Robots were once an esoteric and expensive technology that provided limited special-purpose use as welders or parts stackers. These days, robotic advances bring these devices into widespread use in a host of manufacturing applications. In many cases, robots combined with machines can create automated production lines.
According to the Robotic Industries Assn. (RIA), robot sales are booming. A total of 16,363 robots valued at $1.1 billion were ordered in the first nine months of 2012 by companies in North America, RIA says, an increase of 20% in units and 29% in dollars over the same period in 2011. One reason might be because even high-performance robots are dropping to attractive price levels. ST Robotics recently announced the Tandem R125, with two five-axis vertically articulated robot arms, for $20,000.
For many machine builders, modern robots are a tool, like a press or an injection molder. And, because robots have progressed to the point where use and integration is much simpler, vast opportunities open up for use in factory automation.
Of particular interest are production lines where robots are tightly integrated with machines to create a highly automated system that eliminates intermediate material handling tasks.
Robots Join the Team
Intelligrated in Cincinnati builds material handling solutions. "Robots become faster and more cost-effective every day," says Earl Wohlrab, manager of robotic integration. "This allows us to move robotics into places that were previously unthinkable."
Intelligrated uses robots for simple, end-of-line palletizing cells, complex multi-line palletizing systems, case packing, depalletizing systems and other material handling applications.
System integrator Concept Systems in Albany, Ore., uses robots and vision systems, which have simplified machine design, according to Michael Gurney, co-CEO at Concept Systems. Robots eliminate the need for mechanical guides and fixtures, thus minimizing product changeover times, simplifying the parts-feed process, and eliminating many mechanical components, he explains.