Understanding Industrial robots: What is an Industrial robot and how does it work?

September 28, 2023
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Definition of Industrial robots

Think of an Industrial robot as a highly skilled worker in the manufacturing and industrial sectors. It's an advanced machine equipped with sensors, controllers, and actuators. These components are mounted on a flexible frame with joints and links that form a robotic arm.

These robots are programmable, automated, and capable of movement with three or more axes.

What makes an Industrial robot so impressive is its ability to be controlled and programmed for various tasks that are continuous and repetitive. What makes it able to do this is its ability to follow a set of predefined commands, otherwise known as a program.

By following a program, they minimize, and in some cases, completely eliminate the need for human intervention. The outcome is increased processing speed, enhanced production capacity, and better product quality.

It's worth mentioning that traditional Industrial robots differ from other kinds of robots, known as Collaborative robots or 'Cobots'. Unlike traditional Industrial robots, Collaborative robots work together with human workers to solve tasks that can't be fully automated.

Industrial robotics explained

Simply put, Industrial robotics is the use of specialized robots in manufacturing and other industrial settings. These are not the kind of robots you see in sci-fi movies - they play an important role in today's industries.

At its core, Industrial robotics involves using robot arms, Industrial robots, and computer simulations to automate various tasks. In the past, these robots were mainly used for material handling and specialized tasks like welding or painting. But now, thanks to better technology - especially in machine vision and cloud-based computing - Industrial robots have become much more versatile.

Today, you can find these robots doing all sorts of jobs, from working on car assembly lines to helping build medical devices.

The mechanics behind an Industrial robot

Industrial robots have become essential in manufacturing by taking on tasks that are dangerous or repetitive for human workers, all while boosting productivity and quality.

These robotic systems are designed to mimic human actions and are made of five key parts, namely:

The controller

The controller is essentially the robot's brain. It's a specialized computer that communicates with the robot and tells it what to do. This is the link between the human operator and the robot.

The controller comprises both hardware and software components to handle varying tasks, from motion control to data processing.

The robotic arm

The robotic arm is a key part of any Industrial robot system. The robot arm mimics the movements of a human arm and consists of three main parts: the base, shoulder, and forearm. These parts feature joints and electric motors to control their movement, providing flexibility and precision.

Each joint provides the Industrial robot with a specific degree of freedom. For example, the shoulder moves up and down, the elbow forward and backwards, and the wrist allows the end-effector (essentially the robot's hand) to grab and manipulate objects.

The end-effector

Also known as end-of-arm tools, end-effectors are the hands of robots. End-effectors come in various types, depending on the application. Some robots have multiple end-effectors that can be swapped as needed depending on the task at hand. Two common end-effectors are grippers and tooling.

Manufacturers often create custom end-effectors to meet specific needs. For example, in the automotive industry, robots use end-effectors designed to handle parts like doors, seats, or engines during assembly.

The sensors

The sensors are basically the robot's senses, and they play an important role in how these robots operate. They provide vital information about the robot's surroundings, allowing it to make real-time decisions. The most common types are vision systems and microphones, which act as the robot's eyes and ears.

The drive

The drive system is what powers the robot's movements. It provides the force and motion needed to move the robot's parts. There are three main types of drive systems: hydraulic, electric, and pneumatic. The choice between these drive systems depends on the specific needs of the robot and the tasks it's designed for.

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The different types of Industrial robots

Not all Industrial robots are the same; they come in different shapes and sizes, each designed for specific tasks, like specialists. Some are programmed for assembling, while others are programmed for welding or polishing.

These types are determined by the arrangement of their arms, which consist of links and joints. The number and configuration of these components define the type of robot.

Let's take a look at six of the most common types of Industrial robots and their applications.

1. Cartesian robot

A Cartesian robot is a simple type of robot made up of three parts that can slide back and forth. It can move in straight lines in three different directions, like the X, Y, and Z directions on a graph. This makes it good for tasks where you only need to move things in straight lines and at right angles.

