The Top 10 Technologies at IMTS 2022

Automation, 3D printing and even a robot dog made the list.

Last week, the industry descended upon McCormick Place in Chicago for the International Manufacturing Technology Show. IMTS 2022 was more of a marathon than a sprint and of the 1,272 exhibitors at the show, here are the top ten that stood out to us.

10: Stratasys

In January 2021, Stratasys completed its acquisition of Origin, bringing digital light processing (DLP) 3D printing into the company's portfolio. The Origin One printer offers mass production for end use parts with arguably the best surface quality out of the printer.

The printer isn't simulating plastics but using real TPU and ABS, printing real parts in real plastics. The printer has obvious applicability in automotive and aerospace, but can also use biocompatible materials for medical applications. The platform has six-to-eight new materials coming out, including ceramic, and is currently developing the next generation Origin Two. 

We mentioned auto and aero, but Origin One is also playing a big role in shoes. Shoemaker ECCO has 250 Origin Ones inhouse printing shoe sole molds 24 hours a day. The company cut development time from two weeks down to 10 hours, from $20,000 to $300. Bigger changes are coming as more engineers have been calling out additive manufacturing on drawings.

9: ABB

Even big leaders in robotics have to look meticulously at the most basic problems facing manufacturers and attempt to solve them. On display this year on behalf of ABB was the GoFa, a robot that’s been developed to support processes with heavier loads and longer reaches, including repetitive and ergonomically challenging tasks.

The easy-to-use GoFa CRB 15000 collaborative robot features intelligent sensors in each joint to support close human and robot collaboration, enabling class-leading reach and speed for payloads up to 5kg. The cobot can work side by side with humans and stops within milliseconds if it makes contact.

GoFa earned a Red Dot “Best of the Best” award for groundbreaking design.

According to Sami Atiya, President of ABB’s Robotics & Discrete Automation Business Area, 

“Making robots more approachable, easier to use and more intuitive is key to our vision to make robots as familiar in the workplace as a laptop is today.”

8: Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics set up camp in the Smartforce Student Summit where it showcased its four-legged industrial robot, Spot. The robot dog is currently being used in the manufacturing industry to automate routine inspection tasks and capture data.

Boston Dynamics’ booth featured two models with arm and thermal PTZ camera payloads. The thermal camera, a new feature for the robot, can perform scans on machinery and show fault condition.

Customers can send Spot autonomously on rounds where it can also capture consistent images, upload data and send alarms in the case of overheating.

The robot’s battery can last up to 90 minutes during normal operation and takes approximately two hours to charge. 

7: Bantam Tools

Bantam Tools set up its relatively small booth on the perimeter of the McCormick Place South Building during last week’s IMTS but it managed to draw consistently big crowds. A lot of attendees were stopping by to check out the company’s new Explorer CNC Milling Machine, which fits everything needed for aluminum prototyping into a machine roughly the size of a desktop 3D printer.

Bantam Tools CEO Bre Pettis (former CEO and co-founder of MakerBot) was on hand to talk about the Explorer, which he described as a perfect piece of equipment for “impatient engineers.” Instead of drawing designs and waiting sometimes weeks to get a prototype back from the shop before being able to iterate again, the Explorer lets them fabricate on the spot.

The Explorer includes a modular spindle with ER-11 collet and a rigid unibody exoskeleton. Plus, it can run off a generator or battery power station, making it especially portable compared to most CNC machines.

“Many product developers and engineers have expressed that they would love the opportunity to travel with our machine and put it through its paces in locations other than their office,” said Pettis. “Now, when an engineer or designer needs to be out in the field or working remotely, they can fabricate parts and solve problems, then easily put the machine away when they are done.”

6: Kuka

As the case for space improves, more and more tech leaders are trying to uncover how parts could be developed onsite at the International Space Station – enabling aerospace researchers to skip the weight and expense of shipping heavy items.

In the KUKA Robotics booth at IMTS, the company featured a multi-robot 3D printing demonstration from Orbital Composites. In a simulated space environment cell, small and large KUKA robots outfitted with special end effectors performed high-speed, high-precision composite material printing.

The cell is known as Orbital S, an industrial-grade robotic 3D printer that enables mass production of large end-use parts. This setup uses a small and large KUKA robot, and special multi-tool end-effectors enable the use of a variety of printheads that Kuka says “create rich multi-material large and small parts efficiently.” Additionally, such multi-scale and multi-material printing capability creates highly multi-functional parts with improved performance produced in shorter cycle times and at a lower cost due to part consolidation.

The Orbital S prints on curved surfaces and does so 25 times faster than a desktop printer – a benefit to producers in any orbit. 

5: Okuma

Okuma America, a CNC machine tools, controls and automation systems producer, used 15 machines to occupy its massive booth. Headlining the booth were the company’s VT1000EX Vertical Lathe, MA-8000H Horizontal Machining Center and GENOS M560V-5AX Machining Center for cutting chips. 

