Factory or industrial robotic arms have become a primary need for most manufacturers who want to stay competitive in the modern market. These robots are in use in many industries, from the automotive to the medical industry. By using these robotic arms, manufacturers from all over the world can automate the services that they offer hence increasing throughput while at the same time lowering labor costs. Moreover, by utilizing robotic arms, manufacturers can enhance workplace safety by assigning dangerous jobs, for example, spray painting cars, to industrial robots. However, all these advantages only scratch the surface regarding how life-changing industrial robots have been to humans. So, how have industrial robot arms changed the life of humans? And how have automated systems affected the manufacturing industry?
Industrial Robot Arms in a Nutshell
Engineers describe robotic arms, which are sometimes simply called industrial robots, as mechanical arms.
Robotic arms have several joints that can rotate in a specific direction or along a particular axis. In addition, most robotic arms tend to be anthropomorphic, which means they try to mimic the movement of a human arm.
Robotic arms are primarily designed to be programmable, and one can program them to undertake various tasks, which include:
- Manufacturing operations
- Assembly applications
Industrial robotic arms come in varying sizes. They can be tiny gadgets that undertake detailed, intricate tasks, or they can be massive gadgets that undertake strenuous tasks, for example, building houses.
The Origin of Industrial Robotic Arms
Industrial robots were initially built to boost mass production factories and help them produce more goods while incurring lower labor costs. They were also constructed to help lower workplace injuries by assigning dangerous tasks to the bots instead of human workers. Moreover, since industrial robots could undertake monotonous tasks pretty nicely, they free human workers from these strenuous tasks, helping them focus on more critical tasks. As a result, industries like the automotive industry highly benefited from these robots, and their profits started to skyrocket.
These earliest known industrial robot, the unimate, was mainly useful in undertaking simple and repetitive tasks, such as welding. However, robot manufacturing companies have made recent advancements in technology, in particular the invention of robotic sensor and vision technology, has seen robotic arms gaining more applications in the manufacturing industry.
In the 21st century, thanks to gadgets such as high-resolution cameras, GPUs, AI tech, and powerful CPUs, industrial robots bear the intelligence and sense required to undertake new tasks. These vision-augmented, intelligent robots can easily detect obstacles in their environment, identify them by type and even manipulate them.
Through these capabilities, modern robots can now operate more consistently and more accurately. What’s more, these capabilities also increase the number of tasks that can be assigned to robotic arms, making them more efficient.
Component of an Industrial Robotic Arm
Robotic arms are aptly called so since they tend to resemble the arm of a human. These bots are mounted onto a unique base that supports them as they undertake various tasks.
Industrial robotic arms bear several joints that function as axes and help the bot in terms of executing specific movements. The more rotary joints a bot arm bears, the more movements the robot can pull off. Most industrial bot arms have four to six rotary joints.
Other than joints, industrial robotic arms also bear other components that include:
- End-of-arm tool
- Robot controller
- Vision systems
- Power Systems
- Software components
Types of Industrial Robotic Arms
Different robotic arms exist, however, most of these arms tend to have similar applications even though they bear unique features in terms of how they are built.
The most common types of robotic arms include:
Articulated arm bots are simply general purpose bot arms that bear five or more rotary joints. Engineers utilize this term to refer to many other robot arm types for example, a six axis bot is simply an articulated bot arm bearing six degrees of freedom.
These are the most common bots in the manufacturing industry today. They are general purpose and they tend to be pretty flexible.
These are robot arms purposefully designed to undertake hybrid tasks. They work great with human hence their name.
SCARA Robot Arms
These are selectively compliant bots. That means that, when compared to articulated bots, SCARA bots have lower flexibility.
Cartesian Robots or Gantry Robots
These are pretty rigid robot arms that move along a 3 dimensional coordinate plane. These bots typically bear three linear actuators which helps them move a long a 3 dimensional coordinate plane.
The delta robot(s) are high-speed robotic arms that can carry out tasks requiring great speed and precision.
Cylindrical robots are compact industrial robot arms that are utilized to undertake simple and small task.
