inside issue #15.
Exclusive interview! - Bob Doyle
In an exclusive interview for AUTOMATED, Jonathan Wilkins talks to Bob Doyle, vice president of The Association for Advancing Automation (A3). The Association promotes the benefits of implementing robotics and automation to its members across the US.
Can you give me some background on A3 and its aims?
Doyle: The Association for Advancing Automation is the global advocate for the benefits of automating manufacturing processes. It has over 1,100 member companies across the US including automation manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators and end users.
We are also the umbrella association for the Robotic Industries Association, Advancing Vision and Imaging, Motion Control and Motor Association and A3 Mexico.
What are the main aims of A3?
Doyle: The association has three main aims — to connect, educate and lead. It connects member companies to new business opportunities by holding events such as our A3 Business Forum, held in Orlando, Florida every year. It also offers members the chance to exhibit at trade shows such as Automate, which is held in Chicago every two years.
A3 educates its members by hosting webinars. It also provides other online content that offers important information and leading opinions on topics such as robot safety and collaborative robots (cobots). It also offers in-person training for members to further improve the implementation of robotics and automation in a facility.
A3 has developed several standards for robotics and machine vision including TR 606, an industrial standard focussed on the safety requirements specific to cobots and robot systems.
As an industry leader, A3 participates in the widely debated issue of robots versus jobs. This features in the US media quite heavily and, as a result, many workers have the perception that automation will have a negative impact on their lives.
A3 believes that robotics and automation in fact leads to higher paid and more rewarding jobs, while taking workers out of roles that are potentially dangerous or strenuous. Statistics have shown time and time again that as robot sales increase, unemployment levels drop. While the technologies are widely accepted in other parts of the world, the US is yet to fully embrace them.
Have you noticed any common manufacturing or automation trends over the last five years?
Doyle: I’ve seen a wider adoption of automation over recent years. On top of this, industries that haven’t traditionally used automation and robotics, such as food and beverage and aerospace, are starting to reap the benefits.
The technology itself is also changing. We now have access to robots that can work side by side with humans, thanks to improvements in vision systems and tooling.
What challenges do your members typically face and how do you help them to overcome them?
Doyle: The biggest challenge that our members face is finding qualified candidates to fill the positions they have available. To solve this, we need to prepare the next generation workforce by hosting engineering and educational programmes to engage with young people.
While lots of companies are struggling to run robotics and automation systems with the staff that they have, others are creating their own training programmes in the form of internships. These are helping introduce the new workforce to cutting-edge automation and robotics technology and proving that automation isn’t stealing jobs but creating better ones.
What is A3 doing to help its members improve safety?
Doyle: Safety should be of the utmost importance for manufacturers. For this reason, A3 has helped develop several new safety standards in recent years that relate specifically to the technical specifications of cobots and mobile robots. These technologies work in much closer proximity to humans, so it is more important than ever before to ensure that they are operating correctly and not putting workers at risk
What current technologies may help to improve safety in the future?
Doyle: Traditional industrial robots sat behind fencing to protect human workers while they were in operation. While there is still a place for this technology, such as in welding applications, the use of cobots is on the rise. Cobots work side by side with humans and typically run at a slower speed than traditional robots, but a safety assessment should still be carried out.
There are more advanced fencing technologies in operation today too, such as those that use sensors to create zones around the operating robot. These allow industrial robots to run at a fast speed, but gives them the ability to slow down, or even stop, when a human worker enters its zone.
A fun question to end on, who is your tech hero?
Doyle: It has to be Joseph F Engelberger, co-founder of the world’s first robotics company, Unimation. Engelberger passed away in 2015 at 90 years old, but we honour him to this day with the Engelberger Robotics Award. This is presented to individuals for excellence in technology development, application, education and leadership in the robotics industry.