This post covers topic of introduction into robotics and industrial automation. Industrial robots are machines controlled by integrated computer. Nowadays robots do the groundwork for most manufacturers, developed to perform human operations.
Most manufacturers are now equipped with robots, so human function is usually limited to purely operation control, or the most important and precise functions. It is likely that in the future, manufacturers will be totally automated. Two of the leading robotic development and manufacturing companies are ABB and Boston Robotics, and their developments will be discussed a later.
The term ‘robot’ was invented in 1921 by Czech witer Karel Capek. This term means ‘forcable labor’. Capek’s robot looked like a human, and worked even harder. An industrial robot is not supposed to look like a human, but should perform many times efficiently. The concept of the industrial robot was patented in 1954 in the US by G.C. Devol. This patent described the idea of the robotic arm, that can perform simple human operations, useful to the manufacturer.
A very common industrial robot that can be found in manufacturing all over the world is the robotic arm. The human and robot arm have more or less the same structure. The robot arm consist of three joints, similar to the shoulder, elbow and wrist. However, the typical robotic arm can perform different operations. The joints are driven by electric, pneumatic and hydraulic actuators. The manipulator is managed by the computer that performs special operations, programmed by the manufacturer. Different types of robot are listed below:
- Cartesial robot
- SCARA robot
- Articulated robot
- Parallel robot
All the robots listed here are used for handling operations, for picking up, assembly and others, however they all have different levels of complexity, that gives them different levels of flexibility. All of them can perform operations in three axis (spherical robots and others can also perform rotation).
As was mentioned above, robots or manipulators are controlled by computers. However, robots differ from computers. A lot of objects/systems now have a computer on board. This computer only has slight operational control – the rest is left for humans. The robots in contrary are totally controlled by computer, completely replacing humans in some operations during manufacturing.
According to the Robotic Industrial Assosiation, an industrial robot is a reprogrammable manipulatior, capable of moving and rotating objects. The most modern manufacturers all around the world are equipped with robots to optimise their manufacturing processes and reduce production costs. Here are the key benefits of using robotics in the manufacturing.
- Robots are reducing direct and indirect costs. Compared to humans, robots are not demanding from the point of view of holidays, sickness and working hours, lighting, heating, and other external factors. They are energy efficient.
- Robots are key to the quality of the manufactured product – they are not a subject to errors that result from tiredness or any distraction. Robots are more consisitent.
- Robots can work in any kind of environment, including ones that would represent a risk to human life.
- Robots can significantly increase production rates. They can work 24 hours, seven days per week and can perform several operations with accuracy.
- Robots respond to manufacturing flexibility. They can easily adjust to the manufacturing demands, once it is programmed. Robots can also perform a variety of single processes, in comparison to humans, quickly switching between them.
- Robots are totally obiedient to safety rules, decreasing the risk of any accident.
- High demand skills are built into the robot’s computer. It is always motivated to work, and so the cost of a robot’s labour is equal to zero. It also means less costs in terms of
It was mentioned above that a robot is operated by a computer. What is this computer – the brain of the robot? Usually a robot is operated by microcontroller with a set of outputs, communicating to a motor drive system, sensors, etc. A microcontroller is a single-chip computer. This computer is based on one integrated circuit, housed in a plastic package. Microcontrollers carry on board:
- CPU (central processing unit)
- RAM (random access memory)
- ROM (read only memory)
- I/O lines (input/output lines)
- A/D (Analog-to-digital) and D/A (digital-to-analog) converters
Microcontrollers are computers, that are small enough to be embedded in any smart device or electronic device (including a robot), performing programmed tasks. Microcontrollers are also capable of performing logic and maths tasks, which makes them very useful.
Designers, programming the microcontroller, use compilers (the tool for programming microcontrollers with high-level languages). To program microcontrollers successfully, a designer needs software, a compiler and hardware – the programming carrier board. Many developers also use firmware – the software embedded to the microcontroller. A designer will also need consumables (additive components, needed for running the microcontroller), like frequency oscillators, power supplies and resistors.
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