Note: Submissions have closed for this project call.  

Our fall 2017 Technology Project Call focused on seven topic areas. These topic areas were taken from member feedback, several roadmapping workshops throughout 2017, and third-party research.

Topics and Focus

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Criteria

Proposed projects must be at Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 4-7 and Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL) 4-7 at the start of the proposed project (DoD MRL guidance is located at www.dodmrl.com). Each project has a minimum of 1:1 cost sharing. 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). However, smaller project sizes and both shorter and longer durations will be considered. Please note that the topics described above 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. Successful proposals will clearly identify project deliverables and the benefit to other ARM members.

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