From heavy lifting arms to collaborative robots, manufacturing and other industries now have a variety of options, depending on their needs.
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Interest in robotics has been steadily increasing, and even with the global economic downturn, it shows little sign of slowing. In the next five years, the demand for heavy-payload robots expected to increase by 4% annually, and the market for collaborative robots is estimated to grow at 44.5%. Lifting and mast robots are examples of how industrial automation is specializing.
Such specialized robots are designed for applications where robots would not have been used in the past. Here are eight noteworthy lifting and mast robots and how they can be used in manufacturing, supply chain, and other operations.
1. Heavy lifting with the FANUC M-2000iA Series
The M-2000ia series is the strongest six-axis robot on the market, according to FANUC. Depending on the model, the robot can handle payloads up to 2,300 kg (5,070 lb.), and it has a reach of more than 4,600 mm (181.1 in. or 15 ft.).
This series works best in industries that regularly lift heavy payloads, such as automotive (see video above), consumer appliance, metals, or logistics.
Cost and size may be prohibitive for some applications. The robots from this series — which can be a little more than 4m (13 ft.) tall and weigh as much as 11,793.4kg (26,000 lb.) — have been described as quite large.
You’ll likely need a crane or other heavy lifting equipment to install any robot from this series. Moving the arm after installation will probably be a challenge. For sites that have well-established workflows and don’t need much flexibility from a robot, the M-2000iA series should work well.
Sites needing a more adaptable robot arm, however, should look for a different robot.
2. Universal Robots’ UR16e is a bigger cobot
Unlike non-collaborative robot arms, Universal Robots‘ UR16e is cage-free and designed to work with humans.
The UR16e is most useful in applications where a robot needs to work in close quarters with people, such as heavy-duty material handling that needs to be partially automated. The cobot is also designed to be easy to program for a variety of tasks, such as machine tending.
However, the speed and payload of cobots could make them a poor fit for some lifting and mast applications.
3. Mecademic’s Meca500 has compact design
In the other direction, the Meca500 is an ultracompact six-axis robot arm designed for a wide range of lightweight applications. Mecademic claims it is the smallest, most compact, and most precise six-axis robot arm available.
The Meca500 is designed to be easily programmed and can be used as a cobot. The Meca500’s payload, however, is a very light at 500 g (1.1 lb.). Its reach is similarly limited — 260 mm (10.2 in.) at wrist center.
Because of these limitations, the Meca500 is best for pick-and-place or handling applications where precision is essential. Some collaborative applications — like inspection tasks — may also be a good fit for this robot.
4. KUKA’s KR 1000 Titan provides heavy lifting
The KR 1000 Titan series is a set of heavy-lifting robots. It features models with payloads up to 1,300 kg (2,866 lb.) and reaches of more than 3,600mm (141.7 in.).
The series is primarily designed for the precise handling of large objects. Some models include coatings resistant to heat, alkali, and corrosion for environments such as a foundry or forge.
As with other heavy-duty lifters, size and weight may limit the range of suitable applications. The robots in this series are best for industrial settings that regularly see extreme conditions and where the ability to move large amounts of weight quickly is a significant benefit.
While these robots are the best option on the list for pick-and-place in heavy industrial settings, they are not appropriate for especially light or fragile objects. Their high weight means they also aren’t particularly mobile — installing and reinstalling will likely require some heavy lifting equipment.
5. FANUC CRX Series designed for flexibility
FANUC’s CRX line debuted at IREX 2019. Like other cobots, the focus of the CRX series is on flexibility. These cobots are lightweight, designed to be easily programmable and simple to integrate into existing workflows. Because of their low weight and footprint, they can be installed without the need for a crane or other heavy lifting equipment.
The CRX cannot handle as much as other robots — its payload is 10kg (22 lb.) — but they do feature a reach of up to 1,418mm (55.8 in.). For this reason, they are a good fit for inspection or pick-and-place tasks, as well as situations in which users need to transport lightweight goods over a wide workspace.
The series also integrates some of FANUC’s advanced robotics software, including its iRVision machine vision technology and visual line-tracking iRPickTool.
6. Kawasaki MG Series has a long reach
The MG Series from Kawasaki is another set of heavy-duty, six-axis robotic arms. Depending on the model, it can handle payloads up to 1,500kg (3,306.9 lb.) and has a reach of 4,005mm (157 in. or 13.1 ft.).
The robots in the series are notable for their high rigidity and accuracy. As a result, these arms will be best in heavy industrial situations, where large or bulky payloads need to be lifted or moved with extreme precision both in object placement and arm movement.
7. ABB’s IRB 8700 features adjustable speed
The IRB 8700 from ABB is a heavy lifter with a maximum payload of 800kg (1,763.7 lb.), or 1,000kg (2,204.6 lb.) with the wrist down. It has a reach of 4,200mm (165.3 in. or 13.7 ft.). It automatically adjusts its speed to accommodate heavy and wide objects.
The IRB 8700 is built for similar applications as other heavy lifters, but is around 25% faster due to its single-motor design, optimized counterweight and parallel linkages. Few other heavy-lifting robotics are built for speed as well as strength. In industrial settings where quick movement is critical, the IRB 8700 will likely be one of the best arms available.
8. Universal Robots’ UR10e
The UR10e is another collaborative robot from Universal Robots. It features a greater focus on range and a smaller footprint than the UR16e. The UR10e’s reach is 1,300mm (51.1 in.) and it weighs just 33.5kg (73.8 lb.), so should be easy to install without the use of heavy lifting equipment.
The UR10e’s reach, low footprint, and light weight make it suitable for wide workspaces or in applications that need a flexible and adaptable robot. Like other cobots, it is also designed to be easily programmed, enabling it to repurposed for different applications as needed.
Finding the right lifting robot
Rapid diversification in robotics provides both precise and heavy-duty options for factories and distribution centers that need automated lifting.
Collaborative robots such as the UR10e, UR16e, Meca500, and CRX series models can provide a flexible solution for semi-automated pick-and-place, machine-tending, or inspection tasks. However, limited payloads mean these robots won’t be effective in certain heavy industry workflows.
In situations like these, larger lifting robots — like those offered by FANUC and KUKA — will be can provide the strength and resilience needed for heavy pick-and-place or similar tasks.