Robots in manufacturing often have a role separate from human employees, doing what a man or woman cannot, moving heavy equipment, performing repetitive tasks, working in hazardous situations. But as robotic technology develops, we’ll see a trend of robots not just working opposite people, but with them.
Today, robots are used mostly in making cars and semiconductors or other goods produced in high volumes and requiring force or precision beyond human levels. They are good in warehouses, too. In March, Amazon.com Inc. AMZN +3.05% announced it is paying $775 million to buy Kiva Systems Inc., a maker of squat, cube-shaped robots that move products around shipping centers.
Kawada’s new NextAge robot, whose sensor eyes give it a passing resemblance to the movie character WALL-E, is “capable of replacing or collaborating with humans.” The robots cost about $90,000 for the basic model.
Japanese industrial conglomerate Hitachi Ltd. 6501.TO -2.52% introduced a NextAge robot last September to a factory outside of Tokyo that makes computer storage products. There, NextAge puts a cover over each hard-disk drive’s fan and tightens screws. This simple task, once handled by a person, shaves off nearly a minute of production per disk drive—a big time saver over the span of thousands of devices—and lets the human workers assemble other types of parts.
Another Japanese company, Glory Ltd., started using NextAge in November 2010 to install a tiny part in its money-sorting equipment for retail stores. The company found that using the robot saves labor costs and brings the defect rate near zero, “which is not possible for human workers,” a Glory spokesman said. Glory now has 10 NextAge robots in the factory north of Tokyo.
ABB is also developing a humanoid-like robot that can squeeze into small workspaces and learn new tasks quickly. The “dual-arm concept robot” will be agile enough to assemble consumer-electronic products, among other things, ABB says.
Researchers aren’t just concerned with developing robots’ fine motor skills. They’re also hoping to increase a robot’s ability to handle uncertainty, unpredictability, and decision making. How do you see such developments impacting the processes of robotic automation and manufacturing?
We’re proud to see so many RIA members on the cutting edge of robotic technology. Read the full article at The Wall Street Journal.