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

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, sellers, and other champions of the mighty robot.

"It's encouraging to see new orders growing again," says Donald A. Vincent, RIA's executive vice president. "This is the highest number of robots we've seen ordered in a quarter since midway through 2005."

The auto guys were at the forefront of the first-quarter purchases, which totaled more than $260 million. "Orders to the automotive sector jumped 25 percent in the first quarter when compared to the prior year, while orders to non-automotive companies actually fell 9 percent," Vincent reports.

According to the RIA, "from an applications standpoint, the first quarter saw growth in orders for robots that perform spot welding, coating/ dispensing, and material-handling applications.

Adds Vincent: "We're not surprised by the growth in spot welding, since that application is closely tied to automotive."

Add the marvels of vision and motion-control technologies to robotics and you can fully appreciate Asimov's enthusiasm for the alliance between silicon-intelligence and carbon-types, especially when it comes to contemporary manufacturing.

"I see the former building the foundations of a new and unimaginably better society than we have ever experienced," wrote the author of I, Robot. "And I see the latter building the superstructure, with a creative fantasy we dare not picture now."
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Title Annotation:first cut
Author:McKenna, Joseph F.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Aug 1, 2007
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