U.S. manufacturing is overdue for a resurgence, one that must be powered by Industry 4.0 technologies like robotics. However, critically needed robotics technologies often fall prey to the innovation valley of death, unable to advance from the research stage to implementation. Manufacturers of all sizes, but particularly small and medium-sized firms, find themselves ill-prepared to navigate the risks of automation—from the necessary capital investments and time needed for implementation to finding the trained workforce necessary to operate, maintain, and repair robotics after implementation. These issues combined with a historic labor skills gap that could see 2.4 million jobs left unfilled in the coming years, have stagnated U.S. manufacturing growth.
This is why the ARM (Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing) Institute was created. The ARM Institute takes a comprehensive approach to strengthening U.S. manufacturing, from catalyzing robotic solutions and helping small and medium-sized manufacturers minimize the risks associated with automation through our Robotics Manufacturing Hub, to helping current manufacturing workers upskill to robotics roles and engaging the next generation of talent through RoboticsCareer.org. The ARM Institute, with our nearly 400 member organizations, is leading the way to a future where people and robots work together to respond to our nation’s greatest challenges and to develop and produce the world’s most desired products. By bringing these voices together in tandem with government subject matter experts, the ARM Institute has catalyzed well over 150 robotics and workforce development projects that solve identified areas of need in manufacturing.
In 2014,[MO1] the U.S. government recognized the need to strengthen U.S. manufacturing by catalyzing new technologies through concentrated collaboration between industry, government, and academia. The solution to this was to create the Manufacturing USA network of institutes focused on different areas of manufacturing. Today, this network includes 16 institutes focused on areas including robotics, additive manufacturing, fibers, lightweight materials, and others. These institutes act as the critical connector between manufacturing stakeholders, catalyzing innovations that would have otherwise fallen prey to the innovation gap, creating technology roadmaps, and addressing workforce needs.
The ARM (Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing) Institute was created in 2017 as part of this network by the Department of Defense (DoD) as a Manufacturing Innovation Institute, a classification referring to the Institutes funded by the DoD. The ARM Institute was created through Carnegie Mellon University in response to the DoD’s need to create a robotics institute for manufacturing. After the proposal was selected, the ARM Institute was spun out from Carnegie Mellon University and today operates as a non-profit organization.
The institute works with its members and government partners to identify and prioritize these areas of need. These needs are then turned into “Project Calls” that seek robotics solutions. ARM Institute Members form project teams that encompass experts in industry, government, and academia and propose solutions. Leveraging both internal and member expertise in reviewing the proposed solutions, the ARM Institute funds the most impactful proposed projects.
ARM Institute projects have centered on diverse needs, including inspection, surface finishing, robotic sewing, fabrication, finishing, assembly, inspection, material handling, and others. These projects help manufacturers augment their workforce gaps, improve productivity, and open the door to business development by adding new manufacturing process capabilities to their portfolios.
Today, the ARM Institute is setting its sights on even greater impact for manufacturing and robotics end-users. Each ARM Institute project has specific cycle time, productivity, and quality metrics to measure progress towards validating the feasibility of new robotic manufacturing processes. Most projects include final demonstrations under operating conditions that are realistic and representative of the factory floor. In my role as Director of Engineering, I bring to the ARM Institute vast experience and a proven track record in accelerating technology transition at scale, into both Greenfield new sites and retrofitting existing sites with minimal disruption of production.
Beyond its traditional Project Call format, the ARM Institute has several new initiatives. The Robotics Manufacturing Hub supports small and medium sized manufacturers in the eleven counties of Southwestern Pennsylvania that want to introduce robotic manufacturing to their operations for the first time or build on existing capabilities through use of more advanced technologies. Examples include an array of collaborative robots programmed with intuitive, user-friendly programming interfaces, and are designed to operate safety side-by-side with human operators. This allows the robots to perform boring, repetitive motion tasks, with operations requiring superior manipulation, perception, and problem-solving skills reserved for humans. In my role, I am building the ARM Institute’s internal engineering team that supports the Robotics Manufacturing Hub, defining the technical scope of the projects, and reducing risk through feasibility demonstration in the Robotics Manufacturing Hub’s facility.
These technologies can only be successful if we have the trained workforce needed on the factory floor. Beyond technology innovations, the ARM Institute also prepares the workforce for the manufacturing jobs of today and those in the future. Through its national workforce resource, RoboticsCareer.org, the ARM Institute helps students, incumbent workers, and the general public connect to training programs for robotics careers in manufacturing, job openings, and explore career pathways and the skills and competencies needed for these roles.
The unique ARM Institute ecosystem has collaboration in its DNA - imbedding the manufacturing end user and leading the robotics and automation technology suppliers, startups, and universities on each project team that would otherwise be less likely to collaborate. The ARM Institute’s six years of road-mapping, operations, and projects have gone further, building ever more advanced capabilities leveraging consortium-developed intellectual property developed in early projects, with increased momentum going into the next years of the ARM Institute’s evolution.
Larry Sweet is the Director of Engineering at the ARM Institute. To learn more, visit: https://arminstitute.org/about/why-the-arm-institute/