Mitsubishi Electric has delivered its 1000th robot for training and education in German universities, colleges and schools. It is also reporting that robot installations in industry are up 20 per cent on 2005, with the growth rate set to accelerate next year.
Like its predecessors, the 1000th educational robot will be integrated into a Festo Didactic training rig designed to emulate the real automated production cells encountered in industry. Unlike its predecessors, however, it will be a new model of robot, the RV-2JA, that has been developed by Mitsubishi to take over from the previous RV-M1 model.
Students are being taught about robotics more than ever because of their increasing take up. This is being fuelled in part because robots costs only about EUR1.64/hour (about £1.20/hour) to run in industry, and their performance is always 100 per cent consistent. A particular trend noticed by Mitsubishi is that companies that transferred their manufacturing to low-wage economies a few years ago are now bringing it home again, saying that robots take out the labour costs and local manufacturing is obviously easier to manage.
The RV-2JA is a 5-DOF (degrees of freedom) articulated-arm robot designed for a wide variety of industrial automation tasks, including fabricating, assembling, packaging, palletising, parts handing and loading/unloading. This adaptability - along with an excellent combination of power, precision, speed, compactness and reach, and a new small control unit - makes it useful for education as well as industry.
Festo was delighted when told that the RV-2JA was under development, saying that part of the design philosophy for its training rigs was to make them as near identical to industrial systems as possible, and a new robot would automatically upgrade and update the rig, keeping it in line with German industry.
The RV-2JA combines a compact size with a reach of over 400mm, making it flexible for training use. In industry it is often installed right next to or even within the cell it is serving. In both situations the manoeuvrability makes small parts handling easy, while a pre-installed airline aids fitting of a pneumatic gripper. Other applications include sample testing in laboratories and medical facilities, inspection and quality control procedures.
A sister robot, the RV-1A, offers a sixth axis of movement for even greater flexibility and is sometimes used in advanced Festo training rigs, as supplied to university and company training schools.
Mitsubishi's 20 per cent growth rate suggests that it is gaining market share, because The International Federation of Robotics and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe have calculated that robot sales rose 17 per cent last year, with further robust growth expected over the next three years.
Currently Japanese industry uses nearly 1,000,000 robots, about half of the world's robot population, but other countries are catching up fast. The Asian tiger economies - South Korea, China and Taiwan – are now investing in robots to stabilise their manufacturing output, while Europe and North America are turning to robots particularly for chemicals, machinery and food manufacturing.