I'm thankful for the opportunity to have attended Automate 2023 last week. I LOVE seeing how things are made so walking a trade show like this is pretty much a dream come true.
If you've not been to Automate before, I'd say it's about 1/3 the size of ProMat and maybe 1/4 the size of IMTS, but it's still HUGE. There are 700+ vendors displaying everything you can imagine from individual (sub)components to fully packaged automation solutions.
Of all the booths I saw last week, these are my absolute favorites, ranked in order.
1) CaPow Technologies, LTD
Be'er Shiva, Israel
CaPow has the coolest wireless charging system I've ever seen. Why is CaPow the coolest? Because CaPow provides perpetual power to your robots while they move!
That's right. Rather than having to take your mobile robots (or forklifts, tuggers, etc) out of service to charge, CaPow's perpetual power solution actually lets you run your fleet 24/7 without having to 'take a break' to top off the batteries.
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said 'faster horses'.
The capacitive power solution (ca pow - CaPow - get it?) has two main components:
- Capactive Power Delivery - CaPow delivers power through thin capacitive stickers. Place a transmitter sticker along the floor, a receiver sticker on your robot, and you're off and running. Need to rearrange your facility? No problem. Just pull the stickers up and relocate them as needed.
- Capacitive Power Storage - Lithium ion batteries seem great but they're not without their problems. Lithium is still considered a hazardous material by the EPA and DOT. Even MiR had to issue a battery recall a couple years ago because they were worried about "thermal runaway" in their batteries, which is a nice way of saying "spontaneous combustion." CaPow makes a lightweight super capacitor that can completely replace your batteries.
The CaPow solution has several benefits to those who adopt the technology:
- Increased robot uptime / decreased size/cost of robot fleet
- Reclaim floor space previously allocated to charging equipment and put it back to business use
- Increased safety - no chance of thermal runaway
- Better environmental compliance, easier management - no more Lithium shipping/storage/disposal
- Pick the power storage best for you - keep your batteries, exchange for onboard super capacitors, or mix the two
I first became aware of this solution last fall and had the pleasure of meeting the CaPow team in person at ProMat in March. It's a very unique solution built by a great team. If you'd like more information, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or contact me now and I'd be happy to talk about this awesome new power solution!
Waltham, MA, USA
Humatics provides a real-time location service (RTLS) for manufacturing cells. Once they mount their radio antenna array over a production cell, Humatics is able to track the position of equipment with submillimeter accuracy in all three dimensions!
That's right. Simply by placing a small locator "puck" in a fixed location on each piece of equipment in your cell, Humatics tracks the precise location of that equipment in all three dimensions in real-time.
That way, all the moving parts of your production process are always aware of each other, even if there is some variation in the accuracy of each. For examples of how this can help real-time manufacturing processes, please visit their Microlocation for Automation page to see video samples. Here's a short video I took at Automate:
I think what I like most about this solution is that it's completely vendor agnostic so you can build a heterogenous manufacturing cell with best of breed solutions all around without fear of location-based interoperability problems.
I love the Thouzer AGV. It's super fast to set up and very easy to use; however, this simplicity comes with some trade-offs. For example - Thouzer has no fleet manager. This makes deployments REALLY fast (no need for WiFi and IT guys), but at the same time, we just don't have any kind of central management system that can track a Thouzer fleet in real-time.
That's why I was excited to meet the fine gentlemen from BlueBotics last week! They have a "bolt-on" solution called ANT Localization that can take location data from almost any AMR/AGV and plot it on a map in real-time. In fact, ANT Localization can track all sorts of stuff:
- Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
- Automated Forklifts
- Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)
- Service Robots
- Manual Vehicles
After talking with the BlueBotics team further, I learned that ANT stands for Autonomous Navigation Technology and it does a LOT more than provide localization service. In fact, ANT can take over all the navigation functions of your devices AND provide fleet management for your entire environment! For example, if you have a fleet of Acme AGVs and you love the hardware but hate the software, you can do a "brain transplant" and swap the factory navigation and management software for ANT navigation and management. How cool is that???
Mark my words - as time goes on, robot OEMs are going to continue to acquire one another and the market will begin to consolidate. Hardware will improve, sure, and it's important, but in the end it's the company with the best software and the best UI/UX that's going to win. Keep an eye on BlueBotics for sure.
Automate 2023 Honorable Mentions
There were a TON of other booths I stopped at. These were also best of breed but just weren't as unique as the three I already described.
Thouzer AGV is the "headline" of our linecard at JLC Robotics, and it's a great solution. It does have one pretty critical weakness though (in my opinion) - the battery.
Thouzer is built with lead acid batteries that run for a while then take EIGHT HOURS to recharge. Obviously this just doesn't work for 24-hour shops so I've been scrambling to find a solution for months now.
Thankfully I met Matthieu and the Wiferion team at ProMat. Their etaLink wireless charging solution bundles wireless charging and lithium ion batteries all in one amazing solution that works beautifully together.
After outfitting our AGVs with this amazing technology, we can fully charge our batteries in just thirty minutes. Yeah! A half hour! On top of that, the Wiferion batteries last much much longer than what we're used to, and there's also a cloud dashboard for monitoring the solution as well.
Indianapolis, IN, USA
Factur is a B2B lead generation service for manufacturers. They also used to run manufacturing referral groups, but have spun those off into a their own entity called the Manufacturing Referral Network.
Now Factur focuses only on lead generation for manufacturers. I spoke with Elijah, one of their reps, at Automate and I was pretty impressed with the infrastructure they have built. They are CRM-focused and using data-driven decision making to deliver outstanding results to their clients.
Sure, there are plenty of marketing agencies out there, but Factur was founded by manufacturers for manufacturers and in my opinion deliver way more value than other competitive manufacturing marketing services like ThomasNet. If you're a manufacturer looking to grow, reach out to Elijah and he'll help you out!
Greer, SC, USA
Creform has been around for a long time and is somewhat famous for their AGVs - especially their Automated Guided Carts (AGCs) or "mouse AGVs" that lift and carry entire shelves from underneath.
I'm not a fan of AGVs running around on magnetic tape, but I am a fan of simple material handling solutions, and that's exactly what the Creform Flow Racks do:
Many of these racks gravity powered so there's no configuration, network connectivity, or even electrical required. I love it!
I honestly had no idea Creform made all sorts of conveyance structures and that's why I'm including them in my Automate 2023 roundup. If you need flow racks, look them up!
In a show full of advanced technology, it's nice to see there is still a place for simple material handling solutions like Creform's gravity-assist racks.
Automate 2023 Conclusions
All in all, I enjoyed myself at Automate this year. I was able to see a lot more of the booths than I did at ProMat but I'm looking forward to returning to both shows next year in Chicago.
What was your favorite booth? Should I add someone to the list? Let me know in the comments!