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News archive for April, 2014

Humanoid robot

April 2014

Our “Uncanny Valley” Article

In our newest article, Automation GT reports on the idea of the uncanny valley and what recent innovations in the world or robotics say about our odd relationship with humanoid robots. We were very excited to get our article published at The Robot Report and Everything Robotic.

The uncanny valley, the idea that people perceive exceedingly human robots as creepy, may be a very familiar concept for those well-versed in robotics and the development of robots for use in the home and workplace. Whether or not you’ve heard of this idea before, chances are you’ve still likely experienced this feeling when seeing odd robotics or middle-quality CGI (the Beowulf movie with Angelina Jolie was heavily criticized for falling into the uncanny valley).

But even though many of us share this send of slight revulsion, we keep developing robots that are increasingly human-esque in their appearances and behavior. Click the links below to read our thoughts on what recent developments suggest about our inconsistent behavior on developing robots.

Energy and industry in China and the US

April 2014

China’s Shifting Place in the Manufacturing Industry and Climate Change

Rachel Greenberg writes technical and marketing content for Automation GT out of San Diego, California.

A recent study from the Boston Consulting Group, which has been quoted frequently in several recent articles out this week, suggests that for a variety of reasons, American manufacturers may soon start to re-shore operations from China back to America. This prediction is based on a few factors: the changing costs of doing business in China versus America, the shifting landscape of American expectations on goods and services, and China’s shifting place as a growing world power.

According to one recent report, while there is still some cost advantage to manufacturing in China over America, that advantage is now only at a difference of 5%. In the past, American manufacturers exported operations and jobs to China because of lower labor and supply costs, and sometimes, because of the lower standards placed on manufacturers.

A report in Yahoo News suggests that American industrial jobs, which decreased by as many as 7.5 million since 1979, may be returning to American locations due to “falling domestic natural gas prices, rising worker productivity, and a lack of upward wage pressure.” Predictions suggest that we could see between 2.5 and 5 million manufacturing jobs return to the US by 2020.

In China, wages have risen by about 19% consistently since 2005, while at the same time the population of working-age citizens has decreased. China has an aging population with life expectancy increasing in many parts of China, while the birth rate decreases due both to the country’s laws on family size and the resulting low number of girls born each year, thereby further decreasing the fertility rate of the country. Further, the lack of protection for intellectual property rights in past years in China has caused as many as 58% of American manufacturers to report concern with continued business in China.

While it may be troubling that a major factor in this shift is the badly needed increase in China’s factory wages against the lack of similar wage increases in America, economists have been clear in the past about the implications of wage increases for manufacturing jobs.

At the same time, China has been taking some very interesting steps towards improved environmental standards. According to an article in Column F, China is already the world’s biggest investor in renewable energies and in the current Five Year Plan on energy, the country committed to achieving a rate of 11.4% of all energy use from renewable sources. Further, in 2013 China installed “12GW of solar capacity, equivalent to three times that of the total UK capacity, with plans for a similar amount this year. By way of comparison, the USA installed 4.3 GW of solar capacity last year….[Further, a] report earlier this year by the World Wildlife Fund claimed that China could have an electricity system in place by 2050 consisting of 80% renewable sources and that it would be substantially cheaper than using coal.”

As Column F notes, China has been able to increase their renewable energy capacity at a faster rate than many other countries because in much of China, these are new installations in areas that have not had electricity before, while other countries have to replace old structures first, which carries many political and financial trappings that must be dealt with separately.

China is facing environmental collapse and many instances of social unrest, but these movements towards greater environmental consciousness is excellent news, considering the great strain that it will place on the planet to bring higher living conditions to China’s huge population.

Right now, China is still listed by the BCG as the number one country for manufacturing in the world with the US coming in at second place. As China works to repair many of its internal problems and America focuses on meeting the demand for “Made in America” goods, it will be interesting to see how these changes will impact China’s growth as a world power, and America’s attempts to recover financially and improve our own environmental record.

Customer Service

April 2014

Why is Good Customer Service So Important in Automation?

Rachel Greenberg writes technical and marketing content for Automation GT in Carlsbad, CA.

No matter what business you are in, if you have customers, then you have to have good customer service. Still, service is an often overlooked aspect of the automation experience. Many automation companies don’t think to invest in their service departments, or even alert their customers that customer service is available to them (that is, if they do have a service department).

At Automation GT, we take great pride in the range of services that we make available to our customers, whether they are a current customer or a customer we worked with years ago. And though we make every machine with care and exceptional attention to detail, there will always be things that can go wrong. Here is a brief list of the types of problems you might face and how Automation GT can help you prepare for these problems before they come up, and deal with them efficiently should they happen.

 1.) A machine part breaks or wears down due to age, natural use, or improper care.

hether you purchased your machine from us yesterday or ten years ago, we will be able to help you replace your broken parts. If you purchased your machine within the last year, then your warranty will cover this kind of damage (as long as the damage did not come from improper usage). In addition we can also replace or repair broken parts on machines that were not built by us, even if the broken part is no longer in production.

2.) A new employee is confused about proper machine operation

Automation GT offers operator training at the sign-off of your machine. We can train individuals or groups on proper operation and maintenance. We also package your machine with printed manuals, DVD copies, and full documentation to simplify the process of teaching future operators and figuring out the answers to your questions as they come up. We are also available to take your calls and in most cases, to visit your location, to help you with any problems that you are unable to resolve on your own, and to offer additional training.

3.) You are no longer happy with your machine’s operation because of system aging

Even the best machines will at some point get too old to function without significant repair. At Automation GT, we can help our customers prepare for the natural aging of their machine with preventative care which will ultimately reduce overall expenses. And as your system expands or changes, we can perform retrofitting to help you build on your old systems or machinery so that your transition into new equipment is seamless. We will also work with you from the early stages of development to anticipate the ultimate life of your machine so that we can plan with you from the beginning which will make the process of future upgrades more efficient and less costly.

4.) You are facing new standards in your industry and your old equipment is no longer suitable

We are knowledgeable on safety and quality standards in many industries, including the medical device, pharmaceutical, and automotive industries. As your needs change, we will be fully capable of helping you make the adjustment to new machines or systems.

5.) Your company has grown beyond the capacity of your current machinery

When we begin development of your machine with you, we will be sure to factor in your long-term projections for your growth and productivity. This allows us to plan your machine in such a way that it will be easier to alter in the future, or factor into an expanded system. This will decrease the likelihood that you will need to replace large portions of your system in the future.