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An Overview of Robotics in Manufacturing [Part 1 of 2]

Posted by Ellen McKewen

Robotic hand machine tool used in modern manufacturingThe word “robot” comes from the Czech word “robotnik”, meaning “to slave.” Factories started using these machines in the early 1960’s to handle some of the more dangerous or mundane tasks that humans didn’t want to do. However, they did more than fill unwanted factory jobs; they completed the work with unprecedented speed and precision. Today, robots perform all kinds of tasks and can be classified according to different criteria such as:

  • Type of movement
  • Application
  • Architecture
  • Brand
  • Ability to be collaborative

As labor costs rise and competition for low-wage overseas locations increases, more and more manufacturers are utilizing robot technologies. In fact, 90 percent of all modern robots can be found in factories.

There are six major types of industrial robots used for various tasks:

1. Articulated

Articulated robots have rotary joints that allow for a full range of motion. They can perform very precise movements which makes them useful in manufacturing lines where they need to bend in different directions. Multiple arms can be utilized for greater control or to execute multiple tasks at once.

The main advantage of articulated robots is the flexibility and dexterity. They can move and manipulate a variety of objects while performing small tasks with greater speed and consistency than human workers.

2. Cartesian

Also referred to rectilinear or gantry robots, Cartesian robots have three linear joints that move in different axes (X, Y, and Z). The rigid structure of these robots allows for advanced precision and repeatability. They are often used in assembly lines for performing simple movements such as picking up and moving bottles.

Due to the relatively simple design and mechanic structure, Cartesian robots are fairly inexpensive to make. They can be the cheapest solution for simple pick and place operations or other tasks that do not require extensive movement

3. Cylindrical

Just as the name suggests, cylindrical robots have a cylindrical work area. They feature a robotic arm that is connected to a base via single joint, with one more linear joint connecting the arm’s links. Basically, these machines feature a single robotic arm that moves up, down, and around a cylindrical pole.

Cylindrical robots are used for assembly operations, handling, and spot welding. Their function is similar to Cartesian robots, but may be more preferable in some applications due to their ability to move between required points faster.

4. Spherical

Spherical robots are similar to, but more complex than, Cartesian or cylindrical robots. They feature a robotic arm connected to a base via a twisting joint, giving the mechanism a spherically shaped work area. This allows them to perform tasks that require movement in a three dimensional space.

Spherical robots were some of the first industrial robots to be used in manufacturing for construction and other dexterous tasks that require advanced control. Nowadays, though, they are becoming less and less popular as articulated robots are more flexible.


SCARA is an acronym that stands for Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm. These robots have arms that behave similarly to a human arm in that the joints allow for both vertical and horizontal movement. However, the “wrist” has limited motion which gives it an advantage for many types of assembly work such as pick and place, kitting, packaging, and other material handling applications.

6. Delta

These robots are built from jointed parallelograms connected to a single base, giving them a spider-like appearance. This type of design is optimal for delicate, precise movements that are useful in the food, pharmaceutical, and electronic industries.

Delta robots are used extensively for assembly and other applications that require high-speed repetition. They are able to complete highly repetitive tasks, such as small part assembly, quickly and perfectly each time. This is beneficial not only from an efficiency standpoint, but in terms of health and safety as well. Such tasks have been found to cause musculoskeletal disorders in humans over long periods of time.

Revolutionizing the Industry

Thanks to industrial robots, the manufacturing industry is on the verge of a revolution. As the technology becomes more intelligent, efficient, and cost-effective, robots are being called on to handle more complex tasks. But this doesn’t mean jobs are any harder to come by. In part 2, we’ll discuss how robots have actually created jobs in the manufacturing industry.


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Topics: Manufacturing, robotics

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