Automated robots have inspired the human imagination for centuries. And they've not only existed in imagination. Automata -- mechanical machines that move on their own -- have a long history, frequently as toys. Yet from early on, we've seen the potential in robots. Indeed, in ancient times, Hero of Alexandria, an engineer and mathematician, wrote Pneumatica and Automata, two books that talk about the existence of hundreds of different kinds of wonder machines capable of automated movements.
21st century automation
Automotive and semiconductor manufacturing are no longer the exclusive uses for industrial robots. Technology and artificial intelligence (AI) advances have made it possible for robots to enter new production segments, making them indispensable in manufacturing applications.
Automation is no longer an option but a need for efficient industries. Recent figures suggest that this is an increasing trend in robot sales, and research on AI is rapidly finding ways to increase the autonomy of robots, giving them the power of decision-making and emotional capabilities. Both robotics and AI research and applications are advancing at such a fast pace that it is only a matter of time before well trained robots are ready to assist humans in areas like healthcare.
Robots to conquer the global market
According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), a non-profit industry group based in Germany, there were 179,000 robots sold worldwide in 2013, a new global record. The announcement was made by Arturo Baroncelli, President of the International Federation of Robotics, early this month at Automatica 2014, the 7th International Trade Fair for Automation and Mechatronics held in Munich.
Of those robots, 36,560 were sold to China, overtaking Japan for the first time. Japan took second place, buying 26,015 robots, and the US took third place with 23,679. This means an increase of almost 60 percent against 2012 by China alone, making it the biggest market for industrial robots. The European market grew by 5 percent in 2013, accounting for more than 43,000 robots.
Some of the reasons Baroncelli mentioned for the trend toward an accelerated automation include:
- The need to increase energy efficiency and better use of raw materials
- The need to increase productivity and quality due to global competitiveness
- Growing global consumer markets and the need for creating greater production capacities
- The increasingly shorter lifecycles and the increasing variety of products
- A global growing awareness that robots have the capacity to improve the quality of work by taking over dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs, protecting the health of the workers
The International Federation of Robotics forecasts that industrial robots could hit a record of 200,000 robots sold globally by the end of this year, as shown below:
Source: International Federation of Robotics
Let's take a tour through the fascinating world of some of the planet's best representatives of industrial robots. Browse through the next eleven pages to learn more about these magnificent, highly efficient mechanical helpers of today's industries (or click on any image in this article at any time to go into a slideshow mode). Here, you will find an industrial robot for every need.
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