Victoria is a cobot – a UR5 collaborative robot able to work on 32 different product variants on the lock body line at the company’s Albany facility.
She has been a game-changer, so much so that Assa Abloy is about to commission two more cobots on a different assembly line, manufacturing engineering manager Marc Simkin says.
The sleek new employee paid for herself within a year, and has created a whole new role for the person who used to do her job. He is now the robot minder, directing her to where she’s needed and placing a much greater focus on quality.
“Our experience has been absolutely fantastic,” Simkin says.
Cobots are robots that work alongside their human colleagues without the need for safety guarding. They are easier to install than traditional robots and typically have a shorter payback period.
Compared with their American, European and Asian counterparts New Zealand manufacturers have been slow to adopt cobots. The technology is a key part of the digital revolution that is changing the face of manufacturing, and the Kiwi sector risks becoming uncompetitive if it doesn’t get on board, Callaghan Innovation’s business innovation adviser for manufacturing, Nathan Stantiall, says.
Cobots aren’t for everyone, which is why Callaghan Innovation, the Government’s business innovation agency, offers a free one-month trial of its own UR5 plus research support.
The borrow-a-bot scheme is how Assa Abloy came to know and love Victoria. It held the “robot wars”, pitting three different technologies against each other – a UR5 made by the Danish-based Universal Robots (UR); a cobot from Swiss industrial equipment maker ABB; and the cobot Callaghan Innovation had at the time, dubbed ‘Baxter’.
Sadly for Baxter, a first generation cobot developed by US-based Rethink Robotics, the UR5 won. But without the trial Assa Abloy would have taken much longer to evaluate its options, Simkin says.
“At that stage we had no idea what we were going to do with the technology,” Simkin says. “The whole point was a process of discovery and understanding of what is out there.”
Christchurch-based Design Energy distributes UR products in New Zealand. The great advantage of cobots is that they’re easy to use and extremely flexible, managing director Mike Shatford says.
“Companies can deploy them themselves, maintain them, programme them,” he says. “Because they’re so simple, that can be put back into the end user’s hands.”
Smaller firms with mixed production runs may not think they are ripe for automation, but the technology can be deployed to perform a variety of different tasks even within a single day, Shatford says.
The lower implementation costs mean the payback period is typically around six to 12 months, and putting cobots into the mix also stimulates consistency in the production process, he says.
“We’ve seen multiple cases where throughput gains far outweigh savings on labour,” he says.
Embracing automation will be increasingly important as New Zealand seeks to lift its low productivity growth levels, Callaghan Innovation’s Nathan Stantiall says.
“It’s not about replacing the workforce. It’s about throughput gains, upskilling your workforce to do more fulfilling and productive roles, and improvements in safety,” he says.
Trialling a robot would be most beneficial to businesses that are new to robotics and have implemented lean manufacturing principles, he says. Combining use of cobots with Callaghan Innovation’s Better by Lean training programme may be a good strategy for some firms.
“We urge manufacturers to come and talk to us about giving cobots a go,” Stantiall says.
If your company is interested in a cobot trial please contact Callaghan Innovation
See also Manufacturing Robots
This article was first published in the March issue of the EMA Business Plus magazine.
Picture two cars in a showroom – one is coated in a dull, rough paint, while the other is glossy, with a hint of metallic sheen. Which one would you choose?
You’re not alone – it has been repeatedly shown that for ‘luxury’ products like cosmetics or automotive paint, appearance has a significant impact on consumer choice. Appearance is also important at the quality control level, because it can often flag issues with the reliability of production techniques to manufacturers.
But accurately defining the characteristics that give an object its unique appearance is not without its challenges. Size and shape may be easy to measure, but what about visual attributes such as colour, gloss, texture, translucency or sparkle? Believe it or not, many industries rely on characterisation and quality control carried out ‘by eye’, making it highly subjective. With manufacturers of special-effect pigments producing ever-more sophisticated compounds, there is a clear need for measurement standards in this space.
