An Overview

An industrial robot is an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes, which may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications. So there you have it, as defined in ISO 8373.

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In 2015, robot sales increased by 15% to 253,748 units, again by far the highest level ever recorded for one year. The main driver of the growth in 2015 was general industry with an increase of 33% compared to 2014.

By 2019, some 2.6 million robot units will be working around the world. That’s another 1.4 million new industrial robots on today’s figures, according to the latest forecast from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). World Robotics 2016 Industrial Robots report

Competitiveness and safety are driving forces behind these record-breaking robotic trends.

Locally, labour shortages for repetitive tasks are also major driver, with robots able to perform the same task over and over again accurately.

The Past in Perspective

Historically, the limitations of robotics meant that the introduction of this technology was limited to routine applications, such as large production volumes and simple geometry. Despite the simplicity of these applications, robotics delivered significant advantages through improved quality thanks to consistency, reduced operating costs and improved production.

Where robotics fell short was the ability to make the real-time adjustments that are often required in most applications. For example, high quality welding is dependent on the ability to effect changes relating to variables such as wire feed, voltage, torch angle, oscillation, travel speed and heat input. While humans are adept at this, robotics were traditionally unable to deliver such output.

Until recently, there were inherent difficulties translating split-second decision making into a robotics program that could respond to and change variables throughout a process. This difficulty meant that only a select number of variables could be programmed and parameters adjusted, which limited the scope of application.

The Advent of Dynamic Process Control Technologies

These difficulties have been overcome thanks to the advent of ‘dynamic process control’ technologies. These technologies, such as automated offline programming and sophisticated sensor systems, such as laser vision, have wholly transformed the ways in which robotics can be integrated into operations.

Dynamic process control allows for increased robotics automation applications due to the fact that it enables parameter adjustments to be made on the go.

New technology can:

  • Make adjustments to the robot processes through the use of sensors and laser vision systems.
  • Robots can now be programmed for a variety of functions, rather than being suitable only for single tasks. Thanks to the ability to store a number of programs in each robot’s memory, some tasks can be moved between quickly, particularly if the tooling nests have been designed for quick changes.
  • The time it takes to program robots has also been drastically reduced, thanks to the ability to use offline programming software. The software itself has also been enhanced, which means speed, accuracy and quality have been enhanced, while costs have been lowered.
  • Robots can now work with much larger components, and can be mounted on gantries and tracks.
  • The price of robots has also steadily declined over the years.

Due to these developments, robotics is now a foundational technology that is being employed in virtually all industries, markets and geographies

With industry experts predicting that robotics automation technologies are set to transform business operations as we’ve known them, perhaps you’ve thought about how they could transform your company’s operations too. What is certain is that leaders of companies in virtually every industry now need to start planning how they will step forward into growth by being equipped with robotics technologies or step back into (what they may think) is safety.

It’s no secret that robotics technologies automate repetitive, time consuming manual and often dangerous tasks and enable any enterprise to increase productivity, product quality and efficiencies – all of which leads to lower costs, increased profitability and customer satisfaction, and reduced OH&S risks.

What is often less understood are the processes involved in visioning, designing and commissioning a robotics system that realises your operational objectives…and how to calculate the rapid return on investment. Well, that’s where we step in…

What you’ll discover is that almost anything is possible. And while the robotics machines we supply from the world’s leading manufacturers come equipped with an array of dazzling features and can perform myriad functions, you may be surprised to discover that the system design ‘smarts’ reside in our human heads rather than the machines.

While robots come alive with programming – the functions that a robot fulfils are defined through business analysis and a thorough strategic review of a company’s requirements. This, of course, informs the development of best practice recommendations on how to apply robotic automation to realise a company’s business and operational objectives by re-engineering current processes.