As any self-aggrandizing startup CEO will tell you: Start with the Why. #ThanksSimonSinek.
Why do we do what we do at Fuzzy Logic? Why is it important? Why should you care?
All clichés aside, this very fundamental question is more challenging to answer than one might expect because it requires introspection and, to put it bluntly, to cut the bullshit. So let’s dig.
Industrial robots are incredible tools that can be used for virtually anything you can think up. They are robust, they are powerful, they are available (electronics shortages aside), and for the most part they are reasonably inexpensive when it comes to industrial equipment. So why aren’t they everywhere?
Robots, and the tools we use to program and integrate them, were invented for – and thanks to 🙏 – mass production in the automotive industry. And quite frankly, these tools are awesome! I think they get a bad wrap but with the engineering tools used today in robotics and automation, you can program hundreds of machines, synchronize them with thousands of sensors and all of that in hard real-time. That’s just scratching the surface of the engineering challenge that is “a production line”.
The problem is not that theses tools aren’t “good”, they are simply victims of their own success. Over time the number of things, features and add-ons one can do and use with these tools has grown to meet the ever growing demand for robotics. But this demand has been largely driven by high volume low mix production lines in the automotive and electronics industries. Just check out the IFR statistics. All of this functionality has come at the cost of complexity. This is a necessary tradeoff and as the man once said: “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
So for complex engineering projects it is unfathomable (IMHO) to imagine some easy-peasy one click tool that magically does the work of dozens of engineers – I call bullshit.
But there is a lot more to manufacturing than mass-production.
We/I am based out of Paris France. And France has this great institute called the INSEE which does all of these very in depth economic studies. For the purposes of this tirade, their study on the Manufacturing Industry will give us some numbers.
Yes, I know… it’s in French. What’s interesting about this graphic is not the beautiful color scheme or the fancy accents. No, it’s the fact that 99.224845% of all manufacturing companies in France are SMEs, that’s a little over 215k companies. As of 2020 the operation stock of industrial robots in France was a little over 42k.
See: Müller, Christopher; Kutzbach, Nina: World Robotics 2020 – Industrial Robots, IFR Statistical Department, VDMA Services GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 2020.
Suffice it to say that there are at least 150k companies that don’t have robots yet. That’s a lot-o-bots! And we are just talking about France. The numbers seem to show the same general tendency throughout European countries and likewise in the Americas. Large enterprises make up most of the added value but represent only a small fraction of the overall industrial mesh of companies.
This begs a Why question? Why are there so few robots when there are so many companies who would most likely benefit from them? Labor shortages aren’t improving or going to improve, competition from low cost-of-labor countries is getting tougher and tougher, and pretty much every occidental government agrees that its time to re-shore industry. So robots should be selling like the proverbial hotcakes.
Well to put it simply, the vast majority of these companies (and many of the big boys as well) don’t do “mass-production” – they are doing low volume high mix production. This means there are a lot of production changes – something robots were not designed to handle.
Side note: I can’t find any reliable figures to quantify “vast majority” – if anyone has a good study to support or refute this please hit me up on Linkedin…
Remember robots were designed to do one complex thing really well for a long time. That’s a specific problem with a specific solution. Now, factories are asking robots to be flexible i.e. do simple things but lots of different ways. What’s more they need all of this without necessarily having a robotics expert on hand. This new problem requires new tools. If we can build these new tools and fill this void, then we can open up an enormous market of new robot users and provide these companies with cost-effective solutions to surf the growing tidal wave of global re-shoring.
So that’s it… our Why: Bring industrial robots to the millions of factories who need them.
How we do it
Now that we have answered the Why… or as best as I think is possible as of today. We move on to the How. For me this one is a whole lot easier: make industrial robotics accessible to everyone.
Not just prettier interfaces, and better looking designs. Make robots as easy as everyday tools – like a drill. A drill is easy to use, but you still need to practice to be good with one. You can very easily hurt yourself with it, so you need to maintain some semblance common sense. If you are creative you can use it in ways it was never intended! Enter the Power Peeler…
This is how we make our Why a reality. Make robots as easy to use as drills. If we can accomplish this, then we can stop treating robotic workcells as black boxes reserved for mystical wizards and start using them like versatile tools ready to be used/adapted at a moments notice by anyone in the factory.
So I know what you are thinking, “Yes, OBVIOUSLY Ryan. But what the hell can do that?!” First, stop yelling. Second, you’re right, we are missing the critical bit – what could possibly accomplish this.
What we do
Our approach is a little different at Fuzzy Logic. First off we believe in something called “Human in the Loop” robotics. Rather than replace a worker with a robot and try to fully automate a manual task we believe that it is far cleverer and more cost-effective to simply turn the robot into a tool for the worker. Let the person who knows their application inside and out, be the person who programs the robot to do it in their stead.
To reach this objective, there can be no “programming” involved. Most people don’t program in their day job, so making programming prettier is not going to cut it. It’s gotta go!
So how do you program a robot without programming a robot? You show it what to do. The same way an expert teaches a novice – by showing, not by programming cartesian coordinates.
So this is what we do in Fuzzy Studio. Using a 3D digital twin of the robot and it’s workcell, a user can show where they want the robot to move to and operate by clicking in the 3D scene. They can preview what the robot can or can’t do and then just click play.
But this simplicity isn’t magic. It is actually really complicated to get right.
Fuzzy Studio is designed to be integrated into an overall workcell and is process agnostic. This means that we team up with robotic system integrators and enable them to build all the cool automation around the robot and the process specific features so that the user never has to worry about it and at the end of the day simply shows the robot where it needs to go.
What this gives factories are a robotic workcells that are easy to reprogram and understandable for everyone on the factory floor without any real training. It gives these factories a new tool to amplify their know-how and productivity without restructuring their workforce. And it gives these factories users who get better and better at operating advanced technology because humans are fantastic learners if you give them the tools to do so.
To conclude, it is my less than averagely-humble opinion that there is not one magic solution to all that ails industrial robotics. There is a great solution for every problem and as I mentioned earlier, I don’t think one size fits all when it comes to robotics. Fuzzy Studio can solve a lot of very interesting problems but there are just as many that require different tools and thinking. This is why we built Fuzzy RTOS – to enable developers and engineers to build solutions faster and without having to worry about the robot behind the scenes… But we will save that for a different day.
There is so much more to cover here, so let’s just say that we are just scratching the tip of surface!
Malaphors aside, new tools like Fuzzy Studio and all the other great innovations popping up these days that will take robotics to its next phase of evolution. But what excites me most are all the use-cases we can’t even imagine right now thanks to new generation of users and the creativity that is born when people with a problem get a new tool.