CHICAGO (June 29, 2:10 p.m. EDT) — It is being touted as a quantum leap in robotics.
It's a claim that is hard to argue with, considering the dual-armed, 13-axis robot is as proficient at tending bar as it is in bottle-handling applications for the plastics industry.
Two six-axis arms swivel on a rotational base, combining humanlike flexibility with super-human strength, speed and stamina.
West Carrollton, Ohio-based Motoman Inc. also launched at NPE a new single-arm, seven-axis robot, which has a footprint of just 1 square foot, and can be mounted on the floor, ceiling, wall, or on top of a machine.
“This is the new direction of robots,” said Dean Elkins, senior general manager for Motoman's Midwest and eastern regions, in a June 20 interview at NPE in Chicago. “The seven-axis is a much better simulator of the human arm. You see these primarily in Japan. It's new on this soil. But not for very long.”
Motoman is the U.S. subsidiary of Kitakyushu, Japan-based Yaskawa Electric Corp.
The DA20, or dual-armed, robot sells for about $130,000 a piece. But with the technology, and the possibility of a third or fourth arm being added, the application possibilities are virtually limitless.
Motoman President Craig Jennings said not to rule out the prospect of adding more arms.
“As customers give us their imaginations, we can produce the product,” Jennings said in an interview at NPE. “We think the plastics industry is a good application.”
Elkins said Motoman has sold at least three of the dual-armed robots for bartending applications, and added that the company is in talks with a large U.S. casino and hotel operator to implement them Stateside.
“We're always finding new, innovative ways to use them,” Elkins said.
While Motoman manufactures much of its peripheral automation equipment in North America, all of its actual robots are put together in Japan. Jennings left open the possibility that robot manufacturing could return to the United States since the company shut down robot production in Troy, Ohio, in the early 1990s.
If manufacturers want to compete with low-cost labor countries, automation investment is really the only way, Jennings said, comparing the cost of operating a robot — about 30 cents an hour over the life of the robot — to the approximate 50 cents per hour paid to workers in the low-cost countries.
“It helps keep jobs here,” he said. “Automation helps us compete with the rest of the world.”
Motoman is in the market for a 60-acre site on which it plans to construct as much as 600,000 square feet of manufacturing space during the next five years.
Right now Motoman has about 360,000 square feet, Jennings said.
The company had about $172 million in sales in 2005, which Jennings believes could nearly double in the next five years.
“There's no reason that by 2011, that can't be well in excess of $300 million,” he said.