Industrial Robots Make Production Safe and Efficient

An industrial robot arm safely welds an automobile in an automated factory.

What are Industrial Robots?

The word “robot” derives from the Old Church Slavonic word rabota, meaning “servitude,” with its origin with the 1920 play “R.U.R.” (“Rossum’s Universal Robots”) by Karel Capek, but the first industrial robot came about in 1961. Unimate, a 4000-pound robotic arm, transported die castings from an assembly line and welded these parts onto auto bodies at a GM assembly line in New Jersey.

Science fiction tends to emphasize the nature of robots that deviates only slightly from the initial interpretation of the machines: autonomous, humanoid, and obsessed with the annihilation of humankind. In reality, robots are far less sinister. Over the past half-century of their existence, industrial robots have supported the economy by enhancing production and reducing costs. Furthermore, robots are often utilized for tasks that would have been impossible, impractical, or unsafe for humans to conduct.

In fact, the original industrial robot, Unimate, was designed for one such purpose. By transporting die castings from an assembly line and welding them onto auto bodies, Unimate carried out a process that would have poisoned workers by exhaust gas or severed one of their limbs.

Robots can’t be poisoned, and their limbs, if they have any,can be repaired. Due to this and an assemblage of related reasons, industrial robots have long been practical components of industrial workplaces.

According to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), an ANSI-accredited standards developing organization, a robot is a “reprogrammable, multifunctional manipulator designed to move material, parts, tools, or specialized devices through variable programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks.” In industry, the exact definition of a robot has shifted recently to define any price of equipment that has three or more degrees of movement or freedom.

An industrial robot is understood as an “automatically controlled, reprogrammable multipurpose manipulator, programmable in three or more axes, which can be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications,” according to ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012.

Robotics has evolved rapidly since the days of the Unimate. The inclusion of microprocessors, motors, the ability to support nearly 30 axes, synchronization capabilities (collaborative robots, or “cobots”), sensors, and artificial intelligence capabilities granting the competence to learn and adapt to their surroundings have accelerated robots into the modern age. As robotics developed, industrial robots found their usage extend far beyond that of just the automotive industry. Today, they are applied for a plethora of purposes in rubber and plastics industry, electronics, and food and beverage, among many other industries.

While robotics products are available for consumer use—most notably those considered “domestic robots,” ranging from semi-intelligent machines that clean your house to artificial family companions—industrial robots dominate the market. In fact, 90 percent of all robots in operation today are found in factories and similar facilities.

Safety and Efficiency of Industrial Robots

While some of the attributes that today’s industrial robots possess might also be concepts inherent with sentience, the safety concerns associated with industrial robots are unlikely to derive from Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. Instead, safety concerns lie with the installation, operation, and maintenance of industrial robots.

In recognition of the particular hazards with industrial robots and industrial robot systems, ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012: Industrial Robots And Robot Systems – Safety Requirements sets forth guidelines for the inherent safe design, protective measures, and information for use. It also features a section specific to their integration. Overall, the standard identifies provisions associated with actuating controls, robot stopping functions, speed control, collaborative operation, singularity protection, axis limiting, lifting, and electrical connectors, among many other topics.

Please note that ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012 is an American National Standard adoption of ISO 10218-1:2011.

You can get ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012: Industrial Robots And Robot Systems – Safety Requirements from the ANSI Webstore, and, for further guidance, it is also part of the standards package ANSI/RIA R15.06 and ISO 13849 – Safety of Machinery and Industrial Robots Package.

The Future of Industrial Robots

With the aid of the provisions found in ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012 and related documents guiding and safeguarding the industry, robotics has burrowed its way into the foundation of industrial practices. Each year, tens of thousands of new robots are installed in factories, and this number keeps growing. In fact, during the first nine months of 2017, 27,294 orders of robots were sold in North America. These robots were collectively valued at $1.473 billion, the highest amount ever recorded in any other year during the same period.

The benefits of industrial robots are nothing new. Factors like decreased production costs, improved quality and reliability, reduced waste, increased safety, and an overall improvement to ROI have long encouraged automation.However, the amount of active industrial robots is certainly growing, and, with factors like smart manufacturing on the horizon, the dependency on robotics is likely strengthen as the years pass by.

Smart manufacturing systems are fully integrated, collaborative manufacturing systems that respond in real time to meet challenging demands and conditions in the factory, supply network, and consumer needs. Smart manufacturing has been labeled, by many, to be the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0. In utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve industrial productivity, smart manufacturing encompasses a range of factors and devices. As these processes become ever more prominent, robotics,as the actual devices that carry out manufacturing tasks, will continue to be seminal to production.

Robots aren’t unique to the future, nor are they the malicious cyber beings that have been depicted in old sci-fi. At the present, just as for the past fifty years and likely for the foreseeable future, industrial robots are a practical means of making manufacturing and production efficient, safe, and affordable.

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