The Ask Control Engineering blog covers all aspects of automation, including motors, drives, sensors, motion control, machine control and embedded systems. Control Engineering answers questions from readers of Control Engineering's print and online magazines, newsletters and other publications.

Robots look for opportunities too

September 24, 2010


Dear Control Engineering: After looking at the article on Recycling Robots, it seems the company thinks about those machines like people.

Well, yes. In this particular case, Navistar found itself having to close a plant and relocate manufacturing to keep up with changes in demand. The robots had to pick up and move to where the work is just like people may have to do when circumstances change. Without getting too anthropomorphic, as the article points out, the robots were able to be reused because they had the required versatility that allowed them to be repurposed. Some of the hard automation machinery from those manufacturing lines probably ended up scrapped because it was too difficult to change to a new configuration. The same applies to people. Some are easy to retrain with multiple skills and others aren’t. The author made the point that when shopping for a robot, users should try to look ahead and consider other potential applications for a given unit before choosing something that is too dedicated to a very specific purpose.

If you want to see something really anthropomorphic, check out this video from IMTS of a two-armed robot. If you watch the “dealer” closely in the background, once people stop playing, it starts looking pretty bored waiting for the next round of blackjack. Maybe dealing cards isn’t one of the potential applications you consider as you think about robotic applications, but the discussion in the interview makes some thought provoking points.

Peter Welander, pwelander(at)cfemedia.com