Industrial robotic arms are helping businesses boost their competitive advantage and keep costs low by enabling automation of key processes that contribute to enhanced safety for workers, accelerated production, and improved productivity.
What Is an Industrial Robotic Arm?
From manufacturing to automotive to agriculture, industrial robotic arms are one of the most common types of robots in use today.
Robotic arms, also known as articulated robotic arms, are fast, reliable, and accurate and can be programmed to do an infinite number of tasks in a variety of environments. They are used in factories to automate execution of repetitive tasks, such as applying paint to equipment or parts; in warehouses to pick, select, or sort goods from distribution conveyors to fulfill consumer orders; or in a farm field to pick and place ripe fruits onto storage trays. And as robotic technologies develop and industrial environments become more connected, the capabilities of robotic arms expand to enable new use cases and business operation models.
In the past, a robotic arm required teaching to perform narrowly defined tasks, such as picking a single type of object from a precise location with a specific orientation. Robots were not able to identify a particular type of object among many, determine an object location with some tolerance (area rather than exact position), or adjust the grasp based on object orientation.
Today, thanks to devices such as Intel® RealSense™ high-resolution depth cameras, powerful CPUs and GPUs, and AI technologies such as the Intel® Distribution of OpenVINO™ toolkit, robotic arms are augmented with the sensing and intelligence to perform new tasks. These smart, vision-augmented robots can detect objects in their surroundings, recognize them by types, and manipulate them accordingly. These capabilities allow robots to operate more accurately and more consistently, and safer and faster than before. They also expand the range of tasks that robots can accomplish.
With these advancements in machine vision, AI and network technologies, robotic arms can now see, analyze, and respond to their environments while transmitting valuable data and insights back to facility and business management systems. One area that benefits from this transformation is equipment (robot included) maintenance. The robot can compute data at the edge or transmit it to a server or the cloud for remote monitoring. This process enables predictive maintenance, which in turn helps reduce maintenance costs while improving machine uptime.
The Benefits of Industrial Robotic Arms
Businesses can realize several benefits from industrial robotic arms:
- Improved safety. Robotic arms help keep workers safe by operating in environments that are hazardous and executing tasks that present high risk of injury to humans.
- Improved efficiency and productivity. Robotic arms can operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week without fatiguing, allowing businesses to keep production, inspections, or other tasks going continuously to increase output.
- Enhanced precision. By their very nature, robotic arms perform more consistently and accurately than humans for tasks that require extreme precision or consistency.
- Greater flexibility. As business priorities change, robotic arms can easily be repurposed for new activities or mounted onto different platforms, such as autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), a stationary assembly line platform, or wall or shelf, as needed.
Industrial Robotic Arm Components
Robotic arms, aptly named because they resemble a human arm, are typically mounted to a base.
The arm contains multiple joints that act as axis that enable a degree of movement. The higher number of rotary joints a robotic arm features, the more freedom of movement it has. Most industrial robotic arms use four to six joints, which provide the same number of axes of rotation for movement.
In addition to rotary joints, robotic arm components include the robot controller, an end-of-arm tool, actuators, sensors, vision systems, power systems, and software components.
Take a deeper look at a robotic arm in the graphic below:
Robotic Arm Applications
One of the key advantages of industrial robotic arms is their versatility for supporting multiple applications—from the simplest to the most complex jobs in the safest or harshest environments. Automating these types of tasks not only removes human workers from possibly hazardous situations, but it enables those workers to take on high-value tasks such as interfacing with customers.
Here are some of the most common ways manufacturers are using robotic arms today:
Robotic arms can be used to automate the process of placing goods or products onto pallets. By automating the process, palletizing becomes more accurate, cost-effective, and predictable. The use of robotic arms also frees human workers from performing tasks that present a risk of bodily injury.
Material-handling robotic arms can help create a safe and efficient warehouse by ensuring goods and materials are properly stored, easy to find, or transported correctly. Automating these processes can help accelerate the delivery of goods to customers, prevent workplace accidents, and improve the efficiency of a facility.
Welding is a task that can be performed by robots in advanced industrial settings such as automotive manufacturing. Given its critical impact on product quality, welding is an excellent candidate for advanced robotics with vision and AI augmentation for inline quality inspection.
Performing quality inspection is typically completed at the end of a production line, which delays the detection of production quality issues. By enhancing robots with vision and AI systems, businesses can benefit from real-time inspection, helping to reduce waste and downtime.
Pick and Place
Pick-and-place robots are typically used in modern manufacturing and logistics. They are equipped with advanced machine vision systems to identify an object, grasp it, and move it from one location to another —quickly and efficiently— to increase speed of production and distribution of goods.
One of the key advantages of industrial robotic arms is their versatility for supporting multiple applications—from the simplest to the most complex jobs in the safest or harshest environments.
Businesses in a variety of industries are using Intel® technologies, solutions, and partners for their intelligent robotic arm deployment.
For example, car manufacturer Audi partnered with Intel and Nebbiolo Technologies to boost weld inspections and enhance critical quality-control processes in its factories by using Intel-enabled robotic arms, machine learning, and predictive analytics.1
RightHand Robotics also worked with Intel to revolutionize automated warehouse fulfillment with its software-driven, hardware-enabled RightPick2 platform. Guided by Intel® RealSense™ cameras, RightPick2 uses computer vision technology to deliver an end-to-end solution that can automatically handle any item—picking and placing thousands of SKUs at high speed with high reliability.
Building Industrial Robotic Arms with Intel® Technologies
From CPUs and GPUs with built-in AI inference acceleration to free algorithms, middleware, and reference implementations, Intel has the hardware, software, and ready-to-run solutions you need to develop and deploy industrial robotic arms.
Intel® processors for IoT and embedded uses provide powerful compute capabilities needed for automated operation.
Intel® RealSense™ products give robotic arms the ability to perceive their surroundings and understand objects. A robust range of depth cameras enable depth mapping which is essential in ensuring robotic arms can perform in multiple environments and varying conditions.
And the Intel® Distribution of OpenVINO™ toolkit enables developers to optimize, tune, and run comprehensive AI inference using an included model optimizer and runtime and development tools, facilitating a smoother development process and enabling a write-once, deploy-anywhere model.
Intel® Technologies and Solutions for the Edge
Intel’s portfolio of solutions and industry ecosystem can help you to architect and deploy edge solutions.
Intel® Edge Software Hub offers prevalidated software to learn, develop, and test your solutions for the edge.
Intel® Edge Insights for Industrial comes as a prevalidated, ready-to-deploy software reference design for video and time series data ingestion. It includes AI analysis and can publish to local applications or the cloud. And since it’s built on Docker, it’s simple to modify and customize for applications.
Intel® Edge Controls for Industrial is a free, software-defined reference platform for industrial controls. It combines real-time, deterministic computing and functional safety and standards-based industrial connectivity with IT-like management.
Intel® Vision Products for computer vision solutions offer a robust choice of general-purpose CPUs and purpose-built accelerators for deploying vision at the edge.
Intel® machine vision solutions for Industry 4.0 bring together the hardware, software, and ready-to-run solutions to power the machine vision, smart manufacturing, and industrial control systems critical to robotics solutions, industrial automation, predictive maintenance, automated vision inspection for defect detection, and more.
Intel Takes Robotic Arms to the Next Level
Businesses across all industries are feeling pressure to reach new levels of productivity and efficiency while improving workplace safety. By working with Intel, companies can drastically enhance their robotic arms with advanced sensing technologies, AI, machine and computer vision, and edge networking to not only meet new productivity and performance requirements but also give them a competitive edge in an ever-changing world.