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Understanding Marketing’s Critical Role In The Automation Age

It doesn’t matter how innovative your product is if your potential customers don’t know about it or understand why they should buy it.

Johnny Tyler, Marketing and Design Specialist at Arc Specialties, has seen many companies adopt an unambitious marketing strategy – or, worse, not even draw out a strategy at all – rather than invest resources in something that can make even a small company a globally known name in the internet age.

“I think a lot of people look at the marketing aspect of things as a secondary position or something they might have to do or might not have to do based on how their business is going, but I think if you get the right marketing person in there, somebody that can take all the aspects of your company, put it in a box with a nice bow and present it to these people, people get a chance to see your company that probably have never even thought about your company,” Tyler said.

That person doesn’t need to have a background in your field. Tyler’s first-ever professional graphic design gig came from Wendy’s. Later, he moved into the oil and gas world, a more natural transition to robotics, but still there was a learning curve as he started working with true automation tools.

“In my mind, what I’m thinking I’m going to see vs. what I actually saw was night and day,” he said. “It’s not the sci-fi robotics I was used to envisioning. It’s more the different types of robots, different applications, the number of axes robots have, the size, the weight and the fact that there are robots who are collaborative, working with you.”

For Tyler, the relationship with a marketing person also should be collaborative, efficient and, ultimately, something that makes your life easier and helps your company grow.

The Roboticist Chronicles: Chewing the Fat on Automation In the Meat Processing Industry

ARC Specialties President Dan Allford often refers to the “three Ds” of automation, looking into industries that are dirty, dull and dangerous and seeing if robotics can step in.

Allford is exploring another area that fits the three Ds by looking into automation in meat processing. There are challenges, but Allford is confident it won’t be long before both slaughterhouses and local butchers have tools that can improve the well-being of employees while taking them out of dangerous or repetitive environments.

With COVID outbreaks in many plants, Allford says modernizing the meatpacking industry is “long overdue.”

“You have to understand why. Every carcass is different,” he said. “That’s one really difficult thing on food processing. You need some kind of adaptive control or sensor system to deal with that, unless you just grind the whole thing up into sausage. That’s not going to work.”

Allford said cuts like going across the backbone are relatively easy to automate, but separating the meat from the bone is more difficult to teach a robot how to do. Even so, it’s a problem he’s eager to overcome.

“When it’s going to get challenging is when we’re trying to do things where we’re trying to remove the meat from the bone, yet not waste much,” he said. “That’s challenging and interesting to me. I’m looking forward to getting down to some of that work, because then we’ll have to use all sorts of sensor systems.”

That may include using technology ARC developed for human surgeries that detects where bones are before determining where to make a cut.

The Roboticist Chronicles: What’s Next for Robotics?

ARC Specialties 3M Robotics

Often, we work as hard as we can to make things as perfect as we can. But, as Dan Allford, President of ARC Specialties, is finding, there are times when a little imperfection can be a good thing.

ARC sponsored a senior project at Rice University studying orthopedic implants with hard-layer coatings on top of them and saw that total perfection actually may not be ideal.

“What we’ve found by creating these coatings and then finishing them is sometimes better is not better. We’re finding that a perfect finish, a mirror finish, doesn’t last as long as one that has a slight amount of roughness,” he said. “I thought that was fascinating because, if you do get that new knee, you’re going to want it to last as much as possible.”

The finding is one of a number of fascinating new developments in the world of abrasive processing and in robotics as a whole.

“More and more customers are looking for more consistent, uniform and finer finishes in general, which is interesting when we look at the orthopedic knee project Dan references,” said Scott Barnett, Application Engineering Manager for Robotic Abrasive Processing at 3M.

Other exciting progress is being made in the area of abrasive wear detection, with more and more information available about when to change out devices and tools and how to teach robots to know when the tool is getting dull.

“As we get into stiffer discs like fiber discs, belts, abrasive wheels and things like that, it adds complexity,” Barnett said.

Those complex challenges are just the types of things ARC and 3M are working on solving today, and the learning process continues to deliver a better that really is best.

The Roboticist Chronicles: The Strengths and Weaknesses of Collaborative Robots

We all can use a little help from our friends – but what if that friend is a robot?

With collaborative robots, robots with safety features that allow more human interaction or for humans to work nearby, that’s possible.

It’s not only safety where collaborative robots shine, however, with programming a task that can be taken on even by those who haven’t programmed robots before.

“In the collaborative space, I think that’s been one of the big selling points. I can pick up a pendant (and) actually grab the robot and kind of move it around and guide it through the path so you don’t have to jog it, save a point, jog it again, save another point,” said Tyler Naatz, Advanced Applications Engineer, Robotics and Automation for 3M’s Abrasives Systems Division. “You can kind of do that through follow-my-path type programming using all those sensors that are in these robots. I think that’s a big reason people are looking at them.”

With that ability to minimize the complexity of programming also comes a few drawbacks. For one, the tool force will be limited, as will the speed at which a collaborative can run. That makes it perfect for projects like orbital sanding, but perhaps not the right fit for some other endeavors.

There are other fantastic applications, as well, like a project ARC Specialties President Dan Allford was working on when he needed to polish conical pressing dies.

“To do that, we’re having to polish all the way around the circumference, around the corner, very complex shapes,” he said. “So, a robot was perfect for the application in that a robot could make all these moves. By using a collaborative robot with that sense of touch and the ability to maintain constant tool force, we’re able to, (even) as the part changed size or particularly as the abrasive changed size.”

“The collaborative robot, with that ability to translate and change trajectory on the fly based upon loads, made it a great application.”

The Roboticist Chronicles: The Difference Between Robots on Earth and Robots in Outer Space

Roboticist Chronicles: Josh from NASA

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.

Roboticist Chronicles: A Beautiful Blend of Cutting and Motion Control Technologies

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.

Making America Work Again

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

The Roboticist Chronicles: Getting Dirty and Dangerous with Abrasive Finishing

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.

Teamwork: The Problem-Solver’s Premier Tool

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!

Contact ARC today.

The Economic Consequences of COVID-19

The debate about how many lives were spared by stay-at-home policies enacted to “flatten the curve” and fight back against the COVID-19 pandemic will likely rage for years to come.

However, the devastating effects the effective shutdown has had on the U.S. economy and the health and well-being of Americans will be undeniable.

By early April, it became very apparent that the economic future of the country is extremely grim. As the pandemic rages, the country’s unemployment numbers are projected to be far worse than they were during the Great Depression, which is viewed as the end-all, be-all of U.S. economic downturns. And a bailout with freshly printed money won’t fix that.

I agree with Michael Burry, MD and economist.

“Lockdowns intended to contain the coronavirus pandemic are worse than the disease itself,” he said. “It bleeds deep anguish and suicide.”

Ultimately, there are only two solutions to COVID-19 and the ripple effects its orchestrated throughout the U.S. and global economies – a vaccine, which is not expected to be ready for widespread availability at any point in the near future, and herd immunity.

Lockdown is only intended to “flatten the curve,” not act as a long-term solution.

Having celebrated 61 birthdays, I am thankful that the virus mostly spares the young. As a parent, I am willing to sacrifice for my kid and future grandkids.

This is a time for shared sacrifice. I call on politicians to lead by example and take a deep pay cut, as my company officers and I have here at ARC. At ARC, no one has been laid off. Bills are paid and everyone is working safely, cashing pay checks and supporting the economy.

It is time to get back to work, restart the economy and start the healing.

– Dan Allford, President, ARC Specialties