General Purpose Robots
Industrial robots have become the automation standard for manufacturing. Companies have realized they can no longer afford to ignore the value of robotic automation as each year more and more factories add articulated robots to their production lines. Many factories have more six axis robots than workers and some are even moving towards lights-out manufacturing with factories running solely on robotic automation. As manufacturers turn to robots for their automation needs, many are seeking more general purpose robots.
General purpose robots are those that are used to automate a variety of applications. Most industrial robots are considered to be general purpose because they are capable of performing several types of applications. For instance, the FANUC M-20ia can complete automated assembly, material handling, and packaging applications, making it general purpose. While most industrial robots have multipurpose capabilities, they have not always been used that way. In the early years of robotic automation and even in recent years, manufacturers have used robots as single use. However, with the advancements of robotic technology, the need for more efficient manufacturing, worker shortages, and the push for sustainable operations, manufacturers are opting to automate multiple processes with a single robot.
Manufacturers are able to get multiple uses out of general purpose robots. General purpose robots can change tasks day to day or used to complete a sequence of tasks during a production cycle. The FANUC Arcmate 120ic can be programmed for automated plasma welding one day and the next day programmed for robotic plasma cutting. The ABB 2400 could be programmed for an entire sequence including pick and place, assembly, packaging, and part transfer. General purpose robots can eliminate or significantly reduce the amount of human interaction needed for manufacturing. This will eliminate mistakes due to human error, rework, and inconsistencies in both product quality and cycle times. Productivity increases while costs are reduced through the use of general purpose robots.
The best robots for general purpose use will be those with a full range of motion. Six-axis and the newer seventh-axis robots are ideal for general purpose use. They are capable of automating multiple applications while offering a similar range of motion to a human. Seven-axis robots have the advantage of an extra axis for better EOAT positioning. Seven-axis robots are able to maneuver around objects without compromising the EOAT, eliminating the need for peripheral equipment such as robotic positioners. The FANUC R-1000ia/120F-7B can easily switch between material handling or welding tasks since its seventh axis avoids the need for a positioner during welding.
Those looking for a general purpose robot should also consider integrating a tool changer, especially if the robot will be used for a sequence of tasks. Tool changers automatically switch out end-effectors in just a few seconds, saving time in between applications. Offline programming software can also be helpful for general purpose robots as it prevents downtime due to programming. Offline programming creates new robot programs outside of the production environment, allowing robots to remain operating. Robotic vision systems and force sensors also make good additions for general purpose robots as they add intelligence allowing robots to operate more autonomously through part recognition, location detection, and pressure sensing.