
- Dan Allford, President, Arc Specialties
Thanks for the comments & questions regarding Additive Manufacturing (AM) and material properties. Our motto, see below, really is our mission statement. We learn when you send us problems.
Today we post a video reporting on material properties of AM build aluminum parts. To maximize the material properties of aluminum requires alloying and heat treatment. Typical aluminum welding wires are either silicon alloy 4000 series or magnesium alloy 5000 series, neither of which is heat treatable. Brian Harrison with Alcotec Wire Co graciously supplied a spool of heat treatable copper alloyed 2319 wire. After solution heat treat and aging, we measured tensile strength at 63,000 psi. This means you can use AM to build an aluminum part with the strength of steel and 1/3 the weight.
Next, we built a 5356 aluminum test specimen using AM for fully reversed cyclical fatigue testing at 70% of the tensile strength (130% of yield). The part survived 5,500 cycles. Less than a heat-treated 6061-T6 part but not bad. This is useful data as we build our reference library of AM material properties.
At ARC Specialties we thrive on problems, send us yours!
Robots are perfect for abrasive finishing, because they work well in situations that possess all three of the “Big Ds” – dull, dirty and dangerous.
Even so, while more companies are embracing robotics, there are some areas, like abrasive processing, that are yet to see full integration even though they are “three-D situations.”
“I think it’s kind of interesting that, here we are in the 21st century, and we’re just now starting to robotically automate finishing. Because, if you rewind 60 years ago, one of the first areas we started automating was in machine tools,” said Dan Allford, the president of ARC Specialties. “The difference is, way back then, we were imposing our will on the part. That means we take a big block of metal or whatever and then we machine a part from it.
“Fast forward to now, and you’re trying to do finishing on parts, but we’re having to adapt to the shape of the part. That’s the big difference, and that’s why it’s taken robotics so many years to catch up to machining.”
There’s still work to do, with organizations like ARC and 3M collaborating more and more frequently beyond this special podcast, with 3M co-sponsoring the Robotics Industry Association’s Grinding and Finishing Conference.
“At the end of the day, the knowledge in the industry about robotic abrasive processing is really in its infancy, frankly,” said Scott Barnett, Application Engineering Manager for Robotic Abrasive Processing at 3M. “It is a fairly complex thing to get right, and we want and need industry members to develop more expertise in the space so we can help our customers with their processing challenge.”
Now, after years of slow progress, things are moving quickly in the right direction.
At ARC Specialties, we build around three control platforms – robot, CNC and Industrial PCs (IPC).
Our popular ARC-05 family of Gas Tungsten Arc (GTA) Clad Hot Wire welding systems are all based on the Beckhoff Automation IPC, and we have machines running in 32 countries.
That kind of global presence means we need absolute reliability at all time. We can’t afford to fall short of exceeding the standards we’ve established for ourselves – and that our customers have come to expect.
To that end, Richard Lester, our Beckhoff application engineer, and the Beckhoff IPC have provided a successful foundation and pathway toward achieving that goal of absolute reliability.
GTA welding is a harsh application for an IPC due to the high-frequency starter, and the IPC must sample arc voltage arc in the 10-20 VDC range and survive the arc starter on the same circuit operating at 15,000 volts and 1 MHz.
That’s true noise immunity!
In combination with Beckhoff’s single-system approach and commonality of programming, training and use of solutions become simpler than ever before, offering industry-leading resource savings, consistency, reliability, flexibility, modularity and performance.
Superior Cladding provides key corrosion-resistant and wear-resistant overlays for oil and gas industry clients, making reliability paramount.
“Mistakes in this industry are heard about on the news, so our mistakes are unacceptable,” Superior Cladding’s Nathan Sumrall said. “ARC Specialties’ equipment is indispensable because of its consistency. (It) allows us to perform at a very high standard and also with great accuracy with our parts.”
To get a better idea of exactly how the Beckhoff IPC combines with our GTA welding solutions to provide unmatched results, check out the video here, which features Superior Cladding Products and their ARC-05 machines in action.
At ARC Specialties we thrive on problems. Don’t believe us? Send us yours!