The VT1000EX can handle difficult-to-cut materials such as stainless steel, Inconel and titanium. It weighs 41,800 pounds and is capable of nearly 4,000 pound-feet of torque and 30 kN of thrust on the X and Z axes.

The MA-8000H is a horizontal machining center that can cut medium-to-large workpieces with travel ranges of 1,400 mm on the X axis, 1,200 mm on the Y axis and 1,350 mm on the Z axis. It also features an enhanced chip evacuation system, in-machine washing and a sludgeless coolant tank.

Making its world debut at IMTS 2022 was the GENOS M560V-5AX. This 5-axis vertical machine includes a 500 mm table and lets shops expand operational possibilities. Additionally, a trunnion table parallel to the front of the machine allows for good visibility and easy access to the table.

4: HP

One of the most disruptive technologies to make it to the show floor at IMTS came from a well known industry leader in additive: HP. HP announced the commercial availability of its Metal Jet S100 Solution – a printer designed to bring scale to 3D printing by enabling the mass production of parts.

According to HP, the Metal Jet S100 Solution provides industrial production capabilities, integrated workflow, subscription and service offerings, helping customers achieve business transformation goals. The modular solution enables build units to travel between four different stations, meaning users can continually run production at scale for mass metals production.

HP’s Thermal Inkjet printhead is said to dramatically improve the printing speed, part quality, and repeatability. The advanced latex chemistries developed by HP lend significant benefits to the binder itself, enabling stronger green parts, eliminating the need for de-binding, and yielding industrial production-grade quality. 

3: Universal Robot

Universal Robot is building human scale automation, focusing on augmenting human workers rather than replacing them.

At IMTS 2022, the company's UR20 made its U.S. debut. Among other things, UR's naming system remains among the easiest to parse, the 20 can lift 20 kg (44.1) payloads. The new UR20 also has a reach of 1,750 mm (68.9 inches) and is built to move into more machine-tending applications, including the ability to tend several machines at once. 

Anders Beck, UR's VP of Strategy and Innovation said the company is “creating a world where workers learn how to work with robots, rather than like robots.”

Robot adoption has been relatively slow in the U.S., but small-and mid-sized manufacturers are acknowledging a need to change strategy. Beck says, if we don't change, factories will be empty in five years — and not in a lights out manufacturing sense. 

In the booth, the UR20 was loading and unloading heavy machine fixtures that require a long reach. These weren’t tech demos, but turnkey products designed by partners to fill an immediate need.

UR's booth was filled with interesting solutions, including a cobot welder from Hirebotics and a cobot plasma cutting tool from Vectis Automation. 

2: Veo Robotics

Among all the precise robotics in IMTS’s North Building, it was impossible not to notice a large, yellow robot arm flailing around in an open space. As the centerpiece of the Veo Robotics’ booth, it was there to demonstrate the company’s 3D Dynamic Safeguarding.

Veo didn’t make the robot, but it did develop the ceiling-mounted sensors, engine and software that work in tandem to tell the robot when people are near so it can cease operations to avoid injury. Though most people hovered at the edge of the booth, some were brave enough to walk up to the robot, which stopped moving while they were close and then immediately started back up as soon as they were outside of its range.

Veo Robotics CEO Patrick Sobalvarro described the safety system, which doesn’t require the guard rails or barriers often needed around robots of that size, as a way to “turn any large robot into a cobot.” He pointed out use cases like automobile assembly lines where a robot lifts a heavy instrument panel into place before human workers jump in to connect all the wiring.

For now, the system only operates in a roughly 6x6 meter space but an upcoming version will let facilities daisy chain systems together, allowing them to cover larger workspaces like entire assembly lines and allowing humans to easily work alongside their robot co-workers with minimal disruption and reduced risk.

1: Yaskawa

The Yaskawa booth was filled with robots performing myriad tasks, looking to address challenges manufacturers face now and in the near future. The first was a machine tending application set up with the company's HC10DTP collaborative robot to load and unload parts from a machine just as a human would. It’s safe, it’s accurate, it can use nearly any end effector or robot hand on the market and it works 24/7. The cobot is IP67-rated and suitable for assembly, dispensing, material handling and, perhaps most importantly, welding.

As you may know, the industry is facing a welder shortage that will leave 375,000 welding jobs unfilled by 2026. The problem is projected to be worse than the trucker shortage. So, in response, Yaskawa was showing off its collaborative welding cell, a turnkey welding table that is designed to add robotic welding capacity in any size shop, even in close proximity to human workers.

Using Yaskawa's HC-series robots, the tables are compatible with Miller, Lincoln, Fronius and other welding power sources and the robot is well suited for supplementing manual welding on even large, heavy workpieces. The beauty of cobots is that, depending on production needs, they can be assigned to other tasks around the shop to fill gaps in between jobs.

That wraps up our IMTS 2022 top ten, we look forward to seeing you in Chicago in 2024.

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