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The Functions of Robotic Arms in Manufacturing

A robotic arm is also referred to as a mechanical arm. It functions much like a human arm, but has multiple joints that can rotate in different directions or move along the axis. Some robots have anthropomorphic qualities and can almost imitate the precise movements of human arms.

Robotic arms are programmed to perform specific task. They are extremely convenient in manufacturing, fabrication, assembly and many other industrial applications. They range from small machines build for intricate and delicate tasks to humongous contraptions that can construct an average building. A robotic arm with such a reach must be massive indeed.

Originally, robotic arms were meant to:

  • Aid in mass production of products in factories especially in the manufacturing of motor vehicles.   
  • Mitigate the risk of injury for human workers who performed dangerous tasks.
  • Take over simple, repetitive tasks such as welding.
  • Free workers to take up the more complex tasks involved in production.

The role robotic arms play in manufacturing keeps changing with the changing technology especially robotic vision and sensor technology. Let us look at a little bit of history in robotic arms manufacturing.

History

The first robotic arm was designed in 1954 by George Devol in collaboration with Joseph Engelberger. In 1962, General Motors incorporated a robotic arm in its assembly line to enhance its production of vehicles. Then Victor Scheinman who was a mechanical engineer at the Stanford University developed the first robotic arm to be completely controlled by a computer in 1969. This one was christened the Stanford Arm. It was the first six axes robotic arm and other commercial robots followed soon after. Japan developed their first hydraulic industrial robotic arm in the same year and Germany produced their first commercial six axes robotic arm in 1973.

These robots were used for tasks such as spot welding in manufacturing plants. However, as technology advanced, more tasks were added to the robotics resume. Robotic development includes increasing the varieties of in end-of-arm tooling which allows a robot to perform other tasks in addition to welding. These tasks depend on the tools attached to the end of the robotic arms.

 

Some of the current end-arm tooling includes:

  • Heating devices for molding and bending materials
  • 3D printing tool heads
  • Suction devices for folding sheet metal

Development in Vision Robotics and Sensors

Robotic sensors have greatly impacted on the tasks that robots can safely perform. One of the most important advancements is the development of robotic sensors. Early robots were fitted with sensors whose main function was to measure the joint angels of the robot. Some of the sensors and their applications include:

  • 2D Vision Censors: they incorporate a video camera through which the robot can espy movement in a given location. The robot may then brake and change direction if it was in motion to avoid a collision.
  • 3D Vision Sensors: these ones are a relatively new technology that is able to aid the robot in making complex decisions. The robot uses two cameras at different angles or a laser scanner that provides 3 dimensional images for the robot.
  • A Force Torque Sensor: it aids the robotic arm in understanding how much force it is applying and if it should adjust it accordingly.
  • Collision Detection Sensors: they make the robot aware of its environment.
  • Safety Sensors: these are meant for the safety of the humans who are working in close proximity of the robots. They help the robots to sense the presence of humans close to them so that they can move away or stop operating. This way, chances of causing harm to the humans are reduced.

There are other sensors including tactile or heat sensors. All these different types of sensors for robotic arms equip them with detailed and different information dependent on the robot’s current situation so that the robot can make the necessary decisions. The robot’s ability to make complex decisions is dependent on the amount of information that is availed to it.

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