The nature of manufacturing processes has been fundamentally changed with the introduction of industrial robots. The essence of manufacturing is repetitive tasks, where accuracy and reliability are demanded, and often in an environment which can be dangerous for mere humans, meaning that manufacturing sector robotics can easily be used to improve productivity..
Collaborative robots – or cobots – are smaller, lighter, and often much cheaper than standard industrial robots, and can work safely alongside humans. This has been achieved by technological advances in sensor and vision technology.
Material handling is the most common application for industrial robots with 38% of the robots used for this task. A number of tasks come under this heading – including selecting parts, transferring them, then packing, palletising, loading, subsequent unloading and machine feeding.
Welding is the next most popular application, including both spot and arc welding. As costs decrease, smaller manufacturing operations are able to reap the benefits of automating the production process.
Assembly, including fixing, press fitting, inserting and disassembly deploys technologies such as vision systems and force sensing. The use of vision systems enables the robot to pick a component from a conveyor belt, and rotate or move the piece to fit with another; force sensing gives the robot data on how much force needs to be applied to fit pieces together.
Dispensing robots are used for painting, gluing, applying adhesives, and spray painting. They help to reduce manufacturing time, provide consistent accuracy, and improve ultimate product quality.
Material removal robots help in the finishing stages where grinding, cutting, deburring, sanding or polishing is required. The surfaces of the product can be refined in a safe environment for humans, as they will not be exposed to potentially harmful dust or fumes.
Inspection robots are increasingly being developed – where a robot checks the work of another robot. Improving quality, alongside accurate record keeping, will benefit both customer and supplier as productivity and reliability increases.