Industrial Robots: Ensuring Safe Operations and Mitigating Risks

orange industrial robot

Industries in the Age of Robotics

Industrial robots have become an essential part of modern manufacturing, improving the productivity and efficiency of industrial settings worldwide. The impact of robots on productivity is substantial; they have revolutionized the way products are made. With the ability to operate around the clock, they can significantly increase output, producing more products in less time than human workers. Additionally, industrial robots can improve the quality of manufactured products, as machines are more precise and accurate than human workers.

These smart machines are known to be flexible and versatile multifunction technicians that are used in all industrial sectors.They can be found in a wide range of industries, including automotive manufacturing, aerospace, food and beverage production, and healthcare.

This article aims to provide an overview of the different industrial robots and their applications, as well as the safety considerations that must be taken into account when using these machines. Furthermore, this article explores the potential hazards associated with industrial robot use and the importance of prioritizing safety in the factory setting.

The 7 Types of Industrial Robots

Industrial robots come in various types, each designed for specific applications and industries. Here are the most common types of robots and their applications and benefits in various industries:

1. Cartesian Robots

Cartesian robots, also known as gantry or rectilinear robots, are three-axis robots that move in a straight line along the X, Y, and Z axes. Some may also have an attached wrist to allow for rotational movement. They are commonly used in industries such as packaging, assembly, and material handling.

These machines may be limited in movement, but it is an excellent choice if high precision is needed in the application. Cartesian robots are capable of the highest level of precision among all robot types. It is also the most scalable, both in size and strength; they can be as small as a mini 3D printer or as large as 50 meters long or more.

The benefits of Cartesian robots include their ability to handle heavy loads, their precision and repeatability, and their ability to operate in a limited workspace.
One example of a Cartesian robot is the Henkel Sonderhoff LR-HD. It is used in the automotive industry for high-speed assembly and material handling tasks.

2. SCARA Robots

SCARA is an acronym for Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm or Selective Compliance Articulated Robot Arm. They are four-axis robots that move in a planar motion, making them ideal for assembly and material handling tasks. They are commonly used in industries such as electronics and automotive manufacturing.

SCARA robots are generally known for their compact design, high speed, accuracy, reliability, ease of use, and minimal maintenance.

One example of a SCARA robot is the GSK SCARA Robot - RSP600A(B)15, which is usually used in electronics, plastic, drug and food industry, used to perform grasp, assembly, gluing and other operations.

3. Articulated Robots

Articulated robots have up to six axes of motion, allowing them to move like a human arm. They are constructed with a series of joints, with each one giving the machine a degree of freedom. This makes articulated robots very flexible; having the ability to reach any position or orientation within its scope of work, even with obstacles. They are commonly used in industries such as welding, painting, and material handling.

One example of an articulated robot is the ABB IRB 6700. It is used in the automotive industry for tasks such as welding and material handling.
The benefits of these articulated machines include their flexibility, dexterity, and ability to handle heavy loads. They can also operate in a wide range of workspaces, making them suitable for use in various industries.

4. Delta Robots

Delta robots, also known as parallel or spider robots, have a unique design that allows them to move in a three-axis motion. They are commonly used in industries such as food and beverage packaging and pharmaceutical manufacturing.

One example of a Delta robot is the FANUC M-1iA/1H, which is excellent for applications such as welding, painting, ironing and palletizing. The benefits of Delta robots include their speed, accuracy, and ability to handle delicate items. They are also space-saving, making them suitable for use in areas with limited workspace.

5. Polar Robots

Polar robots, also known as spherical robots, have a unique design that allows them to move in a three-axis motion. They are commonly used in industries such as assembly, machine tending, sealing, dispensing, welding, painting, and material handling.

One example of a Polar robot is the Kawasaki RS020N. It is used in the automotive industry for tasks such as material handling and welding.
The benefits of Polar robots include their high speed, precision, and ability to handle heavy loads. They also have a compact design, making them suitable for use in limited workspaces.

6. Collaborative Robots

Collaborative robots, or "cobots," are designed to work alongside human workers safely, as they are designed to interact with their environment. They can sense the presence of people and adjust their movements to avoid collisions, making them ideal for tasks that require human-robot collaboration.

Cobots are increasingly being used in industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, and logistics, where they can perform repetitive or dangerous tasks while working in close proximity to humans.

Examples of collaborative robots include the UR10e robots from Universal Robots, which are widely used in manufacturing and research settings. These machines are known for their flexibility and ease of programming, making them suitable for a range of applications.

7. Mobile Robots

Mobile robots are designed to move around a factory floor or warehouse autonomously, performing tasks such as material handling, inventory management, and inspection. They are equipped with sensors and cameras to navigate their environment and avoid obstacles, making them ideal for large-scale operations where they can cover a lot of ground quickly.

Examples of mobile robots include the Kiva system from Amazon Robotics, which uses small robots to transport shelves of products around a warehouse, and the MiR100 from Mobile Industrial Robots, which is designed for material transport and delivery. These robots have revolutionized the way warehouses and distribution centers operate, enabling faster and more efficient fulfillment of orders.