That’s where the Measurement Standards Laboratory (MSL) comes in. Through a Joint Research Project – xDReflect – that involved seven other National Measurement Institutes (NMIs) and twenty industry collaborators, they developed traceable tools and methods to optically characterise a range of novel surfaces. The xDReflect team mostly explored glossy materials and goniochromatic (often referred to as iridescent) paint, which changes colour when illuminated or observed from different directions. To characterise these surfaces, they had to measure light scattering, and for that, they used MSL’s new, primary goniospectrophotometer.
Goniospectrophotometers are instruments that can directly measure an object’s bidirectional reflectance distribution function (BRDF) – a factor that precisely defines how a surface scatters light at different wavelengths, making it a key contributor to a surface’s appearance. Within the project MSL developed a new detector in collaboration with the Czech Metrology Institute that has a very wide dynamic range. This allows it to accurately characterise dark surfaces, which are typically challenging because they scatter so little visible light.
One result of the research project is that the MSL system – built here in NZ – is now one of a small number of traceable goniospectrophotometers in the world. In addition, the project team developed a common language for the measurement of light scattering, which will be integrated into documentary standards for gloss and BRDF in a follow-on project called BiRD. Further work will establish definitions for sparkle and graininess.
These tools will provide industry with ways to objectively, and traceably, characterise materials with novel optical properties. And with collaborators that included Toyota, BASF, Maymó cosmetics and Saint-Gobain, we can expect many more products that use science to stand out from the crowd.
Can we help you?
The Measurement Standards Laboratory (MSL) is New Zealand's national metrology institute. Our highly skilled scientists can work with you to solve your measurement problem and improve your products and processes. We’ve helped clients in the food and beverage, consumer goods, energy, medicine, agriculture and aviation industries, supporting New Zealand’s ongoing international trade.
We understand that every R&D problem is unique, so why not contact us to discuss your specific needs? The first hour of advice is free, and new R&D customers may be eligible for a discount (up to 50%) for consultancy services.
At Callaghan Innovation’s research and technical services division in Gracefield, Wellington, teams of people are working on exactly these kinds of advanced materials and practical applications for them.
Advanced materials help make the medical implants that extend mobility. They’re behind the container your milk comes in, and the plastic money that we earn and spend every day.
Ambitious Kiwi businesses are developing these products with our science and research specialists to help solve real world and real business problems.
Advancements in material development can help us solve many of the big problems facing our society using technology we already have – I’m thinking of environmental sustainability and health issues, for instance - and they are having major impact on the products around us. Advanced materials can outperform traditional materials and they tend to provide multiple benefits such as strength and thermal insulation, along with other attributes such as being lightweight and fire-resistant. When combining these materials with design, the door to future products and solutions opens.
As the National Technology Network Manager for Advanced Materials, the most common question I get asked is, 'What is an advanced material?'
This simple question is a barrier to the potential use of advanced materials in the development of new products. It suggests to me that we and our partners in the innovation ecosystem can do a better job of educating New Zealand companies about these amazing technologies and how they might make a difference in their R&D and NPD programmes.
The simplest definition of an advanced material is that it is any material which has been created or modified to obtain superior performance in one or more properties.
Download Advanced Materials brochure: An introduction to Advanced Materials
There is a lot of exciting work already being done in the field, such as:
- Wearable electronics that bend, flex, and stretch to conform to your body.
- Membranes that cover foodstuffs and keep them fresh by controlling moisture or ethylene levels.
- Shape memory materials such as clothing fabrics that alter their breathability with the heat of your body, or sound insulation materials that change in response to the level or frequency of the noise.
Get in touch with us if you have been looking at how your business might be able to innovate by advancing materials or incorporating advanced materials in your new product development.
Mike Brown, co-founder of wearable bladder sensor start-up Uri-Go, will be among a group of New Zealand innovators heading to the world’s most significant medical technology complex for the first time.
Callaghan Innovation is co-leading a mission in March to the Texas Medical Center in Houston, where Kiwi med-tech company representatives and academics will take part in a learning and networking opportunity aimed at putting their work in the global spotlight.
