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What Are Assembly Robots?

By Sandi Johnson
Updated May 17, 2024
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Assembly robots are computer-controlled, automated, programmable machines used in manufacturing and other industrial settings. These robots carry out assigned tasks based on movement routes programmed into a computer. Typically, these robots appear to be no more than a robotic arm or set of arms that perform functions such as welding, cutting, picking, or materials placement along an assembly line. Manufacturing environments involving overly repetitive tasks, hazardous materials, or unsafe conditions are the ideal environments for assembly robots.

Initially, computerized machines in industry first appeared in the 1970s with very limited mobility. Industrial robots, the larger category of robotics to which assembly robots now belong, need at least two axes to articulate along any straight line. Two axes allow a robot to move back and forth along a straight line, or up and down along a straight line. While some industrial settings can use machines with such limited mobility, most assembly lines and other manufacturing set ups need much more mobility and versatility.

As robotic technology developed from the 1970s to present, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published standards for the definition of industrial robots. Dubbed multipurpose manipulators by the ISO, assembly robots and other industrial robots must meet ISO criteria. The primary criteria for assembly or other manufacturing robots is the use of three or more axes on which the robot articulates. Using three axes, industrial robots have the ability to manipulate any number of materials and perform any number of movements required to assemble products.

Three axes allow assembly robots to articulate, not only along a straight line, but through space anywhere within reach of the robotic arm. More advanced assembly or manufacturing robots have the required three axes, as well as three additional axes to control yaw, pitch, and roll. In other words, not only can advanced robots reach any point in space within their reach, but can do so from any angle.

To the untrained eye, such axes appear on robotic arms as similar to a shoulder, elbow, and wrist. In terms of function, that is exactly how assembly robots perform, using axes for flexibility and increased dexterity. The more a robotic arm or other form of robot can move, the more finite tasks the robot is able to successfully navigate.

A robotic arm on a minimum of three axes is not the only criteria for industrial robots, as assembly robots must also include all peripherals needed for the robot to function. Such peripherals include computer controls and software interfaces, as well as additional hardware components. Collectively, all components needed in the operation of assembly robots are called work cells. Numerous work cells are used in manufacturing environments, with each cell repeating preassigned tasks.

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Discussion Comments
By umbra21 — On Nov 29, 2013

@pastanaga - Unfortunately, I don't think they will stop with the horrible jobs. I think assembly line robots will end up being the future and put a lot of humans out of work.

I mean, a 3D printer is essentially a small version of an assembly line robot and they are going to become more and more popular as time goes on. As they rise in popularity, the industries they replace will collapse and people will lose income. It's kind of scary thinking about it.

By pastanaga — On Nov 28, 2013

@KoiwiGal - Actually, the human body is remarkably efficient and complex and I think they would be hard pressed to create designs that could surpass it. It's a result of millions of years of evolution, after all.

There's a reason a lot of advanced engineering ends up imitating the shapes and adaptations of different animals and plants.

A robotic assembly line might not seem like the most natural environment in the world, but I guess they would mostly be just bending and twisting and gripping things and other actions like that, which are all motions that we make with our bodies.

Working on an assembly line is actually a fairly horrible job most of the time, so I think it's a pretty good thing that we've got robots to do it, especially when the work is particularly dangerous.

By KoiwiGal — On Nov 28, 2013

It's interesting that industrial robots seem to resemble the parts of human anatomy so much. You would think that engineers would be able to think outside the box more and create more efficient designs, rather than just copying what is already around them.

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