Industrial Applications of Industrial Robotic arms
Robotic arms are popular primarily because they are versatile and can support multiple applications. These bots can support simple applications and can also be utilized to undertake tasks under pretty harsh conditions, making them useful in so many factories.
Automating various tasks saves humans from undertaking highly monotonous tasks and helps them focus on high-value tasks, such as interacting with customers.
Here are the most common applications of a robotic arm in the 21st century:
Manufacturers are now utilizing robotic arms to automate the highly repetitive task of placing products or goods onto pallets.
The use of manufacturing robots to undertake palletizing tasks has made the process more accurate, predictable, and cost-effective.
What’s more, since palletizing is highly repetitive, it poses a threat to the health of human workers. Therefore, utilizing both arms to undertake this task has, without a doubt, boosted workplace safety immensely.
Industrial robotic arms designed for material handling help keep warehouses safer and more efficient. They do so by making sure that materials and goods are:
- Stored properly
- Stored in a way that one can easily find them
- Transported correctly
Automating this process helps accelerate goods delivery to customers while at the same time preventing workplace accidents and improving the efficiency of the facility.
Advanced industrial factories, for example, automotive factories, utilize industrial robotic arms to undertake welding tasks. That is because these tasks tend to be dangerous and highly repetitive. Hence using bots boosts workplace safety.
What’s more, the welding process tends to substantially impact a product’s quality. Therefore, great precision and accuracy are required when undertaking this task, making robotic arms great candidates for this job.
Quality inspection tends to occur at the very end of the production line process. During this production phase, products are inspected to ensure that they meet all the set standards. Therefore, the output of this phase should be viable products of high quality that meet the specified requirements.
If anything goes wrong at this stage, then customers might get products that do not function accordingly, which could tarnish a company’s name for good. Therefore, manufacturers tend to take this phase pretty seriously.
With the development of robotic arms that bear AI and vision systems, companies can now enjoy high-quality real-time inspections. What’s more, the efficiency of the bot arms is high as they can undertake this task 24/7 with great precision, helping reduce downtime and waste.
Pick and Place
Industrial robotic arms that undertake pick and place tasks are typically utilized in modern-day logistics and manufacturing. These bots feature advanced machine vision systems that help them identify various objects, grasp them and then relocate them to a specific, predefined location.
Industrial robotic arms undertake this task quickly and with precision, making the process more efficient. Moreover, their high speed and precision increase the throughput of a company immensely, which ultimately translates to more profits.
Industries that highly utilize the Industrial Robotic Arm
Here are some key sectors that highly use industrial robotic arms to automate their manufacturing processes:
The Automotive Industry
The car manufacturing industry stands at the very top of the list in terms of the sectors that have benefitted from manufacturing robots.
For more than fifty years, the automotive industry has highly relied on industrial robotic arms to carry out assembly line tasks and product quality testing.
By utilizing robot arms alongside humans, manufacturers in this industry can optimize their production process while lowering labor costs and workplace injuries.
Robots in manufacturing industries are versatile and flexible and do not require rest to undertake tasks efficiently. Therefore, manufacturers in this industry primarily utilize them to carry out monotonous tasks.
The Electronics Manufacturing Industry
The demand for smartphones, flat-screen TVs, smartwatches, and other high-tech compact electronics goes up each day. By using the human workforce alone, manufacturers in electronic industries could have difficulty trying to supply goods to satisfy the current demand for these products. However, using high-tech industrial robotic arms, manufacturers easily mass produce high-tech, high-quality compact gadgets using less time and fewer human workers. In doing so, they can deliver high-quality devices to customers at affordable prices.
Moreover, since robotic arms maintain their precision and accuracy throughout the production phase, manufacturers rarely have to deal with defects.
The Food Manufacturing Industry
Robotic arms utilized in the manufacturing process of beverages and foods help manufacturers improve the quality of their products by easily detecting defects using:
- Machine vision
- Processing hardware
- Processing software algorithms
By using robotic arms in this industry, manufacturers consistently produce high-quality products. In doing so, they maintain their customer base and keep their profit growing in a consistent manner. Moreover, manufacturers in the food manufacturing industry utilizing bot arms in their manufacturing process also report improved customer safety. That is because only high-quality products get past the production line process and onto the hands of the customer.
