Please note: Concept paper submissions for our Spring 2018 Technology Project Call are now closed.

PRE-SOLICITATION OVERVIEW
To best protect and pursue our interests at home and abroad, the United States relies on a robust and innovative domestic manufacturing sector. Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM), a national, public-private partnership among leaders in industry, academia, and nonprofits, was established to develop, demonstrate and accelerate the early adoption of novel robotic solutions by funding technology and workforce training projects and by creating an ecosystem that advances robotics technology and education. Increased productivity gained by collaborative robotic automation will help create new jobs to build, manage, and maintain the robots, promote on-shoring by manufacturers, and replace dangerous jobs with safer jobs.

A successful plan to both energize and galvanize manufacturing ultimately comes down to identifying the key technologies that are both focused and have broad impact. The question becomes: which technologies to pursue? This raises the classic push-pull problem. On one hand, technologists have often developed technology for technology’s sake, without any regard for an application. Some may believe that this may lead to unintended uses and therefore new markets. Such a course may also lead to useless, and perhaps wasted or inefficient investment. On the other hand, using existing manufacturing needs to exclusively drive technology development will likely support a short-term need, but could limit creativity and therefore prevent high impact innovation from emerging. Our philosophy is to institute a hybrid policy where we identify technological thrust areas, identify manufacturing objectives and needs, break them down into component functions, and eventually map these components back to the technical thrust areas. The idea is that technological development occurs in a scaffold of manufacturing needs, with the hope of addressing a short-term need as well as open the possibility for a high impact unforeseen future gain. To actualize this strategy, the ARM periodically releases project calls that solicit solutions in the form of funded projects. Execution of these projects help explore and bridge between the push of technology and the pull of industry need.

TIMEFRAMES

ARM posted a Technology Project Call on May 15, 2017 in the ARM Member Community.

The proposal submission process was a two-step process with the following tentative schedule:

Step 1: Concept Paper Submission: 5:00 PM Eastern Time, Jun 20, 2018
Step 2: Full Proposal Submission (by invitation only): 5:00 PM Eastern Time, Aug 29, 2018

Questions regarding this pre-solicitation notice and the actual solicitation should be emailed to [email protected] Note that only members can participate in projects.

CRITERIA

Proposed projects must develop within a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 4-7 and Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL) 4-7. Each project has a minimum of 1:1 cost sharing with deference to those with higher cost share. Projects must be industry-led and address an industry need. Projects must develop or integrate innovation. A typical award would have a budget of $500,000 in federal funding over 12 months (with 1:1 cost sharing, this means a $1,000,000 total budget). Projects of $750K will be considered at 18 months with good justification. In addition, smaller project sizes and durations will be seriously considered. Please note that the topics described below are very broad and offerors should submit a proposal focusing on specific technology areas and gaps. We do not expect projects to comprehensively solve an entire topic area, address all technology thrust areas or solve all the manufacturing objectives. Successful proposals will clearly identify project deliverables and the benefit to other ARM Institute members.

TOPICS
The following is an overview of the list of the eight topics to be released in the Technology Project Call on May 15, 2018. These include the same seven topics from the primary data call released in November of last year together with one new topic focused on software.

Topic 1: Identifying and Packing Objects
Focus: Develop mechanisms, algorithms and systems to organize parts for highly time-efficient use and transport.

Manufacturing and logistics workers spend significant time locating items (i.e., parts, tools, products to be shipped for a specified task) and then gathering, and organizing them into the necessary receptacles (e.g., carts, bins, boxes). This is typically done to ready those items for transport – either within the shop or to an external customer. The purpose of this topic is to develop a collaborative robot capable of assisting workers with these activities.

Topic 2: Unloading and unpacking objects
Focus: Automate the currently low-value, but necessary, time-consuming task of unloading items received and transferring to a desired location.

The act of unloading and unpacking is a major use of time for manufacturing and logistics workers. Parts, components and tools are typically made in different locations – often by suppliers. These items arrive at factories and distribution centers on trucks or in large container boxes, which must be unloaded and correctly triaged to the appropriate sections of a factory or warehouse. The goal of this topic is to develop a robotic solution that can enable workers to be more productive while executing this task.

