Robots – lending us a hand since 1937
Typical applications of robots include welding, painting, assembly, pick and place for printed circuit boards, packaging and labeling, palletizing, depalletizing, product inspection, and testing; all accomplished with high endurance, speed, and precision. According to the World Robotics 2016 conducted by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) study, there were around 1,631,600 functional industrial robots by the end of 2015. This number is estimated to reach 2,589,000 by the end of 2019. The biggest customer of industrial robots is the automotive industry with a 38 % market share, then electronics industry with 25%, metal and machinery industry with 12%, rubber and plastics industry with 7%.
Robots are taking over, but we are still far from the “Matrix” scenario, especially when you take into consideration the fact that the first robot is “just” 80 years old.
The first known industrial robot, made according to ISO standards was created by “Bill” Griffith P. Taylor in 1937. It was the crane-like machine powered by one, single electric motor. It could move in five axes including grab and grab rotation. Automation was achieved with the help of punched paper tape used to energize solenoids, causing the movement of the crane’s control levers. This robot could stack wooden blocks in pre-programmed patterns. The number of motor revolutions required for each desired action was first plotted on graph paper and this information was then transferred to the paper tape – also driven by the robot’s single motor.
A first robotics patent was granted to George Devol in 1961. The first company to produce an industrial robot was founded by Devol and Joseph F. Engelberger in 1956. It was called Unimation and their robots were also called programmable transfer machines because their main use at first was to transfer objects from one point to another. Robots could move objects between points less than a dozen feet or so apart. They used hydraulic actuators and were programmed in joint coordinates, which means that the angles of the various joints were memorized during a teaching phase and then replayed in operation. Until the late 1970’s Unimation had practically no competition when several big Japanese conglomerates began producing similar industrial robots.
In 1969 Victor Scheinman at Stanford University invented the Stanford arm, an all-electric, 6-axis articulated robot. This robot could follow arbitrary paths in space and its potential use was much wider and it allowed more sophisticated applications such as assembly and welding.
Industrial robotics took off quite quickly in Europe. World’s first commercially available all-electric microprocessor controlled robot was introduced to the market in 1973. It was called IRB 6, and it was produced by ABB Robotics.
By now, only a few non-Japanese companies managed to survive in this market, and along with Japanese industry leaders are providing other companies and industries with robots for various uses.
Most types of robots would fall into the category of robotic arms, or manipulators, according to ISO standard 1738. These robots can have various degrees of autonomy.
Some of them are programmed to carry out specific actions over and over again (repetitive actions) without variation, but with a high degree of accuracy. These tasks are determined by programmed routines that specify the direction, acceleration, velocity, deceleration, and distance of a series of coordinated movements.
Other robots are much more flexible when it comes to the orientation of the object on which they are operating. Sometimes the task that has to be performed on the object has to be identified by the robot itself. For example, for precise guidance, robots often contain machine vision sub-systems acting as their visual sensors, linked to powerful computers or controllers.
Robots are a valuable piece of packaging equipment and the best thing about robotic arms is that they can be integrated into any industrial line. Here, at Tishma Technologies, robots are mostly used for palletizing (check out Tishma Technologies Tetristack Robotic Palletizer), but they also have a wide spectrum of applications in different stages of the packaging process. In our next blog post we will explore what are the defining parameters for robotic arms, so that, if you consider investing in one, you can choose wisely.