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How Robots Have Changed Manufacturing

October 3, 2013

There’s a keystone in every great invention

With Manufacturing Day right around the corner, now is the perfect time to reflect on how manufacturing has improved with the invention of the robot. The first industrial robot, which was installed at a GM production line in the 1960s, could sequence and stack hot pieces of die cast metal. Today, robots can perform an increasingly robust array of functions, such as arc welding, metal polishing, and packaging. As a result, the world of manufacturing has reaped the benefits of convenience.

This keystone innovation was designed by George Devol, a native of Louisville, Kentucky. Inspired by the stories of science fiction, Devol developed an interest in machines as a child. As a young entrepreneur, he partnered with engineer Joseph Engelberger to establish Unimation, the world’s first robot company. Devol’s company installed the first industrial robot at GM’s Trenton, NJ plant. The robot, which consisted of a two ton arm, performed spot welding and extracted die casts. Though it cost $65,000 to make, Unimation sold it to GM for only $18,000.

Unimation robots spread to other manufacturing plants, and eventually entered the international market. Over the decades, the capabilities and market for industrial robots have expanded significantly. In 2010, robot manufacturer FANUC developed the first “Learning Control Robot,” an industrial robot capable of recognizing its vibration characteristics and adjusting its cycle for higher acceleration speeds. Between the years 2008 and 2012, robot sales have increased at an average of nine percent per year.

Robots have eliminated the need for employees to endure hazardous working conditions. Thanks to robots, employees are also no longer relegated to tedious and repetitive tasks. These machines handle the dangerous and boring work that nobody wants, so that more people can fill higher-level positions such as maintaining the robots themselves.  As a result, robots have improved the quality of life for a number of workers in the manufacturing industry.

In a time of recession, industrial robots fit perfectly into the philosophy of lean manufacturing, a concept focused on preserving value with less work. With the help of robots, employers can cut costs and increase productivity at the same time. Now, more than ever, robots are able to perform tasks swiftly, accurately, and consistently. They can maintain an established level of quality over long periods of time, and are thus very reliable. Capable of running a full 24-hour period without rest or overtime pay, industrial robots have dramatically improved the quality and speed of manufacturing.

The robotics industry continues to evolve, exceeding our greatest expectations of how robots can optimize production to the benefit of employers, employees and customers alike. On October 4, 2013, manufacturers all around the world will gather to celebrate Manufacturing Day, an event that should certainly include a nod to George Devol, the pioneer of industrial robotics.

When it comes to robotics, you can find the following Keystone Electronic products in the equipment: battery clips, contacts & holders, fuse clips and holders, mounting brackets, cable clamps, screw terminals & terminal blocks, and screws and panel hardware.