The Agriculture Industry
Individuals in the agriculture industry utilize industrial robot arms to boost their productivity while at the same time lowering labor costs. For example, farmers can now automate operations such as weed removal, spraying, and pruning using industrial bot arms, reducing labor costs.
The medical Industry
The medical industry has highly benefited from the various advancements in robotic arm technology. Through these advancements, industrial robotic arms can now help surgeons perform critical surgeries require precision.
When working without robotic arms, surgeons face significant challenges regarding precision. Many things can affect their precision, including their own heartbeat. On the other hand, robotic arms do not have a heart, so their precision is pretty high.
Reports also show that by utilizing semi-autonomous bots to undertake vital surgeries, surgeons can keep the damage that occurs to surrounding tissues to the absolute minimum. That means the surgery wound takes less time to heal, and the scar left tends to be small.
Benefits of utilizing Manufacturing Robotics Arms
Robotic arms are pretty flexible because one can reprogram and repurpose them to undertake new tasks. What’s more, most robotic arms tend to be portable. Hence, you can move them and mount onto various platforms, for example, AMRs (autonomous mobile robots), to undertake new tasks.
Industrial Robotics arms, by their nature, undertake tasks with more precision and accuracy than humans. Moreover, since industrial robots do not get tired, they maintain their precision and accuracy throughout the manufacturing process.
Manufacturers hence tend to utilize robotic arms to undertake tasks that require great precision, such as drilling holes in Printed Circuit Boards.
Improved Worker Safety
Manufacturers tend to utilize robotic arms to undertake dangerous tasks, such as tasks that need execution in hazardous environments. By using both arms to carry out these tasks, manufacturers keep their human workers safe.
You should program industrial robots to execute tasks. However, after programing process, the bots can consistently perform tasks throughout the production process. In doing so, manufacturers are able to get better quality products while at the same time incurring low labor costs. Moreover, this great consistency lowers the defects that occur during the production phase by eliminating human errors, boosting the company’s profits.
Clearing Production Line Hurdles
Bottlenecks in various manufacturing facilities slow down the production line of the company. A critical area mostly affected by these hurdles is the ending part of the production line that involves the usage of conveyor belts. When you assign humans pick and place tasks at this stage, they tend to make many errors which lower the organization’s throughput.
However, using robot arms instead of humans at this stage helps boost the accuracy and precision of the process, ensuring that there is delivery of correct goods to the right customer.
Disadvantages of Robotic automation
The initial cost of an industrial robot is pretty high. Therefore, most small-scale companies can’t afford to purchase them, which lends them in trouble as per their competitive advantage. That is because the larger companies that can afford these industrial bot arms utilize them to take over the market, burying the small-scale companies. Hence, even though robots in manufacturing industries are beneficial, they still tend to affect some businesses in a negative manner.
The need for Technical Know-how
Industrial robotic arms are intricate, high-tech gadgets that need robotic experts to operate them. However, since most companies do not have trained employees who can handle robotic equipment and robotic automation, they tend to incur extra costs to get employees who can handle these robotic arms.
What’s more, if the robotic arms need to work hand in hand with human employees, then manufacturers should train their employees on how to work with the bot.
Robotic arms, just like robots, are machines. Therefore, one must program and monitor them to ensure they function accordingly.
However, you can do the monitoring part remotely, hence reducing the number of employees working on the factory floor. However, that does not take away the amount of resources that goes into monitoring these machines.
Industrial robotic arms are not new. However, their use in the manufacturing sector grows day in and day out, with more and more manufacturers preferring to utilize them to undertake specific tasks. As a result, these bots have taken over several industries, including the automotive and electronics industries.
As per the 21st century, manufacturers are undoubtedly gaining great value from industrial bots and new technology, for example, VR, ML, and AI. Through these bots and technology, manufacturers can optimize their production line process, increasing their throughput while at the same time lowering labor costs.