Cartesian robots are commonly used for tasks like picking up items and putting them in place, which you often see in packaging and quality control. They also are quite useful in automating tasks such as cutting, 3D printing, and CNC operations.

2. Articulated robot

As the most popular and commonly used Industrial robot in manufacturing, an Articulated robot is the most versatile. These robots typically feature rotary joints and 4 to 6 degrees of freedom, allowing it to move similar to how a human arm would. In more intricate configurations, Articulated robots can have numerous rotary joints, sometimes even more than 10.

Given their versatility, Articulated robots are great for a wide range of applications, including coating, welding, painting, and packaging.

3. Cylindrical robot

Cylindrical robots move in a circular motion. Featuring one joint that can spin and two joints that can slide in and out, these robots can move up and down, as well as slide side to side. They work in a space shaped like a cylinder, which is like a long tube.

Their clever design lets them reach into tight spots without slowing down or losing accuracy. People often use them for simple jobs like grabbing things, turning them, and putting them down.

4. SCARA robot

Short for Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm, a SCARA robot is a bit like a flexible arm that can move side to side and up and down. These Industrial robots are built with two parallel joints that let them flex in one particular direction.

SCARA robots are popular for their speed and precision, making them ideal for tasks that involve quick and accurate pick-and-place actions. You'll often find them used for jobs that require engraving, or material handling.

5. Delta robot

Delta robots are rising in popularity in Industrial automation thanks to their high efficiency and precision. These robots have three arms connected to motors at their base, which allows them to move swiftly and accurately in three directions, even when carrying heavy objects.

Delta robots are commonly used in pick-and-place operations and tasks at the end of a production line, which is especially important in industries like healthcare and food processing.

6. Polar robot

Polar robots, also known as Spherical robots, have a unique structure that consists of two rotary joints and one combined joint. They get their name because they can move within a sphere-shaped workspace. One key advantage of Polar robots is their ability to move in a complete 360-degree range and handle large workspaces.

This type of Industrial robot is used in a number of different tasks, including assembly operations, tending to machine tools, welding, painting, and welding.

Applications of Industrial robots

Industrial robots have a long history of use, primarily in the automotive industry. Fast forward to today, their benefits are becoming evident in various other industries as well, including healthcare, food and beverage, and aerospace exploration.

Some of the most widely adopted applications of Industrial robots include:

  • Assembly and dispensing
  • Handling and picking
  • Logistics and storage
  • Inspection and quality control
  • Machining and cutting
  • Cleaning and hygiene
  • Painting and coating
  • Packing and palletizing
  • Welding and soldering
  • Harvesting

Importance of Industrial robotics

Today, we find ourselves in the middle of a major industrial transformation. New technology is making it easier and cheaper to manage complicated machines and tasks. One of the key drivers of this transformation is automation, which reduces the need for human labor in repetitive and dangerous tasks.

This shift is often called Industry 4.0 and is being driven by technologies like AI, 5G, advanced automation, and smart sensors. These innovations are reshaping various industries and processes, making tasks more efficient with fewer mistakes.

In manual processes, human involvement can lead to mistakes, sometimes as much as 10% of the time. But with automation, this margin of error can be reduced. This makes robots essential to meet the increasing demand for high-quality products in an ever-competitive market.

From producing consistent quality and speed to enhancing workplace safety and increasing cost savings, the use of robots in different industrial automation applications has become a real game-changer.


What are the benefits of an Industrial robot?

Industrial robots are designed to complete tasks more efficiently than humans, delivering consistency and precision. There are a number of benefits to its application, including enhancing productivity, reducing manufacturing costs, and maintaining consistent product quality, while also ensuring a safer work environment.

What types of applications are ideal for Industrial robots?

A general guideline for determining if a task is suitable for an Industrial robot is known as the "Three D's" rule: Any task that is Dirty, Dull, or Dangerous is ideal for automation using robots.


There's no doubt that the modern Industrial robot has become an indispensable tool across various industries. From efficient assembly to precision welding, machining, packing, and more, their use in industrial automation applications brings about a new era of innovation in manufacturing.

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