Topic 3: Transport and Delivery through a Complex, Crowded Floor
Focus: Develop systems capability of transporting objects through cluttered spaces, both safely and efficiently, using low-cost technologies.

Manufacturing and logistics workers spend a substantial amount of time transporting items such as tools, materials, and pallets around factories, warehouses and distribution centers. This may be done either on foot (e.g., pushing a dolly) or using a vehicle (e.g., driving a forklift). The goal of this topic is to automate these transportation and delivery related activities, freeing up workers’ time to focus on higher value-added tasks.

Topic 4: Inspection of Non-standard Materials
Focus: Provide tools that assist or automate the inspection of soft, malleable, non-rigid objects to lower cost and improve product quality.

Human inspectors are highly efficient at recognizing minor imperfections and/or pattern variations, even when conditions are not standardized. As such, human inspection remains the industry practice for non-standard materials (e.g., fabrics, composites). The goal of this topic is to design a robotic inspection system for non-standard materials that augments and increases the efficiency of a human inspector.

Topic 5: Tracking and Traceability of Components
Focus: Using robotics and vision systems, reduce the cost to automate the tracking of components in inventory and in the supply chain.

Developing and maintaining a clear view of the supply chain and inventory is a business mandate in all sectors of manufacturing and logistics. Additionally, in sectors such as aircraft and automotive manufacturing, traceability of individual parts can also be a legal requirement with laws dictating that manufacturers must maintain precise records detailing parts and components that go into each finished product. Currently, substantial human time and effort is spent on the ongoing collection of these data. Available technology aimed at streamlining the process is either costly (e.g., RFID) or does not entirely eliminate the human element (e.g., bar codes, direct part marking). The goal of this topic is to design a robotic vision system that reduces the time and effort American workers spend on this activity, enabling companies to develop a clearer view of their supply chain with reduced employee effort.

Topic 6: Surface Treatments
Focus: Advance robotics to significantly reduce the systems cost of manual surface treatment processes such as sanding and polishing of components.

The current manual nature of many surface treatment processes in manufacturing operations results in ergonomic issues due to repetitive motion; health concerns stemming from dust or chemical exposure; high levels of scrap, rework and repair because of inconsistencies in surface preparation; and significant variability in cycle time due to differences in the human element. The aim of this topic is to develop a collaborative surface treatment robot to assist the worker by eliminating some of these drawbacks while enhancing consistency and increasing efficiency in one or more of these manufacturing processes. Projects addressing this topic should focus on a specific surface treatment application and end in a demonstration, however the developed technology should be easily reconfigurable to perform other surface treatment processes.

Topic 7: Manipulating Compliant Materials
Focus: Advance robotics to meet product quality and demand for compliant components to address shortages of skilled labor and increasingly high labor demands.

Fabrication of parts consisting of a composite, textile or wire is a key process to realize components in many transportation applications like automobiles and airplanes as well as many defense applications such as body armors, ground vehicles and UAVs. Currently, composite, textile and wire harness fabrication in these applications require a significant degree of manual labor. The availability of skilled workers often imposes constraints on the consistency of part quality and on production lead-time. In addition, the ever-increasing size of composite components places additional demands on workers and on the quality of the product.

New Topic Area
In addition to the same topics identified in the primary call, this supplemental call introduces a new topic centered on software enablers. Projects in this area are primarily focused on software tools, packages, processes, architectures, simulation and visualization environments that develop and enhance the foundations of a health robotic ecosystem and enable development across a wide set of manufacturing functional areas.

Topic 8: Software Interoperability
Focus: Enable interoperability among a variety of different robotic software frameworks and hardware interfaces.

Interoperability has the benefit of reducing costs while advancing functionality and improving performance. Interoperability is not limited to common protocols, but rather captures high level interfaces that enable “plug and play” capabilities across hardware and software. This project seeks to obtain interoperability by demonstrating key quality attributes such as: modularity, granularity, and reuse. Example demonstrations of these attributes include, but are not limited to, demonstration on varied hardware/software platforms, ease and efficiency of development and deployment under different use cases, and software analysis metrics for complexity and structure.

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