The inaugural delegation is made up of a cross section of New Zealand med-tech companies and researchers with symbiotic interests. The group of 20 has been selected for their expertise, international outreach, and unique combination of R&D and business skills.
Prize-winner’s rare opportunity
Winning C-Prize has already netted the start-up support worth $100,000 to develop and market its innovative sensor, created for people who have difficulties telling if they need to go to the bathroom. This can include those with a spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease or numerous other conditions.
The additional backing enabling him to be part of the Houston mission is the icing on the cake, Mike Brown says. It’s a priceless opportunity to learn more about the all-important US med-tech market and make contact with global experts, as Uri-Go gears up to launch its product internationally, he says.
“As we continue the journey to commercialise our sensor, being able to network and learn from world-leading experts at such a major global centre of innovation will be an invaluable experience,” he says.
“I’m sure I’ll come away from the trip with a wealth of new knowledge, contacts and insights about the global med-tech ecosystem that will accelerate our path to market.”
Bigger than Texas
The Texas Medical Center is the largest medical complex in the world and plays a significant role in advancing life sciences globally.
Over 160,000 people visit the centre each day and it employs 106,000 staff across 54 institutions.
Among other impressive credentials, it is home to the world’s largest children’s hospital and the world’s largest cancer hospital.
Patients from across the US and all over the world visit the centre to receive care from some of the best doctors in their field. Incredible breakthroughs in diagnosis and treatment happen at the campus' eight different academic and research institutions, not to mention the 21 different hospitals.
The Callaghan Innovation mission has been organised in partnership with the Consortium for Medical Device Technologies (CMDT) and The MedTech Centre of Research Excellence (MedTech CoRE), and is also being sponsored by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Houston-based business strategic partnership specialists Noel Group.
It is the first international delegation to be hosted by Houston Exponential (HX), a new programme set up by the city’s business groups, technology incubators and the mayor’s office to turn Houston into a top 10 start-up ecosystem by 2022. The Kiwi delegation’s key areas of interest have been aligned with those of Houston’s med-tech research and investment communities.
Making vital international connections
A Kiwi med-tech start-up co-founder flying to Houston is Greg Shanahan, Managing Director of Veriphi, the developer of a device which uses laser verification to prevent injury and death from intravenous (IV) medication error in hospitals.
Veriphi has successfully completed proof of concept blind trials of its device – which analyses and verifies the actual drug being administered intravenously – and is now building a commercially specified version.
As Veriphi looks towards eventual international expansion, the Houston mission will provide a deeper understanding of the US clinical and commercial environment for the company’s solution, Greg says.
“The visit to the Texas Medical Center will also enable us to engage with potential research and commercial partners and the insights from the trip will be invaluable in helping us plan the implementation of our US and global market strategies,” he says.
Other companies participating in the delegation include: MoleMap, Tiro Medical, SHI Global, SAFERSleep and Molteno Ophthalmic. Each has specific objectives for the trip, ranging from finding business partners, investors and management experts, through to improving their global market knowledge and building new international connections and relationships.
Also taking part in the mission are nine leading medical technology researchers from four New Zealand Universities and MedTech CoRE.
Tapping New Zealand’s med-tech potential
Kiwi companies in the health technology sector make a substantial contribution to the economy and are “highly motivated and capable of delivering some of the new technologies that will bring … improved outcomes to health systems and patients, both locally and on a global scale,” according to a major 2016 report on the sector.
The New Zealand Health Technology Review found the country’s health information technology (IT) and medical device companies turned over $1.3 billion in the 2015 financial year.
“The pipeline of smaller companies innovating in health technologies should be an important focus for further support in the health innovation ecosystem as these are the future stars that will enhance New Zealand’s health and economic performance,” the report concluded.
Taking kiwi med-tech innovations to the world
As New Zealand’s innovation agency, Callaghan Innovation works with New Zealand med-tech businesses to develop and commercialise their new technology ideas.
Our specialised med-tech team nurtures and challenges our customers. We help navigate innovation, open up channels for co-funding, and connect businesses to R&D expertise.
