Since 1959, HTE has helped to increase the productivity of regional manufacturers through innovative application of technology. With the driving motivation to build faster, leaner, smarter and safer local industrial manufacturers, HTE has pioneered a new era of manufacturing and advanced technologies.
Though the firm has evolved substantially since its beginnings, its hard work, close client relationships and innovation has remained. Currently, the company’s most exciting new product offering is a line of collaborative industrial robots from Rethink Robotics®. Dave Alexander provided some insight into the robotic technology that is redefining opportunities for the U.S. manufacturing sector and changing manufacturing as we know it.
HTE Technologies’ work involves total industrial solutions, and its five business divisions provide significantly different industrial products and services for the manufacturing industry. The company’s comprehensive website, www.htetech.com, outlines its diverse offerings. From motion and control to automation, fluid power, hose and connectors, fastening and lifting, metal finishing, compressed air and compressor rentals, HTE has built its reputation on the expert-driven application of innovative products and services. Chances are, if it is a challenge in manufacturing, HTE is developing, or has developed, a solution.
One considerable problem faced by all American manufacturers is an aging workforce and growing shortage of interested or qualified laborers. As a sizable portion of the workforce faces retirement in the next ten years, North American manufacturers are facing the prospect of empty factories and challenging production requirements.
For decades, automation has filled the demand for faster and more efficient processes. Engineering and skilled technicians have become an integral part of manufacturing today, but despite an industry-wide shift toward automation, some of the most dull, dirty and dangerous manufacturing roles have remained people-powered. The reason for this is complex, but it centers on the fact that these positions involve low-volume, short-run tasks and the high cost of employing improved technology or engineers cannot be rationalized. A scarcity of floor space and all the requisite safety requirements for automating traditional robots makes the situation even trickier.
“With competition measured in terms of the entire globe, pressures on today’s manufacturer are as high as they have ever been. Being a dynamic, flexible manufacturer is becoming more important,” says Mr. Alexander.
HTE effectively responds to this challenge by offering the Rethink Robotics line of Collaborative Robots. The firm aims to mitigate both the safety risk and labor shortages of manufacturing. The Collaborative Robots (Cobots), also known as Baxter® and Sawyer™, work alongside skilled workers to create stronger, more efficient and more precise results for repetitive tasks.
Baxter was the first of its kind when it was released in 2012. Baxter cooperates directly with people, enabling simultaneous human and robot completion of tasks. During a production operation, Baxter works in the same space with manufacturing professionals to expedite processes.
Ultimately, Baxter’s most significant contribution is providing safe, interactive and affordable automation by removing the need for laborers to perform repetitive and dangerous tasks. The robot enables manufacturers to be more strategic and economical in the deployment of in-house human capital by allowing staff to be assigned to higher-value tasks which demand deeper skill sets and experience.
“All ideas about the cost of automating a process get thrown out the window with this tool that can be wheeled to multiple workstations in a day, can easily be set up by factory floor workers, requires no permanent safety guarding, and therefore, no designated factory floor space,” Mr. Alexander explains. Baxter and Sawyer implementation projects almost universally meet the most stringent project ROI requirements.
With outstanding ROI results, Baxter is maximizing the competitive advantage for manufacturers across the country. It is already operating in machining tasks including metal fabrication and molding operations as well as many material handling applications.
In March of 2015, Rethink Robotics added to its innovations by releasing Sawyer, Baxter’s detail-focused cousin which promises to take the line one step further. Sawyer “is a single-arm, high-performance robot created to handle machine tending, circuit board testing and other precise tasks that have been difficult to automate with existing robots.”
Although the technology itself is impressive, at the core of Rethink Robotics’ success is the work of skilled application professionals like HTE Technologies’ TECHTEAM. The experienced technology team consists of engineers, designers, technical specialists and field service technicians who tailor manufacturing technologies to the unique environments and demands of each project.
“For customers, our TECHTEAM is like having extra local engineers in-house to help with application support and problem solving. Customers look at the time required for their team to get the same information we provide, and it just makes sense for them to partner with us.”
HTE’s in-house robotics experts are essential to effective implementation of Baxter and Sawyer because the most substantial challenge involves making the ‘hands’ the robot uses to efficiently grasp a product. “Our engineers use their training, coupled with very practical field experience and our in-house tools like our 3D printer, to come up with solutions that optimally adapt Baxter and Sawyer to each task.”
HTE’s robotic technologies are facilitating a partnership between robots and humans that is revolutionizing manufacturing across the country. The Rethink Robotics range has created a buzz at the large, medium, and small-scale manufacturing facilities of pharmaceutical manufacturers, various plastic companies, machining facilities and others. Contrary to what the movies may have one believe, robots are not taking over the world, but rather, they are becoming an integral piece of a human-led industrial evolution.
When one delves into the impact that automation has had on the manufacturing sector, the results stand in stark contrast to popular opinion. Although it is widely known that American manufacturing is struggling to compete with international competitors, robotics, in many ways, is contributing to a healthier and more robust industry and job market overall.
Most are unaware, but automation such as the forklift and conveyor is what accounted for the majority of labor changes in manufacturing. Robotics, however, is igniting a type of sustainable growth which is good for everyone. As the manufacturing industry struggles to find ample workforce, Collaborative Robots permit employers to place laborers in more crucial roles. Today, these technologies have not replaced workers, but rather freed resources, allowing firms to replace temporary workers with permanent staff while simultaneously making these firms more competitive in the global marketplace.
When it comes to the manufacturing world, there have been few technological advancements as promising or economically valuable as the Rethink Robotics line.
The HTE TECHTEAM brings the focused expertise of all five divisions together in a service-rich experience to solve a broad array of the most difficult problems faced by the manufacturing community. The TECHTEAM focuses the knowledge, product lines, and engineering talent from each HTE division to make our customers more competitive.
“To maximize productivity solutions we dig deep into our customers’ whole process to develop solutions that boost productivity, efficiency and reliability for years to come. Our experience and expertise encompasses systems that include: Process Automation; Hydraulics and Pneumatics; Compressed Air; Assembly Tools; Material Handling; and Metal Finishing.”
Additionally, HTE supports customer short-term or emergency needs through its large Rentals Services Group. For more information on HTE’s extensive product and services offerings go to www.htetech.com.