The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing, or ARM, Institute today announced that it has chosen eight new projects, which will receive a total of $7.5 million. ARM said it plans to award $2.9 million, and participating organizations will contribute $4.6 million in cost share. To date, ARM has invested in over 70 robotics technology and workforce development projects.
The ARM Institute is a public-private partnership that receives funding from the U.S. Department of Defense and other agencies to help U.S. manufacturing competitiveness and national resilience. The Pittsburgh-based organization identifies areas of need to be the focus of automation and workforce development project calls. ARM has more than 270 members and partners across industry, academia, and government.
“The ARM Institute, and the Manufacturing USA network was a whole, facilitates dynamic collaboration between diverse organizations for the collective strength the nation,” stated Arnold Kravitz, chief technology officer of ARM. “This unique collaboration between competitors can’t be replicated elsewhere and is critical for the security and resiliency of our nation.”
Brief descriptions of each selected project are below.
1. Autonomous Material Handling System for Medical Devices and Consumer Goods Logistic and E-Commerce Applications
Lead: Johnson & Johnson
Description: This robotic solution focuses on increasing flexibility in e-commerce to better respond to sudden supply chain disruption demands, which existed before the COVID-19 pandemic and were further exacerbated by the crisis. The project team will work to develop a fully autonomous collaborative robot that can travel to stocked items and pick things from within storage containers.
2. ‘Bot Couture:’ Robotic Clothing Manufacturing
Lead: Siemens Technology
Partners: Sewbo, Henderson Sewing, ISAIC, Bluewater Defense
Description: Most apparel manufacturing is done abroad, which leads to lengthy supply chains. This supply chain issue poses a significant risk, as seen when the U.S. struggled to scale up production of personal protective equipment (PPE). This project team will leverage results from a previously funded ARM project to expand upon it by delivering a modular workcell that can be configured to perform end to end automated assembly of PPEs, such as isolation gowns.
3. Augmented Reality-Based Human-Robot Interaction
Lead: Boeing Research & Technology
Partners: Siemens, Southwest Research Institute, rpGatta, FANUC America
Description: This project focuses on a user-friendly augmented reality (AR) interface that will allow human operators with limited education on robotics programming to program and operate robotic processes for parts maintenance. The team is working to empower workers by supporting the worker transition from menial tasks to robotic operation with limited training needed to make the change. This will build upon an existing talented workforce base while implementing automation to improve accuracy and lower costs.
4. Automated Induction Welding of Large Thermoplastic Composite Structures
Lead: Raytheon Technologies Research Center
Partners: GrayMatter Robotics, University of South Carolina
Description: Lightweight carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic composites (CF-TPCs) have been widely recognized as the materials capable of meeting the future aerospace market rate demands with potential recyclability. This project team seeks to develop an automated welding solution that will decrease the time spent on the welding process and expand the application from small and simple parts to large and complex parts.
5. Automated Bottom Hemming Through Robotic Garment Manipulation
Lead: Siemens Technology
Partners: University of Southern California, Henderson Sewing, Black Swan Textiles, United Sewing Automation
Description: This project team will focus on developing robotic capabilities to perform bottom hemming, the process of performing a circular stitch at the bottom of the T-shirt. This project will also build upon a previously funded ARM project, ultimately resulting in the use of a bimanual robot to pick up a garment from a stack, dynamically readjust its shape, and then insert it into an automatic bottom hemmer. In addition to the technology capabilities, the project team will focus on workforce development aspects to enable operators to easily operate and maintain the system.
6. Reducing Composite Ply Layup Time on Complex Tools though Use of Robotic Cells
Lead: University of Southern California
Description: Current composite layup processes are manual, costly, time-consuming, and suffer from inconsistencies. This project team is working to develop a hybrid cell that will facilitate better human-robotic collaboration in the composite layup process. This is expected to reduce touch labor during the layup process, reduce debulking steps, and increase throughput.
7. Robotic Assistant for Repurposable Fabric Fusing Operations
Partners: Interface Technologies, Hickey Freeman
Description: The U.S. continues to lose apparel manufacturing to international suppliers who offer lower wage costs; however, the apparel industry is ripe for automation. Current processes see human workers touching each piece of fabric and manually picking and placing. This project team is working to develop and an end effector that can pick and place fabric and interlining piece parts and fabric bolts onto the fusing machine conveyor. The team plans to develop open source software modules that can program robots from multiple vendors and leverage collaborative robots that can be easily positioned.
8. Interoperability and Orchestration of Autonomous Mobile Robots
Lead: Siemens Technology
Description: Current practice sees each autonomous mobile robot (AMR) vendor using its own custom fleet management software platform, making it difficult for end-users to operate a fleet of mixed AMR brands efficiently. This project aims to enable AMR cross-vendor communication and management, lowering the barriers for the further adoption of AMRs. The outputs from this project are expected to result in lower training time for operators and increased productivity.
“The ARM Institute has grown quickly since its inception in 2017, which has resulted in many impactful projects for both members and the Department of Defense,” said Dr. Greg Hudas, ARM Department of Defense program manager. “We are confident that these project selections will make a tangible difference for the U.S. industrial base and manufacturing supply chain.”