Evolution of Industrial Robots

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Industrial robots have drastically changed many industries. Robots are able to automate tasks and complete them with more precision, accuracy, and speed than their human counterparts. They have taken over repetitive, dangerous, and hazardous jobs, making many industrial settings much safer for employees. Just as industrial robots have changed manufacturing over the years, they have also evolved themselves.

The Beginning

The first known industrial robot dates back to 1937. It was a crane-like machine with 5 axes and was used for stacking blocks. Several years later in 1962 UNIMATE became the first industrial robot to be installed by a major manufacturer. GM used UNIMATE to automate die casting, material handling, and spot welding. These first years of industrial robots mainly featured large, rigid, bulky machines that were used to automate highly repetitive and simple tasks. The first industrial robots were quite expensive and mostly used by large automotive manufacturers due to their size and cost.

During the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, more companies began to manufacture robots which led to the development of more advanced machines. During this time the 6-axis robot was developed along with the first electric micro-processor-controlled robot. Manufacturers also began to develop application specific robots such as those dedicated to automated arc welding.

Advancement of Robotic Technology

During the end of 1970s robotic technology was starting to advance, but it was not until the 1980s and 1990s that major gains were made. The 1980s is considered the beginning of the modern era of robotics as new robots were invented frequently along with better controller technology. Robot designs became more sophisticated and durable in order to ease maintenance. Robots also began to automate more industries, expanding outside of the automotive sector.

Present Industrial Robots

Today’s industrial robots are much more advanced than ever before. Development of robotic technology such as vision systems, force sensors, and offline programming has made them more autonomous with the ability to automate entire factories on their own. They are able to automate complex applications and a wider variety of applications. There are very few production related tasks that cannot be automated by robots. They have also expanded to industries outside of the typical industrial settings. The FANUC Lr Mate 200ic can be used to automate electronic assemblies. While the ABB IRB 1200 Cleanroom can operate in food manufacturing.

Today there is also a wider variety of robot types. The articulated robot remains the most popular, but other robot types include delta, SCARA, gantry, and collaborative robot structures. The Universal UR5 is a collaborative robot that can safety operate alongside workers, assisting them with repetitive aspects of their jobs. Not only are there different types of robots, but also a wider variety of robot sizes, reaches, axis configurations, and payloads. The FANUC M-10ia/10S is a compact robot ideal for operating in narrow spaces. While the extended reach Motoman HP50-20 can handle large work envelopes.

Today’s robots are much more affordable and flexible than the first ones. Large manufacturers are not the only ones automating with robots. Robots are automating small and medium operations as well. They can handle small and medium production volumes as well as operate with a high mix of parts. The evolution of industrial robots has made robotic automation feasible for more companies.

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