Because they can be programmed to perform dangerous, dirty and/or repetitive tasks with consistent precision and accuracy, industrial robots are increasingly used in a variety of industries and applications. They come in a wide range of models with the reach distance, payload capacity and the number of axes of travel (up to six) of their jointed arm being the most common distinguishing characteristics.
In both production and handling applications, a robot utilizes an end effector or end of arm tooling (EOAT) attachment to hold and manipulate either the tool performing the process, or the piece upon which a process is being performed.
The robot’s actions are directed by a combination of programming software and controls. Their automated functionality allows them to operate around the clock and on weekends—as well as with hazardous materials and in challenging environments—freeing personnel to perform other tasks. Robotic technology also increases productivity and profitability while eliminating labor-intensive activities that might cause physical strain or potential injury to workers.
Industrial robots are robotic arms that can move in several directions and can be programmed to carry out many different types of tasks in different environments. These industrial robots can work:
Robotic arms can be equipped with specialized grippers to work with delicate and fragile objects, while other robotic arms can have grippers that can grasp and lift loads weighing several tons.
Robotic arms can be equipped with any type of tool. These tools are used with precision, accuracy, speed, and repetitiveness that can not be matched by humans.
These robotic arms can have a multitude of sensors and vision systems capable of viewing images to aid with their computer-based control. That sensor and vision feedback can be used with with artificial intelligence to make decisions about the behavior of the robotic arm.
Industrial robots and automation are an important part of the manufacturing of most products produced in today’s world.
The four main parts of an industrial robot are the manipulator, the controller, the human interface device, and the power supply.
The manipulator is the arm and can move in various different directions. On the V5 Workcell, the arm moves from a V5 Smart Motor acting as the actuator, which provides the force to move the arm. On an industrial robot, the force can come from electric motors, air pressure in pneumatic cylinders, or fluid pressure in hydraulic cylinders.
The arm has a controller which is the “brain” of the system. The controller holds the programming code and receives signals from the system (input), processes the signals, and then sends signals out to the system (output) to control the robot.
One type of input may come from the human interface device, such as a teach pendant. These devices can be used to program the arm and control its movement.
The last component is the power supply which is where an industrial robot gets its energy for its controller and actuators. This is typically in the form of electrical energy.
Since the development of waterwheels over 6,000 years ago, humans have used the automation of tools to help with their lives. As workers navigate the new workplaces with the Internet, robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI), it is important that the workforce understands today’s automation and industrial robotics.
Whenever a tool does a job instead of a human doing a task by hand, this can be considered a form of automation. This can be as simple as a person turning a hand crank apple peeler to as complex as a fully automated electronic circuit board assembly line. The different types of automation include: mechanization, fixed/hard automation, programmable automation, flexible systems.
Mechanization: Automation of tools and the industrial revolution have developed and changed throughout the years. The earliest type of automation is known as mechanization. This type of automation occurs whenever a machine is assisting with the production of a product.
A current example of this type of automation can be found in a machine shop. A simple example could be shown when a lead screw moves a vise on a milling machine. The screw is mechanizing/automating the process.
Fixed/hard automation: The next phase of automation is called fixed/hard automation. This occurs when a series of mechanisms are arranged in a specific order to create a product. Once the system is set up, it stays in a fixed sequence.
A modern example of this would be a firewood processing plant. A hydraulic arm places a log into the system, saws cut the log into firewood length, the system moves the wood to pass through hydraulic wood splitters, then a conveyor lifts the finished firewood and dumps it into a truck.
Programmable automation: As the type of automation becomes more advanced there are more feedback systems. There is also more flexibility in the types of products being produced by the system. This next level of automation is called programmable automation. The production process can be programmed by a computer, however, the production sequence is not changed very often. Because of this, lower cost controllers may be used in the system.
An example of this type of automation might be found in a foundry, which is a factory for casting metal parts. The loading of the raw metal into the furnace to melt could be automated. The molten metal being poured into the molds can be temperature controlled, and the cooling and the removing of parts from the molds can be computer controlled. However, depending on the product, it may be in production for a number of years before any major changes are needed in the system.
Flexible manufacturing systems: The most advanced level of computer-aided automation is known as a flexible manufacturing system. High level computer code controls most aspects of these systems. The tooling necessary for the product’s production is controlled by the computer system. The product is passed automatically from one process to another during its production. Inspection and sorting can also occur automatically within the system.
An example of this might be found in a production plant for vehicle parts. The production of these parts can be automated from start to finish. However, due to the frequent change to vehicle models the system needs to be flexible in order to make the changes.
In addition to the type of automation used to produce a product, the layout and product flow of the facility are important to consider when producing a product. There are five types of production layouts: process layout, product layout, fixed layout, work cell, and combination layout.
Process layout: This type of facility has the floor laid out in specific departments with specific functions. The product is carried back and forth between departments as functions need to be performed on it.
An example of this type of layout could be used in a custom furniture shop. There could be a sawing and planing department to prepare the stock wood, a tooling department to shape the wood, an assembly department, and a finishing department. As the furniture is being made the product moves from department to department.
Product layout (assembly line): With this type of facility, the product flows in a line and the layout of the processes is determined by the sequence necessary to produce the product.
A lighting fixture assembly plant could be laid out this way. The assembly line for a table lamp could start with assembling the base and stand for the lamp, then it could travel by conveyor to have the wiring and light fixture added, then moved to have the shade added, and finally it flows to be packed and shipped. The lamp flows through the plant which is arranged according to the steps required to finish the lamp.
Fixed layout: The product does not move in this type of layout. This layout is for products which are too large, bulky, or fragile to move. Everything necessary to make the product is brought to the product.
A naval shipyard would be a good example of this type of layout. A battleship is far too large to be moved from department to department or to be moved on an assembly line. In the naval shipyard the materials, specialized departments, tools, and personnel are brought to the construction site.
Work cells: This type of facility is laid out in cells or pods. The work group is responsible for completing either a portion of the product, or the complete product from start to finish.
A research and development facility might use this type of layout. This way the workers will have all the tools necessary to make prototypes and test products for their team.
Combined layouts: This facility type may have any combination of the facility floor layouts.
An example of a combined layout might be a jet engine manufacturing plant where they might have work cells for the turbine fin assembly, process layout for the machine shop to make custom components, a product layout for the fuel system assembly, and a fixed layout for the final assembly of the engine.
Industrial robots are used in a variety of applications. These include:
Robots are used in a variety of ways throughout manufacturing and distribution.
Industrial robots provide a variety of benefits:
Industrial robots are used in many industries, including:
Read more about how industrial robots are used in different industries and applications. Case studies featuring other uses for Robots can be found here.
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