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The History of Robotics in Manufacturing

robotics in manufacturing history
Editor's Note: Cerasis, as a third party logistics company, has a core tenet of continuous improvement of our people, processes, and products. We fully believe that an efficient manufacturer and manufacturing base is set to stay competitive and sustain. We keep manufacturers competitive by empowering them with process improvement and technology to better sustain and scale transportation departments without adding additional resources, thus impacting the overall profitability. As we said in our podcast on Friday, the more profitable our manufacturing base, the greater the dollars that circulate into the economy. Like logistics process improvement, robotics are poised to aid manufacturers in renaming efficient, and thus accomplishing the goal of sustainability and long term profitability. This will be a sister post to our guest blog on Cisco Eagle about the state of Automation in Manufacturing. We will update this blog post with the link once that one is published. 

Robotics in Manufacturing: From the Industrial Age to the Space Age

Robots are an indispensable part of today's large manufacturing industries. These intelligent machines have taken over many of the tasks requiring high precision, speed and endurance. They are becoming increasingly smarter, more flexible and more autonomous, with the capability to make decisions and work independently of humans. The following is a brief history of robotics in manufacturing:

Early Industrial Robotics in Manufacturing (1954 - 1979):

Early industrial robots had limited "intelligence", autonomy and operational degrees of freedom. They were mostly designed to perform one or two sets of repetitive tasks in a highly controlled environment. Some notable early robots were:
  • The first industrial robot was designed by George Devol in 1954. This robot was capable of transferring objects from one point to another within a distance of about a dozen feet. Devon founded a company called Unimation in 1956 to manufacture the robot. He also coined the term Universal Automation.
  • robotics in manufacturingVersatran, designed by Harry Johnson and Veljko Milenkovic, and manufactured and marketed by AMF Corporation in 1960.
  • UNIMATE, manufactured by Unimation, was the first industrial robot to be used by a major manufacturer. It was installed by General Motors in its New Jersey plant in 1962.
  • Famulus, developed by German robotics company KUKA in 1973, had six electromechanically-driven axes.
  • The Silver Arm, developed by Prof. Victor Scheinman in 1974, was capable of performing small-parts assembly jobs using feedback from touch and pressure sensors. Its industrial version, manufactured by Vicarm Inc, founded by Scheinman, was controlled by a minicomputer.
  • ASEA IRB, built by a European company called ASEA in 1975, was the world's first fully electrically driven robot. It was also the first microprocessor-controlled robot and used Intel's first chipset.
  • Motoman L10, the first robot developed by Yaskawa America Inc. in 1977, had five axes and was able to move 10kg of weight with its gripper.
  • PUMA, a robot arm designed by Prof. Victor Scheinman and developed by Vicarm, Unimation with support from General Motors in 1978, was used in assembly lines and is still used by researchers today.
  • Nachi Robotics of Japan developed the first servo gun technology robot for spot welding in 1979.
  • OTC Japan introduced the first generation of dedicated arc welding robots in 1979.

Modern Industrial Robots (1980 - present day):

From 1980, industrial robots began to be made in large numbers, with a new robot being introduced in the market at the rate of one a month. These robots are microprocessor-controlled and are smarter and have a higher degree of operational freedom. Some notable developments in this stage are:
  • robotics in manufacturing fanucThe first robotic arm with motors installed directly into the joints of its arm. It was built by Takeo Kanade in 1981. This design made it faster and more accurate than previous robotic arms.
  • Yaskawa America Inc. introduced the Motoman ERC control system in 1988. It had the ability to control up to 12 axes, the highest number of axes at the time.
  • FANUC Robotics Corporation built a prototype of the first intelligent robot in 1992.
  • Motoman ERC control system was upgraded in 1994 to give the ability to control up to 21 axes. It could synchronize the motions of two robots.
  • The Motoman XRC controller introduced in 1998 had the ability to control up to 27 axes. This gave it the ability to synchronize the motions of three to four robots.
  • In 1998, the Motoman UP series introduced a simpler robot arm that was more easily accessible for repair and maintenance.
  • The Almega AX series, introduced by OTC DAIHEN in 2003, is a line of arc welding and handling robots.
  Industrial robots are increasingly becoming more "intelligent" and versatile. In the future, they are expected to be capable of working without human intervention and take over most of the manufacturing processes. Now this may not mean that a bunch of jobs in manufacturing are going to happen as we see more robotics in manufacturing realized, but as we said in our blog post about Manufacturing jobs level, that is OK. What are your thoughts on robotics in manufacturing? Let us know in the comments section below!
Adam Robinson
Adam Robinson oversees the overall marketing strategy for Cerasis including website development, social media and content marketing, trade show marketing, email campaigns, and webinar marketing. Mr. Robinson works with the business development department to create messaging that attracts the right decision makers, gaining inbound leads and increasing brand awareness all while shortening sales cycles, the time it takes to gain sales appointments and set proper sales and execution expectations.
Adam Robinson
Adam Robinson
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