The four industrial revolutions: A history of robotics in manufacturing

December 6, 2023
Standard Bots robot visualizer

What are Manufacturing robots?

A manufacturing robot is a special kind of Industrial robot designed to automate tasks in factories. Because they can handle repetitive and dangerous tasks with ease, they can significantly increase production speed and consistency, while reducing human error.

The types of Manufacturing robots available include:

Industry 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0 explained

Here's a breakdown of how industrial robotics has changed in recent years.

Industry 2.0

Late 19th century to the early 20th century

In the second industrial revolution, electricity transformed manufacturing, making mass production possible with assembly lines. This marked the beginning of traditional industrial robots. These early robots were simple but revolutionary, automating tasks that were previously manual, like lifting and moving heavy items.

Industry 3.0

Approximately 1970 to the early 21st century

With the arrival of IT and computer technology, Industry 3.0 brought a significant shift. For example, industrial robotics evolved with the integration of more sophisticated machine vision and control systems.

The era also saw the automation of some elements of decision-making, although human input remained crucial.

Industry 4.0

Early 21st century to present

Industry 4.0 is where we are today: an era characterized by cyber-physical systems and the Internet of Things (IoT). Industrial robots have become a lot more advanced and are capable of learning and adapting.

Present-day robots can also analyze data, learn from it, and make far more complex decisions. This has led to never-seen-before efficiency and flexibility.

Story of the first Manufacturing robots

The story of the first Industrial robot is one of innovation and foresight. Since the word "robot" was first coined in Karel Capek's play "Rossum's Universal Robots," the concept of automated machines has fascinated many.

The first robot to turn fiction into reality was the Unimate, the collaborative product of inventor George Devol and entrepreneur Joseph Engelberger in the late 1950s.

Devol's invention, a 2,700-pound robotic arm, was patented in 1954. However, it was only when he met Engelberger that his invention really took off. They formed Unimation Inc. in 1961, a year that signaled the birth of the industrial robotics industry. The Unimate was first used in the automotive industry; it was initially installed in a General Motors plant in New Jersey to help with diecasting.

This was a big step forward as it showed that robots were capable and efficient when it came to handling dangerous or unpleasant tasks. By the early 1960s, the Unimate became the first mass-produced robotic arm for factory automation. Its introduction paved the way for the widespread adoption of Industrial robots in various manufacturing sectors.

When Manufacturing robotics really took off

As we explained earlier, robotics saw rapid technological advances in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Let's look at the introduction of the Delta robot in the 1980s, for example, which marked a significant leap. Its high speed and precision made picking and packing tasks much easier in industrial manufacturing.

In the 1990s and 2000s, advanced sensors became more prevalent, enhancing the capabilities of robotic arms with greater accuracy and flexibility.

The robotics industry then witnessed another groundbreaking shift when Collaborative robots (Cobots) came onto the scene. These robots, designed to work alongside humans, combine safety with efficiency. This opened up even more doors in the manufacturing sector. Meanwhile, the development of the autonomous mobile robot brought flexibility to material handling.

And then came Humanoid robots, which, despite being much less common in manufacturing operations, showed potential for handling even more human-like and complex tasks.

To sum it up, this period of robotics was characterized by collaboration, mobility, and human-like capabilities, setting a new industry standard.

Today's cutting edge

A lot is happening in robotics nowadays. Modern Industrial robots are being developed by many robot manufacturers, offering different price points and features. Robots are also becoming far more versatile and intelligent. These intelligent robots can handle even some of the hardest tasks with incredible accuracy.

Robots are also equipped with advanced artificial intelligence (AI), which allows them to learn and adapt as things change. This all means that robots are becoming more of a necessity as opposed to a luxury.

What to expect in the near future

According to organizations such as the International Federation of Robotics, the world of Industrial robots is predicted to change dramatically. By 2030, it's expected that robotics will feature a lot more in our daily lives and change the nature of work across various industries.

Current evolution is being driven by AI and IoT, leading to robots being seen as intelligent partners rather than tools for repetitive tasks. Implementing these technologies is expected to herald a new era of efficiency: "Industry 5.0".

Despite it being a particularly exciting future, there are still some ethical concerns, primarily around whether robots will replace human workers completely.


How has robotics changed the manufacturing industry?

The main way that robotics has changed the manufacturing industry is by boosting productivity and automation. Robots work faster and tirelessly, which significantly increases output. They also perform with high precision, which substantially reduces errors.

This automation has also led to many manufacturers seeing significant cost savings and new opportunities in robot maintenance and programming.

What are the downfalls of robotics in manufacturing?

Implementing robotics into manufacturing operations brings challenges such as high costs, especially for small businesses. Many robots are also quite inflexible and require extensive programming for different tasks. Additionally, specialized workforce training is needed, which can lead to downtime and more short-term expenses.

Will robots completely replace people in manufacturing?

Industrial robots won't replace humans in manufacturing. They do well with repetitive tasks but lack human creativity and problem-solving skills. Jobs taken over by robots simply allow humans to focus on more productive, creative tasks. Plus, human supervision is still essential, which may see more people branching off into this area of robotics.


The journey of Industrial robots has been an interesting one, from their early days of being mere figments of our imagination to the sophisticated Collaborative robots we see today.

These Industrial robots have not only reshaped how we work but have also opened up new possibilities. As we look ahead, we can anticipate an innovative blend of human ingenuity with robotic precision.

Standard Bots routine editor
Standard Bots equipment manager
Standard Bots camera vision
Press contacts