30 years and still going strong

Industrial Robot

ISSN: 0143-991x

Article publication date: 1 June 2004


Loughlin, C. (2004), "30 years and still going strong", Industrial Robot, Vol. 31 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/ir.2004.04931caa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

30 years and still going strong

30 years and still going strong

By the time this issue is published the Robot Pioneers Reunion that has been arranged to coincide with the 30th anniversary of this journal would have taken place (27 March 2004), many of these pioneers are still very active (see next issue), but others have been retired for many years.

All of them would however, feel largely at home walking down the lines in an automotive factory today.

New application areas are certainly being found, such as parts handling and the application of adhesives, but spot welding still predominates. This situation may well make it a bit more challenging for your editor, but is it a bad thing?

Certainly not

Is it a bad thing that people still use hammers and screwdrivers?

Certainly not.

Developments have occurred however, and in the case of screwdrivers this has taken the form of Pozidriv or Allen key heads and, like robots, they frequently come with electric motors attached. But the basics still apply and this is for the very good reason that they work.

Reading the news item from ABB regarding one of their IRB6/S1 robots that is finally being retired after 26 years of active use, you realize that there are several things about robots that our pioneers would not recognize and this is their price. Robots cost less now as they did 26 years ago. I do not mean “less after allowing for inflation”, I mean less. The IRB6/S1 cost £58,000 26 years back and a similar robot would cost £15,000 today.

Walter Weisel of Robotic Workspace Technologies recently told me that when he and Joe Engelberger first started trying to sell robots at Unimation they could not give them away, and now they are giving them away!

Another aspect of the robots that would pleasantly surprise our pioneers is their operating reliability. In the very early days, mean time before failure (MTBF) was measured in hundreds of hours, now it is measured in thousands. Also accuracy and repeatability show a similar ten-fold improvement.

Downtime due to programming has also changed dramatically. What used to take hours and cause considerable disruption can now be done and tested off-line in effectively no time at all.

In this issue we have a Tutorial by Paul G. Ranky (Automotive robotics, pp. 252–257) which overviews the technologies behind the application of industrial robots in automotive factories, and the infrastructures that need to be in place to make the systems all work together. Our Associate Editor John Mortimer reviews a very wide variety of applications that demonstrate the flexibility and versatility of the robots that we use today.

Our research paper from Rolf Johansson (Sensor integration in task-level programming and industrial robotic task execution control, pp. 284–296) further highlights the very important role that sensors now play in making these applications possible. And our paper from Nicolas Andreff (Vision-based kinematic calibration of an H4 parallel mechanism: practical accuracies, pp. 273–283) shows, how machine vision and a crafty use of an LCD display can help dramatically improve the accuracy of off-the-shelf robots. Something which is of key importance for off-line programming and which will also provide us with a low cost way to improve operating accuracies beyond the point that will be achievable by enhanced mechanical precision alone.

Christine Connolly (Robotic colour measurement of metallic and pearlescent paint, pp. 258–260) describes an application that uses a robot mounted vision system to inspect car paint finishes and Heping Chen (Development of automated chopper gun trajectory planning for spray forming, pp. 297–307) describes the development of a composite spray forming process that has application in the automotive and other industries.

Where will we be in another 30 years I wonder?

Clive Loughlin