What are the uses of industrial robots

Industrial robots ✔️ Types Structure Applications Selection

Industrial robots are universally usable automatic movement machines, the movements of which are freely programmable (i.e. without mechanical intervention) in terms of movement sequence and paths or angles and, if necessary, sensor-controlled (according to VDI guideline 2860). This type of robot can be equipped with grippers, tools and other production means and can perform handling and / or production tasks.

Synonym (s): Robots in an industrial environment, robots

(for the english version got to industrial robots Wiki)

To European standard EN 775 A robot is an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multi-purpose handling device with several degrees of freedom, which is used either stationary or mobile in automated production systems.

For more details see table "The components of the industrial robot system".

Types of industrial robots (types of robots)

Types of robots according to kinematics

Industrial robots in use: Combination of SUMO Ecoplex2 and SUMO Fotoplex from EGS automation technology with Yaskawa robots

Industrial robots can be divided into the following types:

  • Serial kinematics in which the axes are arranged in series
    • Articulated arm robots: for complex movement sequences (e.g. in mechanical engineering and the automotive industry), serial axis arrangement, also known as articulated arm robots or articulated robots
    • Scara robot: with 3 rotation axes + 1 linear axis. S.elective C.ompliance A.ssembly R.obot A.rm, high precision, bring workpieces from defined positions to the assembly site and join from above
    • Portal robot: built in portal design (TTT kinematics), implementation of large dimensions, particularly suitable for transport tasks
    • Dual-arm robot: work with low payloads (up to 20kg) for the service and medical sector
    • Palletizing robot: automatic placing of pallets and packages on load carriers
  • Parallel kinematics in which the axes are arranged in parallel
    • Hexapod robots: flexible concepts e.g. for simulators and measuring machines
    • Delta robots: light and fast robots for packaging in factories, in assembly and in the high-speed area
  • Other

Building a robot

The components of an industrial robot (structure) are: manipulator (robot arm), control, drives, effector (gripper, tool, etc.) and internal and external sensors.


The manipulator (robot arm) is an electromechanical structure and consists of several rigid links that are connected to one another by a certain joint technology. The joints, in turn, are changed in their position by controlled drives. At the end of this link chain is the Base, while the free end ends with a movable gripper that can carry out the production work. In order to be able to carry out the tasks and to realize the spatial assignment of workpiece and equipment, the kinematics usually consists of three degrees of freedom. These three degrees of freedom require three axes of movement, i.e. robotic arms.

The manipulator generates a path movement of the TCP (Tool Center Point) from several rotary movements of the individual axes via gears and the individual mechanical elements. The motors of the individual axes usually have holding brakes (with the exception of Scara kinematics, which only have holding brakes on the stroke axis of the spindle).

The Load capacity indicates the maximum mass that can be attached to the manipulator.

Robot control

The robot control and programming controls the individual robot axes via servo amplifiers using motors according to setpoints that they receive from the axis computer.


The drive consists of a gearbox, motor and controller and can be operated electrically, hydraulically or pneumatically.


The gripping system represents the unhindered connection between the workpiece and the industrial robot. Various coordinate systems are used to determine the exact position of the end effector.


Internal sensors Sensors provide information on the position of the manipulators and compare the actual and target positions. External sensors provide information from the environment so that it is possible to react to unplanned changes.

Programming pendant

The handheld programming device or handheld control device, commonly also called teach box, is used by the operator or programmer to handle or program the robot. It is equipped with an enabling button (sometimes two for left / right-handers), which must be actively held in the middle position while programming or moving at safety speed. The consent button is commonly called a dead man's switch. Door safety circuits may be open while moving in so-called teach mode (i.e. with the enabling button held in the middle position and with reduced safety speed).

| As an alternative to the known and customary handheld programming devices, smart handheld programming devices are establishing themselves. These are offered as an alternative to or instead of the standard teachbox and should make it easier for operating personnel to access robotics through smart functionalities and a simpler, graphic type of programming

Robotic systems

Robot systems consist of robots that are equipped with software and robot controls. These systems can be used for individual tasks, including as mobile solutions, behind protective fences or as HRC systems. Most robotic systems are equipped with autonomous capabilities that are used via sensors. The technologies work on the basis of various processes and algorithms such as simultaneous localization, mapping (SLAM) or path planning.

