What is an Industrial Robot?

Industrial robots are an investment that frees staff to perform higher-level tasks, increasing scalability, profitability, and improving safety. industrial robot

Industrial robots are becoming more prevalent because they can perform dangerous, repetitive, or dirty tasks with greater efficiency than their human counterparts. 

Learn more about industrial robots and what they can do for your manufacturing company below.


What is an industrial robot? 

A widely accepted definition for an industrial robot by ISO 8373:2012 is “an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator, programmable in three or more axes, which can either be fixed or mobile for use in industrial automation applications.” 

Though industrial robots are available in various form factors depending on the task, the most common industrial robots are automated arms. These robots can be classified into a few different categories based on movement, application, architecture, and brand. 

History of industrial robotics 

industrial robot in packaging warehouseThe history of robotics dates back thousands of years. Humans first developed technology to automate tasks, such as steel plows and the cotton gin, to assist with agriculture and farming. 

Industrial robotics and automation came many centuries later. The first industrial robot, the Unimate, which was built with a single arm that could accomplish repetitive tasks. 

While Unimate was originally adopted for metalworking and welding, industrial robots are now 

widely adopted from painting to surgery. According to the International Federation of Robotics, the automotive industry has been the most prominent consumer of industrial robots since 2010. 

Common industrial robotics applications 

Industrial robots are frequently used in manufacturing. Tasks which are the best cases for industrial robots are repetitive in nature, and potentially dangerous or difficult for a human to perform. 

The most common use cases for industrial robots include: 

  • Arc welding 
  • Spot welding 
  • Materials handling and removal 
  • Machine tending 
  • Painting 
  • Assembly 
  • Metal Casting 

Modern robotics have continued to advance and can now handle more complex tasks, with the use of sensors and even artificial intelligence. While robots of the past were usually fixed to a single location, modern robots are constantly evolving their capabilities and functionality. 

Technical components of an industrial robot 

In general, there are four main components of industrial robots. The main components include the manipulator, controller, human interface device, sensors, and power supply. 

  • Manipulator: The manipulator is the component that performs the work, or the “braun”. The form factor is typically an arm-like structure that moves with various degrees of freedom. Manipulators typically have various joints–just like a human arm–that allow movement in different directions. Another component of the manipulator is an end-effector. The end-effector is a tooling device that is attached to the distal end of the robotic arm. The end-effector is somewhat analogous to specialized hands which allow it to perform a task. Some examples of end-effectors include: grippers, drills, welding guns, and suction tools. The manipulator is attached to a base, which can also vary depending on the type of industrial robot. The mechanism behind the arm movement is usually an electric motor, air pressure in pneumatic cylinders, or fluid pressure in hydraulic chambers. 
  • Controller: Just as the name implies, the controller is the “brains” of the system. The controller receives and interprets signals from the system and subsequently transmits output signals to control the manipulator. The controller can be programmed and re-programmed to suit various needs. Advanced controllers have ‘memory’ which allows them to execute more challenging tasks. Additionally, some robots now employ artificial intelligence. 
  • Human interface device: Depending on the robot, the input signals may or may not originate from a human interface which controls the system. The robot’s actions might be manipulated with a combination of automation and controls. 
  • Sensors: Most robots have sensors, which allow them to measure specific parameters in the environment. Just like human eyes, sensors ‘see’, ‘hear’, and ‘feel’ inputs from the environment which are then transferred to the controller. Sensors are utilized for both safety and control. Sensors can detect obstacles to avoid collisions, or measure parameters such as temperature, pressure, and torch. While sensors are a modern addition to robots, they are becoming particularly important and prominent. 
  • Power supply: Finally, the power supply transfers energy to the controller to perform work. The power supply is typically an electric current. 

Types of industrial robots 

group of kuka robotsAccording to the International Federations of Robots, there are five main types of industrial robots: SCARA, Articulated, Cartesian, Delta, and Polar. 

  • Articulated Robot: The most common industrial robot structure is the articulated arm, which accounts for 60% of installations worldwide according to the International Federation of Robots. These robots resemble a human arm and have structures analogous to a shoulder, elbow, and wrist. Articulated robots have between two to 10 joints which allows them a flexible range of motion to accomplish dynamic tasks. Typically, articulated arms can pivot six degrees of freedom (compared to the human arm’s seven degrees of freedom). They are used most often for applications such as painting, packaging, and metal work. 
  • SCARA Robots: SCARA is an acronym for Selective Compliance Articulated Robot Arm and describes robots with two parallel rotary joints. Though they are able to move along all three axes, these robots specialize in lateral movements and are most frequently utilized for assembly. 
  • Cartesian Robots: Cartesian robots operate on three linear axes. They get their namesake because they operate on the Cartesian Coordinate system (X,Y, and Z). In other words, they move horizontally and vertically in each ninety degree plane. Cartesian robots are the most common type of industrial robot. Their applications include CNC machines and 3D printing. 
  • Delta Robot: Delta robots are popular in the manufacturing of food, pharmaceuticals, and electronics. Delta robots are frequently described as “spider-like” because they are crafted from jointed parallelograms connected to a base. These robots are typically mounted above a workspace. 
  • Polar: Polar robots, also known as ‘spherical robots’, possess an arm attached to two rotary joints and one linear joint. These robots move along polar coordinates, which allows a spherical range of motion. Polar robots are most frequently used for die casting, welding, and assembly. 

Industrial robots are integral to modern manufacturing processes and continue to shape our economies. While industrial robots are already prevalent today, the robotics industry is just beginning. 

Need robots? Shop at HGR!

HGR has over 20 years of experience serving local and international customers looking to buy industrial tools, robots, parts, and equipment. Our 500,000 square foot facility in Euclid, Ohio carries thousands of items with truckloads of equipment coming in every day.

Plus, we purchase used surplus from warehouses across the United States so our vendors can clear out their facilities while recouping part of their initial investment.

Visit HGRinc.com to view the latest additions to our marketplace and save big on used industrial parts and equipment.


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