Industrial robots are being used in more diverse applications everyday. Traditionally the automotive sector accounted for over 30% of all new robots. This is decreasing as other industries become more automated and robots move into other markets. The automotive industry is still an strong and important market for most robot manufacturers and they tailor many of their products to suit. Most robots are not specialised. That is a robot that is used for handling pipe fittings could be used for MIG welding or trimming injection mouldings.

Specifying a robotic solution is not difficult but experience with the types of machines available, their limitations and capabilities can make the difference between a system being affordable and practical or a costly mistake. There are huge differences in the pricing of robotics systems that one needs to be aware of.

These are some of the most common applications for industrial robots, but there are many, many more applications out there where robots are already working and plenty more yet to be automated.

Spot welding

A Fanuc robot equipped with a spot weld gun.
A Fanuc robot equipped with a servo spot weld gun.

Historically one of the most important applications for industrial robots. Moving a 100kg spot gun, with cooling water feed and return and high tension power cables was at best an arduous manual task, even with the assistance of spring balances. Most car chassis had therefore to be assembled in static jigs that constricted designs. During the 1970’s and 1980’s robots such as the ASEA IRB90 started to be capable of handling a spot gun, allowing greater flexibility and repeatability with the robot welding exactly the same spot time after time. Now every major automotive plant is automated this way with dozens of robots spot welding. The tips of the spot welders are automatically dressed and changed allowing continuous production. The latest spot weld guns are servo driven, that is, the pressure and duration of the spot can be minutely controlled.

Gluing

Gluing applications are simple tasks for robots. In this case gluing blocks onto a car headlining is done quickly with minimal wastage. The most difficult part is in the dispensing equipment, ensuring that that feed lines do not clog the glue is delivered precisely when needed.

 

Palletising

 

Palletising is one of the areas best suited to robotisation in any factory. Goods in and out require stacking for transport and often this is a laborious, monotonous and back breaking task. From eggs to bricks, champagne to sand, paint to pet food, palletising is one of the growth areas in robotics as industries outside automotive see the benefits and quick payback of robots. As can be seen in this video the robot can palletise and depalletise. Changing stacking patterns and distances is quick and easy to cater for various products. Mechanical grippers can be used or vacuum grippers.

 

Packaging

There are a whole host of packaging uses for industrial robots. Their flexibility makes them ideally suited to handling may different components and packing them in a careful, consistent way. Most flat pack furniture is packaged by robots for example.

Cutting

This covers a whole range of materials and potential applications. Essentially whatever cutting tool you have can be put on the end of a robot (assuming it weighs less than 1000kgs). The really useful thing is the flexibility of robots allowing full 3D movement and large work envelopes.

 

Entertainment

 

Industrial robots are increasingly being used in the entertainment industry. The Robocoaster robots made by Kuka are a highly modified version of their heavyweight KR series of robots. As well as the twin seats the robot are also fitted with extra safety systems. There are now many of these robot rides around the world with many at Legoland Denmark, some on cruise ships, even in shopping malls. They can only take two people at a time but they are compact compared to a traditional rollercoaster and have the added benefit that in some places the ride can be varied by the operator, or even the passengers.

 

Robots have been used in film and TV for many years. Industrial robots featured in the end sequences of the first Terminator film, and have featured prominently in many films since especially the Iron Man franchise. However robots are also finding roles behind the scenes. Robots have been used not only to mount cameras, to give smooth repeatable shots, but also mount props and even actors, to give dramatic anti-gravity effects.

 

This is an overview of the key markets for 6 axis, scara and delta robots – the most common types of multi axis industrial robots.

Market sectors 

Automotive and automotive suppliers

Plastics

Food production

Consumer goods

Agriculture

Aerospace

Fabrication (metals)

Product Testing

Material handling

Mining

Construction materials

Aggregates

Pharmaceuticals

These are a range of typical applications for industrial robots. Spot welding robots are very common in automotive plants but are also widely used in white goods manufacture.

Applications:

Spot welding

Seam welding

Laser welding

Plastic IML

De Gating /trimming

Coating (painting)

Gluing/ sealing

Machine tending

Palletising

There are of course many more applications. From handling champagne to the manufacture of door frames. From milling statues from solid stone to making confectionery animals.