Services related to robot systems are conception, studies, simulation of systems and components, material flow simulation, prototype construction, requirement specifications, measurement and optimization of systems. In this way, individual automation solutions can be developed and implemented.

Reference point at the tool / tool center point

The tool position of an industrial robot is defined via a reference point on the tool, the so-called TCP (Tool Center Point). This is either entered manually in a tool file (if known, for example, from CAD data) otherwise the robot manufacturers usually offer the possibility of determining it by moving to different positions in a corresponding measurement routine.

The robot coordinate systems

Industrial robot coordinate systems

In order to be able to precisely define the tool position, there is an end effector, in English Tool Center Point (TCP for short), used. This is a so-called reference point, which is located at a suitable point on the tool. Often electrodes of a welding gun are used as a TCP. In order to describe which position the robot tool must assume, it is sufficient to define the position and direction of the TCP in space. A coordinate system helps with the exact classification and naming of the position.

Cartesian coordinates
is usually set in the delivery status of the robot. The directions of the three coordinate system axes are thus obtained by applying the “right-hand rule” when standing behind the robot, i.e. at the cable connections.
Cylindrical coordinates
plays almost no role these days and will only be available for selection from older robots.
Tool coordinates
has its origin in the TCP of the current tool. The tool coordinate system is required to move the robot into a coordinate that relates to the tool.
User coordinates
serve to make work easier for the programmer or user. This involves one or more Cartesian coordinate systems that can be freely defined in terms of position and direction in the robot's range of motion. This makes it very easy, for example, to calculate palletizing tasks on pallets arranged at an angle.

The types of motion of an industrial robot

Joint movement or free space movement (or free space movement)
Here only the target position is in the foreground, all axes are driven to their target encoder value. The speeds are interpolated in such a way that the movement of all axes ends at the same time. With regard to the movement that the robot tool or the tool center point makes, no specifications can be made. The speed for this movement is usually given in% of the maximum, since no path speed of the TCP can be specified.
Linear motion
Here the axes are interpolated so that the current TCP describes a linear path to the target position.

The axis speeds are interpolated in such a way that on the one hand the specified path and on the other hand the specified path speed are maintained.

Circular motion
Here the axes are interpolated in such a way that the current TCP describes a circular path or a circle over several points. The axis speeds are interpolated in such a way that, on the one hand, the specified path and, on the other hand, the specified path speed are maintained.
Spline interpolation
During the spline movement, the axes are interpolated in such a way that the current TCP connects several points via a mathematical function to form a path. The axis speeds are interpolated in such a way that, on the one hand, the specified path and, on the other hand, the specified path speed are maintained.

The path speed is entered in length / time.


There is no uniform programming language for robot programming. Each manufacturer has its own syntax and its own functionalities. A standardization or unification has not taken place. As a rule, the program is created on the handheld programming device of the robot or on a PC in a special editor, or a mixture of both. There is also the option of offline programming, in which the robot program is created in a virtual installation and this is then transferred to the real installation.

YASKAWA industrial robots in action

Howto selection robot type

The selection of the right type of robot for the current application requires consideration of some boundary conditions. In addition to the following technical values, corresponding in-depth experience in the use of robots, paired with in-depth knowledge of the process to be automated, also plays an important role.


The active working area of ​​a robot results from the maximum range minus the inner interference circle. All positions of the process to be reached must be in the available work area. In addition, the robot must be arranged in the best possible way to the process. The installation height must also be taken into account. Correct positioning ensures that the robot executes its program in favorable axis positions so that the best possible cycle time is achieved and singularities are avoided. The range is specified in the manufacturer's data sheets as the distance of the furthest point of the working area from the center of the robot base (also the origin of the robot coordinate system). The working range of the industrial robot is the sum of all points that can be reached with the intersection of the last two axes. In addition, the tool dimensions and the tool orientation must also be taken into account in the arrangement.

Load capacity

The specified maximum payload of the robot must be taken into account. This relates to the total load on the tool flange and includes the tool and workpiece (s). In addition, the distance between the center of gravity of the payload and the tool flange of the robot must be taken into account. These limits are specified by the robot manufacturers in corresponding diagrams. In particular with large or voluminous workpieces or tools, the maximum permissible moments of inertia on the axes must also be taken into account.

