Clemson Experts Working to Advance Robotics

The Department of Defense recently announced the formation of the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Institute, a project that brings together 123 industrial partners, 40 academic partners and 64 government and nonprofit partners. Clemson University experts will help develop the next-generation robots the institute envisions for businesses of all sizes by playing a leading role in training the workers who operate them.

It’s part of a $253-million plan that aims to fill 510,000 potential new manufacturing jobs across the country by 2025. Clemson’s Venkat Krovi, Michelin Endowed Chair in Vehicle Automation at Clemson, and  Rebecca Hartley, director of operations at the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development, will play key roles throughout the project.

Krovi is charged with co-leading one of eight regional robotics collaboratives with David Clayton, executive director of the Center for Manufacturing Innovation in Greenville; Hartley will serve as the institute’s chief workforce officer, overseeing the creation of programs that teach workers the skills they will need as robots become more prevalent in manufacturing. Krovi’s collaborative encompasses seven Southeastern states and is slated to begin operations in the space shared by Clemson and Greenville Technical College at the Center for Manufacturing Innovation in Greenville.

Flash forward

Among the institute’s 10-year goals are to increase worker productivity by 30 percent and to help make robots more accessible to small- and medium-sized businesses.

Organizers said the enhanced productivity will create jobs to build, manage and maintain the robots.Researchers who are involved with the robotics institute envision a future in which robots begin to take over heavy lifting and labor-intensive tasks. Adding intelligence to robots on the production floor will free up humans to focus on work that requires higher-level thinking, researchers said. They also want to make robots less expensive and more adaptable to a variety of jobs.

The institute will be based in Pittsburgh near Carnegie Mellon University and overseen by the nonprofit American Robotics, which was founded by Carnegie Mellon. It was the 14th institute formed as part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, recently renamed Manufacturing USA. The plan calls for a wide range of research driven by industry and defense needs in aerospace, automotive, electronics and textiles.

Four specific research projects are in the planning stages and serve as examples of work that could be done as part of the institute. One proposal would bring together Clemson, BMW, Bosch and Yaskawa, a manufacturer based near Chicago. The goal is to develop a robot that could be used at BMW’s assembly line in Greer. They want to create a robot that can put a nearly 20-pound alternator on a car as it moves down the assembly line. Human workers would use “feather touch” to operate the robot, reducing the fatigue and injuries they risk when they have to repeat the task for hours at a time.

The research would be done on a new four-station, prototype assembly line at the Center for Manufacturing Innovation. It would be part of a new effort to bring together Clemson researchers and Greenville Technical College students in what many think could be a new model for education. Involving the tech students in research, it is thought, will prepare them to work with the cutting-edge technology headed for real-world assembly lines so they will need less training once they are in jobs.

Krovi said it was exhilarating to learn that Clemson has been selected to play a leadership role in the institute. He described it as “helping to stand up the Southeast Regional Robotics Innovation Collaborative.”

“We’ve been given an opportunity to build upon Clemson’s expertise in manufacturing and robotics to enhance quality and productivity on the shop floor,” he said.

More robots. More jobs.

Hartley explains that the educational programs will involve virtual and augmented reality and build on the work done by the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development. The institute’s plan calls for the creation of about 20 certification programs for more than 10,000 operators in five years.

“Contrary to a popular misperception, robotic automation in manufacturing is creating jobs rather than increasing unemployment,” Hartley said. “Companies in South Carolina and nationwide tell us the jobs are available but that we need educational programs to prepare operators with the critical STEM skills they need to qualify.

“The trend will accelerate as robotic automation becomes more widespread in advanced manufacturing. Our work with the institute will help keep the pipeline filled with talent.”

The institute’s plan calls for a $253-million budget over seven years, including $80 million in federal investment and $173 million in cost sharing, primarily from industry, universities, community colleges and state economic development associations.

One of the goals is to ensure the United States is not reliant on a foreign industrial base for robotic technologies, which the Department of Defense considers an unacceptable long-term risk. The institute is also expected to empower American workers to compete with low-wage workers abroad.

Clayton said, “As a co-lead of the Southeast Regional Robotics Innovation Collaborative, I am excited to partner with Clemson University, the Department of Defense and the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Institute to further the research and application of robotics in manufacturing environments. This collaboration will position Greenville Technical College students and industry partners at the Center for Manufacturing Innovation as leaders in intelligent manufacturing and automation.”

Regional leader

Tanju Karanfil, vice president for research at Clemson, said the University is uniquely positioned to play a leading role in the institute.

“We are geographically located in the heart of the Southeast, an advanced manufacturing hub with strong interest in robotics,” he said. “We also have leading experts in robotics, advanced manufacturing and workforce development. Clemson’s participation in the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Institute will help ensure the nation is competitive in technologies and workforce training that are critical to the economy and defense.”

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, congratulated the Clemson team on its part in the project. He was the principal investigator on a separate 2011 grant that that formed the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development.

“The Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Institute will benefit the state and nation by bringing together preeminent scholars, industry and others crucial to economic development to work collaboratively in aerospace, automotive, electronics and textiles,” he said. “All these sectors are critical to growth and ripe for adoption of robotics in manufacturing. Clemson’s participation will help South Carolina and the broader Southeastern region play a leading role in developing and adopting the cutting-edge technologies that keep the nation competitive.”

Clemson will be working closely with local, state and regional partners, such as Greenville Technical College, the University of South Carolina, Auburn University and Savannah River National Laboratory to further manufacturing activities in the region.

Additionally, the automotive engineering team based at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research will be involved in setting up the assembly line for research at CMI. According to Zoran Filipi, chair of the automotive engineering department at Clemson, “We will be leveraging the cutting-edge automotive engineering research we do to further the aims of the institute.”

*This article originally appeared on the Clemson Newsstand. Read the full article here*