A base robot that costs less than a welder for a year would almost certainly have constraints on the number of applications it could serve. But for those applications where it fits, it would seem almost impossible to pass on, especially if it offers a long-reliable lifetime.
I like your "plant-as-a-video-game" image, Rob. This same trend has come into machine vision during the last few years. Development software for vision apps is usually sold with both types: a GUI and a "real" programmers' interface for writing your own code.
William, your description of programming robots by hand makes it sound excruciating, and even more demanding and tedious than coding a machine vision application. Although this package is for the low end of robotic welding applications and therefore would require simpler programming, as Chuck points out.
If anyone has any specific questions pertaining to robotic welding, programming or any other questions I am a robotic welding programmer for a large company in the Midwest. I use Panasonic, Fanuc, and ABB robots currently, and experience with Epson and Kawasaki material handling. Worked with Vision for a month, but do not have much knowledge on that other than all of the problems we had with it.
As to options for small companies who want to start up with a robotic department, a great solution is simple... BUY USED! Robot cells are like cars, as soon as they step off the car lot they lose half of their value. The robots I work with range from 2003 all the way back to 1993. The ABB was our oldest robot and ALL do what we want them to do. We actually just sold our ABB which I believe should be in a museum being that it was sooo old! To back up the programs I had to use Floppy disks! haha
I am leery of any software that claims to replace an experienced technician.
I have seen software that allowed a programmer to drive a CNC so hard that the tool melted the aluminum rather than cutting chips.
I also saw a CNC machine boring a 9/16' hole through a piece of 1/2" aluminum without a center drill or a pilot drill. An experienced tool maker or machinist would cringe at this description. I was called in because they wondered why the spindle bearings were sloppy.
And I have seen robotic welding applications programmed by 'computer geeks'.
Software cannot, in my experience, replace an experienced technician, but software can make an experienced technician more productive. It seems only a technician can appreciate the value of the skills of another technician.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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