Applications of Industrial Robotics You Can Apply Today

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When we talk about robotics, even today, it’s often with a sense of wistfulness — like the concept is still alien, or they aren’t already transforming how we live and work.

A look at modern industries will turn up a vast number of ways in which robotics can improve efficiency, safety and accuracy right now. The robotic arm is undoubtedly one of the most versatile representatives of this growing technology field and a friend to businesses everywhere.

Manufacturing, Assembly and Welding

There is a great deal of worry that a wider introduction of automation — including robotic arms — will cause industries to shed human jobs and the economy to tumble into widespread unemployment.

However, even on the regional scale, we can already see this is not so. One example is the Little Giant Ladder Co., which is owned by Wing Enterprises and is based in Utah. To deal with recent rising demand, Little Giant ramped up production by outfitting three new production facilities with automated manufacturing systems, including welding arms.

The workforce didn’t shrink — it expanded, considerably. This pattern has repeated for many midsized companies who found themselves navigating the thrill and the perils of wider, and even global, success.

Assembly and manufacturing are bursting with opportunities to supplement human brawn and know-how with robotic arms:

·       Arc and spot welding

·       Painting operations

·       Feeding raw materials into hoppers or across cutting equipment

·       Moving workpieces between stations

Applications like these are becoming more common across the industrialized world, even as the U.S. sees some 2 million manufacturing jobs go unfilled. It’s clear there is vast potential in manufacturing and assembly for both flesh and silicon, and will be for some time.

Health Care and Surgery

If there was an early frontrunner for a household name in robotic surgery, it was the impressive systems from da Vinci Surgery, which today boast cumulative millions of successful and minimally invasive surgeries. It also has the credibility of 18 years’ worth of endorsement from the Food and Drug Administration.

The years have seen even further advancements. Whereas some robotic surgery systems operate more like very accurate, very steady prostheses for the human surgeon, the three current largest names in robot surgery are thinking even bigger. Intuitive Surgery, Hansen Medical and Medrobotics are all U.S.-based companies, and all rank among Berkshire Hathaway’s most valuable innovators in this field.

There’s value for the patient, too. Robotic surgery systems can:

·       Utilize smaller incisions and achieve the same outcome

·       Shorten patients' hospital stays

·       Improve recovery times

·       Reduce lost productivity due to recovery

·       Minimize scarring at the surgery site

There are many more applications for robot arms in the wider health care market, too. They are finding usefulness in anti-counterfeiting measures, drug discovery trials, counting and organizing prescriptions, aiding in pharmaceutical manufacturing, and handling and moving delicate instruments and samples.

Positive health care outcomes depend on accuracy, repeatability and, in many cases, physical dexterity. It’s not surprising to find robotic arms here, too, lending a literal helping hand.

Public Safety and First Responders

Public safety is a broad category. Insofar as militaries exist to protect people, the armed forces fall into this sector as well.

If there is any human occupation for which no amount of compensation feels like enough, it’s the first responder. As we all have witnessed any number of times, first responders at basic car accidents and major disasters alike are exposed to a considerable amount of risk. Whether it’s the immediate peril of entering a disaster area or chronic health conditions that manifest days or months later, first responders shoulder too much burden for too little thanks.

This is likely why researchers at MIT and elsewhere have turned their attention to creating robotic first responders. Mimicking the movement of animals, including humans, has unlocked a great deal of agility and dexterity in robots. This is especially important when we’re talking about a robot which would, potentially, be tasked with anything from sifting through rubble for survivors to defusing an improvised bomb on a roadside.

Public Works

One of the biggest advantages of robotics is that they perform admirably in some extreme conditions — including temperature swings from as low as -40 F to as high as 248 F in some cases. As our understanding of the material sciences advances further, expect the operational range of robots to improve too.

There are many problems close to home that many of us don’t think about that inevitably put human lives in harm’s way. That includes infrastructure maintenance. Many in the public take for granted that our roads and bridges are in good repair and have passed their most recent inspections with flying colors. However, the construction and upkeep of any country’s public infrastructure is a job that doesn’t take a single day off in a calendar year — and we have failed to uphold these tasks as national priorities. The bridges and utility systems we put our trust in every day could benefit from some robust mechanical assistance that doesn’t mind getting into rugged conditions.

Remote-operated inspection drones, laden with sensor-rich appendages, are already making it easier and more cost-effective to perform ongoing inspections and even field repairs to gas mains, sewers, electrical facilities and much more.

Robots in Industry, for the Good of All

Given that each of these industries benefits from strong and fiscally wise public policy in addition to thoughtful innovation from the private sector, the cost and productivity benefits of bringing robots into industry are good news for everybody.

Megan Nichols

Megan Nichols is a technical writer and blogger. She writes about engineering, science and technology topics. Megan is also editor of Schooled By Science, an easy to understand science blog. With Schooled By Science she hopes to encourage others to learn more about STEM subjects.

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