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Ch. II—Robot Technology

  • 9

is still often required). Clearly, there is a tradeoff between the efficiency of hard auto- mation and the flexibility of robots.

Since machinery will be integrated with the total design of a factory it may not be useful to distinguish robotics as an inde- pendent technology. A fully automated fac- tory of the future might include the follow-

ing components:

  • a computer-aided-design

(CAD)

system

that provides a tool for engineers to de- velop new products on a computer using an electronic display screen. The data base generated by the computer during the design phase is then used by other computerized parts of the factory;

  • numerically controlled machine tools and other automated devices that fabri- cate components of the product, trans- port, and assemble them following instructions generated by the CAD system;

  • robots, also operating under computer generated instructions, that transfer

materials from station to station, oper- ate tools such as welders and spray painters, and perform some assembly tasks; and

  • computerized information systems that keep track of inventory, trace the flow of material through the plant, diagnose problems, and even correct them when possible.

All of the above technologies are currently under development and being used in some form. They will likely evolve into compo- nents of a fully automated flexible manufac- turing facility.

Thus, there appear to be two parallel tech- nological tracks along which industrial ro- bots are likely to develop: 1) stand-alone standardized units that will have varying uses in many different environments; and 2) robotics technology that is integrated into complete factories that will, themselves, be flexible. Any assessment of the impacts of robotics would need to consider both types.

The Robot Market

The current structure of the industrial ro- bot market—producers, users, and inves- tors–is discussed in detail in the back- ground paper by Lustgarten (app. B, item 4).

The principal uses of robots today are spot welding, spray painting, and a variety of so- called “pick and place” operations that in- volve simply picking up an object and put- ting it with a specific orientation in a pre- determined spot.

The automobile industry is the largest user of industrial robots, in terms of the value of equipment installed, and probably will continue to be over the next decade. Other major current and potential future users are summarized in the Lustgarten pa- per. Once again, these estimates consider the industrial robot as an extension of manufac- turing equipment. They do not consider possible new applications outside of manu-

facturing such as mining or equipment repair.

Domestic robot manufacturers appear to fall into four grous:

  • 1.

    Traditional machine tool manufactur- ers such as Cincinnati-Milacron that have developed a robot product line.

  • 2.

    Established firms such as Unimation that have specialized in industrial ro- bots.

  • 3.

    Large manufacturing firms, such as General Electric and, in particular, elec- tronic computing equipment manufac- turers such as Texas Instruments, that plan to be major users of robots and that have decided to build their own. These firms may choose either to retain the technology for their own use or to mar- ket their robots externally.

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