Robotic cleanrooms reach multiple industries
BY CAROLYN MATHAS
ANN ARBOR, MI-Robotics use in manufacturing is on the rise in international industry as a whole, and specifically in most contamination-control environments except semiconductor, with a trend toward multiple-control robotics invading the cleanroom of the future.
Recent statistics published by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA; www.roboticsonline.com) indicate that manufacturing robotics sales jumped by 20 percent in 2004, with North American orders for packaging and palletizing robots alone growing by 50 percent. John Dulchinos, vice president and general manager of Adept Technology’s Robotics Division (Livermore, Calif.; www.adept.com), notes that “although figures that track cleanroom robots alone are not provided by RIA, we saw an increase of approximately 20 to 25 percent revenue growth in the cleanroom segment in 2004.”
“Robots used in the manufacture of disk drives, pharmaceuticals, and medical products are gaining, while semiconductors are flat or declining,” Dulchinos claims.
As to the growing use of Adept’s robotics for contamination-control manufacturing processes in the disk drive industry, Dulchinos sees the greatest gains in solving problems in assembly, test, and in disk production. “What is new is that the disk-drive companies are seeing innovative applications-new classes of products such as I-Pods and cell phones-and it’s the expansion of their products into these new categories that is prompting the increased use of robotics.”
Donald Vincent, the RIA’s executive vice president, cites increased capabilities and declining costs as the impetus for more robotics in the manufacturing process. Trends indicate that a shift is underway in the types of industries using robots. For example, according to the RIA, “In 2003, automotive manufacturers accounted for 68 percent of the total; in 2004, the figure dropped to 64 percent.” Vincent explains, “Robots aren’t just for heavy manufacturing companies or for large companies.”
Carl Traynor, senior director of marketing for robotics manufacturer Motoman (W. Carrollton, Ohio; www.motoman.com), a division of Yaskawa Electronics Corp., agrees with Vincent’s assessment. “Approximately six or seven years ago, we began to pursue Seagate with our industrial robots,” he says. “They came back to us and said they required at least a Class 10 (ISO Class 4) [cleanroom] product. We made the required changes to our industrial robots and made good headway into the disk-drive industry. Then, our parent company Yaskawa introduced LCD handling and flat-panel display robots.”
As a result, Traynor says, “Approximately 30 percent of our robot sales last year targeted cleanroom applications. 2004 was a record year for cleanroom and flat-panel display robots, and Motoman is a market leader in this segment.”
Traynor believes that since most semiconductor companies have already undertaken the move from 200-mm to 300-mm wafers, the industry’s robot purchases in 2005 will most likely decline. “Now, however, spurred on by flat-panel displays required for applications from cell phones to large TVs, robots will play an important role in [clean] flat-panel display manufacturing. We expect that sales of robots targeting this application will increase by approximately 15 percent in 2005.”
When asked about the contamination-control robot of the future, Traynor predicts that a movement to multiple robot controls will expand into cleanrooms. “Yaskawa developed the ability to control four robots simultaneously,” Traynor says. “These are two robots connected by a column, so they have dual arms that are human-like. They were introduced approximately two years ago for automotive assembly, and companies have ordered thousands of them to date.”
In the future, Traynor says, “We expect that there will be a shift to these robots for cleanroom applications as well since they offer increased flexibility and control.” III