So if your business is in the med-tech space and is looking for support and assistance to grow, talk to us now about developing products and capabilities with a global view in mind.
For New Zealand technology companies after new export opportunities, there’s no substitute to being on-the-ground in the market you’re focused on breaking into.
That was a key discovery for a delegation of New Zealand agritech pioneers who attended October’s World Dairy Expo (WDE) in Madison, Wisconsin, with the assistance of Callaghan Innovation.
WDE serves as a forum, with an international flavour, for dairy producers, companies, organisations and other dairy enthusiasts to come together to compete and exchange ideas, knowledge, technology and commerce. It is the largest dairy technology event in North America, attracting 68,700 attendees this year.
Representatives from 10 technology-focused agritech companies – all with plans to export to the US – were selected to receive assistance from Callaghan Innovation to be part of the delegation.
Callaghan Innovation collaborated with NZTE and several other government and industry groups to ensure the companies got the most out of attending the expo.
One member of the kiwi delegation described the expo as “a very valuable activity and a great use of our time.”
“World Dairy (Expo) is very different to many other ag-shows in that it is remarkably disciplined and focussed … It really is our current sweet spot and the place to connect to our largest tech market.”
As part of the trip, delegates also toured the University of Wisconsin-Madison and dairy farms around Madison.
Trip exceeds expectations
Callaghan Innovation’s Agritech team wanted the trip to enable early stage businesses that are developing their technology for solutions on-farm to look at an export market earlier than they otherwise would. Participating companies left with a better understanding of the potential an export market like the US represents, they validated their tech and business models, and connected with potential partners.
Contracts were signed and deals done that related not just to the US market but spanned Europe, Ireland and Australia. And that’s not to mention the valuable collaborative discussions the trip facilitated within the delegation and with the larger New Zealand companies exhibiting at the show.
An in-market immersion program that utilised the local knowledge of NZTE’s North America staff and their connections gave delegates invaluable insights into the local business environment, enabling them to have more impactful discussions at the expo.
Kiwis together on the world stage
The power of wearing New Zealand lanyards as part of a kiwi delegation gave the visitors a greater ability to connect into conversations at the expo – far greater than if they had been attending on their own.
“We really benefitted from having a team approach and there was actually quite high awareness that the kiwis were at the event in decent numbers,” one participant said.
“There is something unique and priceless about the conversations you have offshore,” said one delegate. “There’s a deeper connectivity involved in sharing breakfast or Uber rides.”
The early-stage New Zealand businesses used networking to connect with larger, experienced kiwi corporates, key US personal, and even the US Ambassador, Tim Grosser. And the international and New Zealand connections made during the trip also resulted in delegates signing MOUs and NDAs.
“We did not intend to look at the US market in the next 12 months, but (have) now identified future opportunities, capital investment to set up here, market validation and product validation, so (we) can build a business case around how best to support this market in the future,” one participant said.
“We aim to do more of our in-market work in the USA as a result of relationships (formed) and the attitude of the people we meet through this delegation,” said another.
One said the trip had resulted in the purchase of around $3 million of international technology which his company would feed into New Zealand technology development.
All 10 companies attending said they had built new or stronger international relationships thanks to being part of the delegation. Eight said the experience would impact their innovation strategy, while seven said they now intended to develop new or improved products, services or processes as a result of what they had learned.
Seven also said they planned to carry out increased or new R&D, and five said they will adopt or acquire new technologies.
Taking kiwi agritech innovations to the world
Geographically, New Zealand is a great place to develop agricultural technology. In a space that is two-thirds the size of California, we have virtually every type of product and farming system. This provides multiple test beds in a small geographical area and means technology developed here is scalable and suitable for a wide variety of world markets.
As the government’s innovation agency, Callaghan Innovation works with New Zealand agri-businesses to develop and commercialise their new technology ideas. Our specialised Agritech team nurtures and challenges our customers. We help navigate innovation, open up channels for funding, and connect businesses to R&D expertise so they can improve yield, efficiency and profitability in agriculture, horticulture, forestry and aquaculture.
So talk to us now about developing products and capabilities with a global view in mind.