Renaissance for robots: the work cell was regarded as "mini," but the techno-strategy behind it was leviathan.

Author:McKenna, Joseph F.
Position:First cut

At last year's IMTS, a Fanuc M-710iC/50 Solution Arm robot, armed with an iRVision 3D laser-vision sensor, took parts from a pile and placed them onto a regrip stand. A M-710iC/50 then took over, detecting the parts' position on the stand and rearranging those parts for its robo-buddy, a M-710iC/50S, which worked with a Fanuc a-T14iES ROBODRILL. Capping the process was a M710iC/70, which deburred, air-blew, and palletized the parts.

The late sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov would have been impressed by the work cell, but not surprised. Asimov always understood what man could do with robots--and what robots could do for man. The "silicon-intelligence" and the "carbon-intelligence," he predicted, would advance "far more rapidly than either would alone."

Fanuc's Dick Motley confirmed Asimov's sentiment. "The new iRVision system raises the bar for the integration of machine vision to robotics, providing a new level of robot intelligence for machine-tending operations," he said at IMTS 2006. "Intelligent robots provide significant cost-savings advantages by eliminating the need for expensive part-feeding fixtures.

"The increased use of robots for machine tending," added Motley, "is a growing trend in the machine tool industry."

In truth, there is a growing general reliance on robotics in manufacturing. Today, you'll find 168,000 robots in use in U.S. factories, reports the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). Only Japan uses more robots.

Some might even argue it's the beginning of a robotic renaissance in our part of the world. In the first quarter of the year, North American manufacturing firms purchased 4,153 robots, says RIA, whose own recent International Robots & Vision Show brought together buyers...

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