Editorial Feature

Industrial Robot Technology

An industrial robot is classed as a manipulator designed with multiple functional capabilities to help with the manufacturing industry. Robotic co-workers have been introduced into the manufacturing industry since 1961 by Unimation Inc. – once, one of the largest robotics companies in the world. This early concept of an industrial robot was based on the idea of a machine performing basic functions i.e., being able to move an object from point A to point B with little distance between the two points. Unimation Inc. applied hydraulic actuators that were programmed to remember joint coordination and to repeat this mechanical behaviour. It wasn’t until 1975 when Unimation Inc. started to see a rise in profit though progress in this novel technology was painstakingly slow. Viability of the concept of industrial robotic application in manufacturing did start to become apparent with use of the early industrial robot model achieving over 100,000 hours of operation in manufacturing, an equivalent of 50 man years of hard labour – a strong argument for application of an industrial multi-purpose manipulator.

One of the main justifications for application of an industrial robot is the costs – robots are much cheaper to use in the manufacturing industry compared to humans. Despite the conservative approach to manufacturing back in the dawn of the ‘60s, the Japanese market began to invest a great deal of interest in the concept of multipurpose controllers. By 1971, the Japanese market paved the way for emphasising the need to employ industrial robot technology by establishing the Japan Industrial Robot Association, which soon was followed by the formation of The Robot Institute of America in the mid ‘70s. Since this revolution in the demand for robotic multi-controllers to aid manufacturing responsibilities, this topic has become a major focal point in national interest and will continue to do so as manufacturing procedures start to become more complex and more hazardous for human workers.

Types of Industrial Robots

Robots applied for industrial work are designed to have a number of links that are connected by joints. The end effector, typically known as a robot arm, is controlled by a central unit. The axes of the robotic arm are controlled by a movement called a degree of freedom. Any industrial robot that can articulate in a vertical fashion is designed to have six degrees of freedom.

Vertical Articulated-type Robot

  • Designed with multiple joints that connect to the base of the robot. Rotary joints are used to link the arm components. RobotWorx’ manufacture most of their industrial robots to be vertically articulated.

The following video demonstrates the M-3iA system as an example of a vertically articulated industrial robot. The robot has six axis ideal for handling small objects and can work at high speed in sectors including the food, medical, pharmaceutical, and plastic molding industries. The M-3iA robot is built with a three axis wrist, which is paramount for flexibility to this machinery.


Cartesian Robot

  • The Cartesian robot is designed to move in three fixed locations. This type of industrial robot is engineered with arms that are connected via linear joint components. FESTO, a worldwide supplier of automation technology, have designed and engineered a Cartesian robot that can build tracks using wooden blocks. The video below is a demo application of the motion controlled CMXR model of an industrial robot. The robot has a working area of 12000x800x300mm and 2ms full interpolated path control mechanism.

SCARA Robot

  • The SCARA robot is more selective in its function and ideal for manufacturers looking for an industrial robot with arms that can manipulate work with a great deal precision. The robot can work in a cyclindrical zone and is designed with horizontal joints. TM Robotics, a world leader in manufacturing industrial robots, has recently introduced a new Toshiba machine SCARA robot to the European industrial market. The following video demonstrates application of the SCARA robot in cosmetic handling and packaging. The robot has an arm length of 650mm and has a large working envelope with a combination of axis one and two providing 360° working area.  
     

Cylindrical Robot

  • This type of industrial robot is designed with only one rotary joint at the base of the robot structure. There are also two linear joint components that connect the end effector. The PlateCrane EX is a relatively new cylindrical robot arm. The video below demonstrates application of this robot in handling labware.

Polar Robot

  • This robot can be distinguished by the twisting joint that connects the arm of the robot together with rotary and linear joints and so is slightly more complex as an industrial robot.

Delta Robot

  • The Delta robot is structurally based on rotational joints that work in a dome-shaped work zone. In the following video, Kawasaki Robotics provides a clear demonstration of how the Delta robot works in industry.

As demonstrated in the videos, the main applications for industrial-based robots involves:

  • Pick-and-place one item from one location to another. Tasks may include material handling, grasping, transporting, and heavy-duty handling.
  • Machine loading, where robot function is combined with another machine to perform loading tasks and tool changing.
  • Continuous path tasks that involve synchronized motion and precision, such as painting and welding.
  • Manufacturing that involves cutting, forming, or finishing products.
  • Assembly tasks that involve fastening components to a larger part. This type of robot is likely to be more intricate in its design and function involving sensory feedback and control functions.

Socioeconomic Impact

Industrial robots have powered mainstream manufacturing businesses and have clearly encouraged productivity and capital formation since their introduction in the early ‘60s. Though success with application of industrial robots is likely to continue, there needs to be consideration for the socioeconomic impact this revolutionary technology could be having on society in terms of how this is affecting unemployment, displacement, or job shifting. However, unemployment or job shifting may be justified in industrial environments where there is exposure to hazardous chemicals and noxious gases and so the application of industrial robots then becomes beneficial as it eliminates workers from exposure to occupational chemical hazards.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Nof, S.Y. (1999). Handbook of Industrial Robotics, Volume 1. USA, New York: John Wiley and Sons.
  • Pires, J.N. (2007). Industrial Robots Programming: Building Applications for the Factories of the Future. USA, New York: Springer Science and Business Media.
  • Hunt, V.D. (1983). Industrial Robotics Handbook. USA, New York: Industrial Press Inc.
  • Huat, L.K. (2007). Industrial Robotics: Programming, Simulation and Applications. Croatia: Advanced Robotic Systems International.
  • Kozlowski, K. (2007). Robot Motion and Control 2007. UK, London: Springer.
  • RobotWorx

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