Overall, industrial robots are becoming increasingly sophisticated and versatile, with new types and applications emerging all the time. By choosing the right type of robot for a given task or industry, businesses can reap the benefits of increased productivity, improved quality, and safer working conditions for their employees.

robot working on a car

Safety Considerations for Industrial Robots

Safety considerations are crucial when implementing industrial robots in the workplace. It is important to identify potential hazards, mitigate risks, follow safety standards for collaboration between humans and robots, and maintain safety guidelines and best practices throughout the entire process.

Risk Assessment and Mitigation

  • Identifying potential hazards: Before implementing industrial robots, it is important to identify potential hazards such as collisions, pinch points, shearing, impact, and electrical hazards. This can be achieved through a risk assessment process that involves a thorough evaluation of the workplace and identifying potential safety hazards.
  • Mitigating risks: Once hazards have been identified, measures can be taken to mitigate risks, such as the installation of safety barriers and guards, implementing safety procedures, and providing employee training. It is important to ensure that safety measures are in place to prevent accidents.

Human-Robot Collaboration

Safety Standards for Collaboration

Human-robot collaboration is becoming more common in the workplace. As it becomes more prevalent in various industries, ensuring the safety of workers is paramount. Safety standards have been developed to guide the design and implementation of collaborative robot systems, such as ISO/TS 15066:2016. This standard provides guidelines for identifying and assessing the risks associated with human-robot interaction and offers recommendations for reducing those risks.

Another example of a safety standard for human-robot collaboration is the "Guide to the Safety of Robotics" published by the Robotics Industries Association (RIA). This guide provides detailed information on safety considerations for both traditional industrial robots and collaborative robots, including risk assessment, safeguarding methods, and safety performance requirements. It also includes a section on human-robot collaboration that covers topics such as force and speed limits, workspace design, and emergency stop requirements.

Implications for the Future of Work

Human-robot collaboration has the potential to transform the future of work. Collaboration between humans and robots can increase productivity and improve the quality of work, while also reducing the risk of injury. However, it is important to ensure that safety standards are in place to protect workers.

Safety Guidelines and Best Practices

  • Pre-installation safety considerations: Before installing industrial robots, safety considerations should be taken into account. This includes evaluating the workplace, identifying potential hazards, and developing safety procedures.
  • Operational safety considerations: Once factory robots are in operation, safety considerations should be maintained. This includes providing training to employees, regularly inspecting and maintaining equipment, and ensuring that safety procedures are being followed.
  • Post-installation safety considerations: After industrial robots have been installed, it is important to regularly review safety procedures and update them as necessary. This includes evaluating the effectiveness of safety measures and making adjustments to improve safety.
factory robot

    Hazards of Industrial Robot Use

    The use of robots are highly beneficial to many industrial sectors. However, their widespread use also brings about significant safety concerns. The hazards of their use range from minor injuries to fatal accidents.

    One accident that highlights the potential dangers of industrial robot use is the death of a worker at a Volkswagen factory in Germany in 2015. The worker was reportedly installing a robot when it grabbed him and crushed him against a metal plate, causing fatal injuries. The incident prompted an investigation by the authorities, and Volkswagen was fined for safety violations.

    Incidents like this serve as a reminder of the potential dangers of industrial robot use and highlight the importance of proper safety training, equipment, and protocols.

    Physical Hazards

    • Collision - Industrial robots may collide with workers or other objects, causing injuries or damage to equipment. The speed and force of the robot can contribute to the severity of the injury. For example, a robot arm moving at high speed could cause serious injury or even death if it collides with a worker.
    • Pinch points - These are areas on the robot where two parts move together, such as a joint or a gripper, that can trap or crush a worker's fingers, hand or other body parts. Pinch point injuries can be severe, including amputation.
    • Shearing - This is the action of two parts moving past each other, causing a cutting or shearing effect. Industrial robots with sharp edges or moving parts, such as blades or saws, can cause shearing injuries that result in lacerations, cuts or even amputations.
    • Impact - This hazard occurs when an object or worker is struck by a moving robot or a falling object, such as a dropped tool or part. The force of the impact can cause serious injury or even death.

    Electrical Hazards

    • Electrical shock - This hazard occurs when a worker comes into contact with an energized part of the robot or its electrical system. The electrical shock can cause serious injury or even death.
    • Electrocution - The hazard of electrocution occurs when a worker is exposed to an electrical current that passes through the body, potentially causing internal damage, burns, or even death.

    Chemical Hazards

    Exposure to hazardous chemicals - Factory robots may be used in applications where workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals, such as in the automotive or electronics industries. Exposure to these chemicals can cause a range of health problems, including skin irritation, respiratory problems, and cancer.

    Wrapping Up...

    In summary, industrial robots have revolutionized manufacturing by increasing productivity, improving product quality, and reducing costs. However, they also pose significant safety risks to workers.

    It is important for companies to conduct a thorough risk assessment and develop safety protocols that mitigate these risks. This includes implementing safety features on the robots themselves, as well as training workers on safe operating procedures and providing appropriate personal protective equipment.

    Future developments in industrial robot safety will continue to focus on improving safety features, developing better risk assessment methods, and advancing worker training programs. The goal is to create a safe work environment that maximizes the benefits of industrial robots while minimizing the risks to workers.

    The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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    Author: Herbert Post

    Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.