Installation options

If the robot is correctly positioned in relation to the process, it may be more sensible to choose a different orientation in addition to the standard installation - standing on the floor or on a base. For example, it can also be mounted on the wall hanging upside down or inclined at 90 °. However, this must be allowed by the manufacturer, in some cases the manufacturers offer special models for this. There is also the possibility to enlarge the working area by mounting the robot on a separate axis of movement - linear or rotary axis - to enlarge the working area (integrated and interpolated by the robot controller)

Cycle time / speed

The total cycle time is made up of movement times and the individual process times. The robot movement time depends on the individual axis speeds, the accelerations of the individual motors, the programmed paths as well as the skillful programming and the selected axis positions. The process times depend on the actual process (s), the signal run times and any necessary waiting times. In the data sheet of a robot, however, only the maximum speeds of the individual axes are usually given.

Accuracy of industrial robots

The repeatability is a type-related value that is determined in accordance with ISO9283 and is specified in the data sheets. It says: How exactly a point is at least reached again when all axes are moved to the stored positions. The absolute accuracy is a sample-related value. It describes how exactly a point in space is reached that is calculated, for example, by offline programming. Absolute accuracy can be improved by special calibration measures for a specimen.

Media supply

Depending on the application of the robot and the resulting complexity of the tool, electrical energy or signals, pneumatics / vacuum or liquids must be fed to the tool. There are basically two ways of doing this. Almost all robots have a certain number of electrical wires or air hoses laid inside the manipulator as standard. With 6 axes mostly from the base to the third or fourth axis. Supply lines going beyond this must be led to the tool with appropriate retrofit solutions. The cable routing must allow the robot to move as required.

Environmental conditions

The environmental conditions in which an industrial robot works must be taken into account when selecting and designing it. The IP protection class specified - usually for the manipulator - provides an initial indication. IP classifies protection against mechanical and liquid (non-aggressive) contamination. The first digit stands for protection against contact or foreign bodies and the second digit for protection against water or non-aggressive liquids. If the existing degree of protection of the manipulator is not sufficient, it can be increased by using protective robot covers. The permissible ambient temperature for the robot and controller is usually also specified on the data sheet.

Industrial robot market / statistics

Industrial Robots History

The market for industrial robots is growing steadily and rapidly. The current market data is regularly collected and published by the IFR (International Federation of Robotics). In the last study, which was published on September 30, 2015, the IFR paints an extremely positive picture for the global robotics market:

  • In 2015, the number of units was expected to grow by 15% worldwide, and a further 1.7 million industrial robots are to be installed in 2020 - then over 3 million industrial robots will be installed worldwide
  • The main growth driver is Asia, and China in particular
  • 70% of the worldwide demand is divided between 5 countries: China, Japan, USA, Korea, Germany
  • In 2018, 400,000 new robots were expected to be installed worldwide. Of these, around 270,000 units will be used in Asia and around 70,000 units in Europe. The importance of the Asian market for manufacturers is growing both in absolute terms and in proportion to Europe.
  • Chinese manufacturers have also played an important role in the local market since 2013.
  • In terms of robot density, Germany ranks third with 292 robots per 10,000 employees, behind Korea (478) and Japan (314), ahead of the USA with 164. In comparison, the figure for China is 36 robots / 10,000 employees.

Major manufacturers of industrial robots with largest sales

The largest manufacturers of industrial robots with company details (without claim to completeness) that are active in Germany:

FANUC, Yaskawa, KUKA, FIG, Dürr AG, Epson

The annual sales of industrial robots in a wide variety of industries are increasing from year to year. In 2016 the total sales of the seven largest manufacturers amounted to around 24 billion. Euro.

There are also industrial robot startups such as B. Fruitcore.

Automation specialists, commonly referred to as system integrators, take up production requirements in order to automate them with industrial robots, among other things. Such as the company EGS Automation, which offers a wide range of standard automation systems with the SUMO brand. The SUMO systems are universal and designed for already installed machines with little space. Robots from the manufacturers Yaskawa, Epson and Kuka are used.

Cost of industrial robots

The costs of an industrial robot are almost impossible to give a blanket term.The problem is that industrial robots are never off the shelf and are tailored to solve a specific problem. Industrial robots are more or less modular and have basic units, but they often have to be custom-made and equipped with suitable software. With some manufacturers, almost every software option costs an extra charge. With other manufacturers, many functions of the industrial robot are standard. A six-axis industrial robot with a payload of 10 kg, a range of 1200 mm and a repeat accuracy of + - 0.08 mm is roughly in the middle five-digit range. Installation, initial start-up, test runs, maintenance and retrofitting may not be included in some offers and two thirds must be added.

