The Rise of the Collaborative Warehouse Robot

May 3, 2019

Two Locus Robotics mobile robots at work with a staffer picking products at a warehouse

Locus Robotic Corp. robots resemble motorized stools with shelving and touchscreens. They operate in groups and use sensors to navigate through warehouses as workers pick items and move on. They are part of a new generation of automated tools known as collaborative robots because they work with human staffers. They come equipped with software that ties together inventory management data and warehouse management systems to help the robots quickly locate products in vast warehouses and figure out the fastest, most efficient path to the goods. Continue reading

Scheduling Your Fleet of Planes When 737s Cannot Fly

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Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX aircraft parked in Victorville, Calif

Airlines around the world sped Boeing’s 737 Max into service, eager to capitalize on its efficient engines, writes The New York Times (April 12, 2019). Some low-cost carriers built new routes around the Max, which could travel farther on less fuel than its predecessor. But with the Max grounded following two deadly crashes, the airlines that rely on its planes are scrambling to adjust, and the costs are mounting. Continue reading

Using Ultrasonic Sounds to Keep the Beer Flowing

January 28, 2019

Anheuser-Busch uses this sensor to pick up ultrasonic sounds coming off conveyor belt and motors.

The world’s largest beer maker is using low-cost sensors and machine learning to predict when motors at a Colorado brewery might malfunction, reports The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 24, 2019).  The Anheuser-Busch plant was the first among the company’s 350 beer facilities to test whether wireless sensors that can detect ultrasonic sounds—beyond the grasp of the human ear—can be analyzed to predict when machines need maintenance. “You can start hearing days in advance that something will go wrong, and you’ll know within hours when it’ll fail. It’s really, for us, very practical,” said the VP.

The installation at the brewery cost just $20,000. Since the system was deployed, it has predicted pending equipment failures and prevented unscheduled production-line halts, and more than $200,000 in product loss. (The Colorado plant employs 580 people and ships 225 truckloads of Budweiser, Bud Light and other beer brands each day). Continue reading

The Rise of the Power-multiplying Exoskeleton

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In the weld shop of Toyota’s huge Ontario plant, workers inspect the steel frame of a RAV4. The men raise their arms overhead as they move ultrasonic wands over metal to test the integrity of dozens of welds. Until a few months ago, this task was performed by seated workers wielding hammers and chisels. But the latest RAV4 uses a lighter, stronger steel that requires ultrasonic testing. A new frame arrives every 60 seconds. The prolonged reaching is shoulder-breaking work, the kind that can lead to debilitating injuries and decreased productivity. Continue reading

The Fourth Industrial Revolution Industry 4.0

November 12, 2018

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A recent IndustryWeek survey (Nov. 6, 2018) found that manufacturers are having trouble joining the Fourth Industrial Revolution, called Industry 4.0. And the World Economic Forum (WEF) found that 7 out of 10 manufacturers fail in pushing initiatives in big data analytics, A.I., and additive manufacturing.

But there is hope, the Forum asserts. They scoured the planet and after vetting 1,000 manufacturers, selected 9 “lighthouses” (listed below) with a solid Industry 4.0 strategy. “These pioneers have created factories that have 20-50% higher performance and create a competitive edge,” says a McKinsey exec. “They have agile teams with analytics, IoT and software development expertise that are rapidly innovating.” Industry 4.0 is expected to deliver productivity gains over $3.7 trillion.

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H&M Retail Chain Uses Accounting Data to Stock 4,288 Stores

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The retail industry is undergoing another major shift — to e-commerce.

The world’s largest clothing brand is turning to artificial intelligence to win back shoppers, reports The Wall Street Journal (May 8, 2018), as it works to reverse one of the worst sales slumps in its history. H&M retail chain is ramping up its use of data to customize what it sells in individual stores, breaking with its longstanding practice of stocking stores around the globe with similar merchandise. A spike in online shopping has led to fewer customers visiting stores, and digital startups are putting up fierce competition. H&M has repeatedly slashed prices to clear out $4 billion of unsold inventory. Continue reading

Walmart Dances with Robots

By David Render

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Pittsburgh-based Bossa Nova Robotics Inc. is sending its shelf-scanning robots out to 50 Walmart stores in California, Pennsylvania and Arkansas. The robots are being sent in a real-world use of technology to help Walmart keep its aisles stocked and ready for customers. The robots scan, passes information to the cloud, communicates that data to Walmart’s back-end system and relays that knowledge to store associates to keep store shelves stocked. Continue reading