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Robots are a trivial result of industrial development. It may be considered as a sophisticated coopration of mechanical, electrical-electronical and computer engineering or a direct application of mechatronics. In this article, we try to give a summarized definition and outlook of robotics.
Technology can be seen to be as old as the mankind itself. The only difference from nowadays is that the level of technology being used at different times had been different. From primitive tools to space vehicles. That is the adventure of development.
In the last decades, a generation of machines became popular in the industry. Those machines which could be programmed for various tasks developed so rapidly that they became well-known worldwide. Even children know them now. You have guessed for sure that we talk about robots. What are they actually?
What are robots?
The Slavic word "robot" was first introduced by the Czechoslovakian dramatist Karel Capek (1890-1938) in the early twentieth century(1). In his play RUR (Rosum's Universal Robots), Capek substituted human workers with automats having a human outlook and capable of human feeling. Since then, a large number of fictional robots have appeared, but the history of real robots did not begin until 1954. What is a real robot like?
A clear and universally accepted definition of robots is unfortunately not presented as yet. We may here give the definition of Encyclopaedia Britannica which is as follows: "A robot device is an instrumented mechanism used in science or to take the place of human being. It may or may not physically resemble a human or perform its tasks in a human way, and the line separating robot devices from merely automated machinery is not always easy to define. In general, the more sophisticated and individualized the machine, the more likely it is to be classed as a robot device."(2)
There are many types of robots to be able to be listed here. They can be individually defined considering their tasks and appearances. According the Japanese standards, those robots are defined in three main categories.(3)
Manipulator: A machine which can do movements like the upper organs of a human being, and which is directly controlled by the operator.
Playback robot: A manipulator which can be programmed, and which can read the information in the memory to perform the required tasks.
Intelligent robot: A robot which can limit its actions during the whole sensing and recognizing functions. It has the ability to sense and make decisions by means of programming beforehand, and is also named as "robot with artificial intelligence".
We may here add another category of robots which is not realized until now, but there are a huge number of sophisticated researches made on them. For the time being, they still only appear in science fictions. These are "androids" which are defined as robots resembling human beings in appearances, and which are expected to be far beyond intelligent robots.
Nowadays, robots are classified according their type of movements and geometric configurations such as sliding, rotating, cylindrical, Cartesian or according their manufacturers such as Mitsubishi, Scara, Lamma etc. We do not want to go in details here, but will be contended with only emphasizing the use of robots in the industry, and what we may expect from them in the future.
Applications in the industry
We can claim that manufacturers in many sectors may like robots more than human workers.(4) A robot does not eat, does not drink, does not strike, does not protest when taken out from the production line. If programmed and adjusted well, it works faster and more precisely than a human worker.
For many, the statement above may sound like a joke, but it is really the mere fact itself. Robots find a large area of application as it reduces the costs and makes it possible to automate the production. Therefore, robot applications increase from day to day especially in developed countries such as Germany, USA, Japan etc. In the nineties, the countries were listed as follows according their robot population: Japan, USA, Germany, France, Italy, UK, Sweden, etc.
There are several factors leading to an increase in robot population.(5) The list of main factors accelerating robot applications vary with the countries, but they are in general directly related to cost of production and human health. A common list could be as follows: Increasing the quality, increasing the production capacity, labor saving, increased flexibility in production, ease of production control, more humane work conditions (i.e. the necessity of automation applications where work conditions for human are not healthy).
In consideration with those factors, largest investments have been made on flexible automation and robotic systems by the automotive and white goods sectors. Applications may be classified according the type of work in the related industry.
As mentioned before, automotive industry is the leader in robot utilization and applications worldwide. There are many examples of applications in this sector some of which are(6):
* Body; spot and arc welding, sticking
* Paint workshop; painting of the inner and outer sides of the body, sealing, running the mould press
* Edge smoothing and final assembly; cleaning, ground dyeing, sticking, glazing of front windows, ultrasonic welding of instrument cluster
* Motor and transmission; installation of block, gasket and cylinder heads, assembling of water and oil pumps, cleaning of crank shaft burrs, application of fluid sealing to motor components, handling and palletizing of machines
* Production of automobile parts; arc welding, painting, cutting, installation, handling etc. of various components.
We may also give some examples from the second leading industry in robot applications, namely the white goods sector. Main applications are as follows:
* Production; assembling as well as the sealing and painting of bodies of microwave ovens, washing machines etc.
* Assembling; motor and valve installations of the above machines.
There are various other applications in the industries such as the aluminum parts production, plastics part production, woods product manufacturing industry and food industry, but we prefer to give a general list of applications including references to related industries in order not to lead to a very long list. Main applications are(7):
Arc welding, spot welding and painting: Automotive, white goods industries and automotive subsidiaries
Assembly: Automotive industry and automotive subsidiaries
Casting: Metal and white goods industries, and automotive subsidiaries
Cutting, sticking, material handling, palletizing and packaging: General
From the above list, packaging has an interesting situation as it has direct relations with other applications(8). Packaging is inevitable in many sectors, especially the food sector, and it is applied mostly parallel with material handling and palletizing(9). Packages of foods for example are transported and palletized respectively after being packaged.
We should also mention in short that miscellaneous applications in the medical technology, space researches and even Cleanroom technology where SCARA type robots are used (10) have found place, but those should be mainly seen as non-industrial with specific definitions and features, at least nowadays. Anyway, nobody can claim them to remain non-industrial in the near future.
It can be concluded that although the biggest robot user is the automotive industry for the time being, due to flexible automation opportunities, robots will be adopted by almost all the production units in the world. Requirements of high quality, fast production and positive effect in protecting environment and human health will necessitate the more and more use of robots in the industry.
(1) Sandler, Ben-Zion; Robotics, Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1991.
(2) "Robots" Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol.15, William Benton Publ., 1973.
(3) Çetinkaya, Kerim; "Robot ve CIM (Robot and CIM)", Teknik Gelişim, No.9, Şubat - Mayıs 1995, pp.4-5.
(4) Yücel, M.Nadir; "Kısaca robotlar (Robots in short)", Otomasyon, No.70, Nisan 1998, pp.34.
(5) McCloy,D.,and Harris, D.M.J; Robotics: An Introduction, Open University Press, Milton Keynes, 1986.
(6) Eroğlu, Yalçın; "Robotlara dayalı otomasyon (Robotics based automation)", Otomasyon, No.31, Ocak 1995, pp.84-90.
(7) Eroğlu, Yalçın; "Türkiye 'de robot uygulamaları (Robot applications in Turkey)", Makinatek, No.38, Mayıs 1998, pp.24-25.
(8) Edwards, Anne-Marie; "Robotics take over", Packaging Today, vol.18, No.12, December 1996, pp.38-40.
(9) Covell, Pauline; "Robot wars", Packaging Today, vol.23, No.5, May 2001, pp.43-44.
(10) Jeutter, Wolfgang; "Robotics, the next step", Cleanroom Technology, vol.7, No.3, March 2001, pp.33-35.