Used industrial robots

Industrial robots can also be purchased second-hand on various online marketplaces / wholesalers: machine searcher, ebay, robotsale, etc. KUKA also offers second-hand industrial robots (including from the KR series).

Rent industrial robots

Instead of buying new industrial robots, you can rent them at any time. Most manufacturers of industrial robots also offer the option of renting them, with entire packages and rental offers being made. Contents are:

  • Robot (made of various components)
  • Control unit & control line
  • Programming device
  • optional possibilities such as different grippers, compressors, test boards or cables

Advantages of the rental options are:

  1. suitable for short-term use
  2. mostly option of purchase
  3. often no repair costs
  4. often availability of updates

Industrial robot kits

Industrial robots can also be bought as kits (e.g. in online shops such as Conrad or Robotoshop). The kits can be controlled from the PC and can either be used as toys or for DIY applications.

Industrial robots in research

Topics in robot research are, for example:

  • Intelligent industrial robots
  • Reusable robot applications
  • Safe human-robot interaction or human-robot collaboration (HRC)
  • Fast variant programming
  • Use of robots for motor activation of people
  • Teleoperation of robots
  • AutomationML (Automation Markup Language)
  • Innovative robot programming methods

Some well-known research institutes:

  • German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), Robotics Innovation Center (RIC), Bremen
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA), Stuttgart
  • Institute for Process Computing, Automation and Robotics (IPR), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
  • ROBOTICS - Institute for Robotics and Mechatronics, Joanneum Research, Klagenfurt
  • Institute for Robotics and Mechatronics, German Aerospace Center (DLR), Oberpfaffenhofen

Areas of application and industries

The possible uses of the industrial robot are very diverse. It is used in a wide variety of industries and sectors, such as on machine tools for machine tool automation.

Typical areas of application are:

  • handling
  • Palletizing
  • Railway welding
  • Spot welding
  • Assemble
  • Check, measure
  • Clean
  • Marking, labeling
  • Deburring
  • Surface treatment
  • Connection technologies
  • paint
15-axis robot from Yaskawa here as "RoboBarkeeper"

History of the industrial robot

First industrial robot Unimat PUMA 560

The first industrial robot was the Unimate. It was developed in 1961 by George Devol and Joseph Engelberger, an American physicist, engineer and inventor who is now considered the father of robotics. The Unimate revolutionized industrial production all over the world, its functionality is based on the mechanical arm developed and patented by Georg Devol.

A Unimation robot PUMA 560, built in 1978. PUMA (Programmable Universal Machine for Assembly), the first articulated arm robot with 6 servo motor axes, VAL compiler language, high speed, especially in the wrist axes.

Photos: induux Location: Fraunhofer IPA, Stuttgart (Museum Milestones in Robotics)

Job profiles in the field of industrial robotics

There are several professions in the industrial robot environment, e.g .: mechatronics technician or industrial mechanic. Although many jobs have been replaced by technological change, at the same time the high number and extreme demand for products have increased the demand for labor again.

Occupational safety / DGUV

The following standards in particular apply to industrial robots:

  • EN ISO 10218-1
  • EN ISO 10218-2

Information about the safety requirements can be found on the homepage of the DGUV Fachbereich Holz und Metall (Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung e.V.) or in the corresponding | DGUV information. The contents are:

  1. Introduction to robot types, applications and accidents
  2. Legal basis: EU regulation for industrial robots, changes to robot systems, robot systems / linkages
  3. Operating instructions and technical documentation
  4. Protective measures for industrial robots and systems: order of precedence, protective devices, calculation examples for safety functions
  5. Collaborative robot systems: minimum requirements, force & power limitation, speed & distance monitoring, safety stops
  6. Maintenance & upkeep: Technical (protection) measures, remote diagnosis, design requirements, tests

The DGUV information brochure for industrial robots also contains checklists, e.g. for operating instructions, user information or technical (evidence) documents. Examples of declarations of incorporation, assembly instructions, EU declarations of conformity or risk assessments are also included.