DOING SOME DIGGINGNew markets for old robots

If you have seen the movie I Robot with Will Smith, you will know that in the world of entertainment, robots will m...

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If you have seen the movie I Robot with Will Smith, you will know that in the world of entertainment, robots will murder their masters. Fortunately, in the real world where robots are becoming common in manufacturing industries, they respond only to their programming. Humans depend on them to do repetitive tasks or work in hazardous environments.

Robots do, however, reach retirement age just as their human creators do. Technological advances are creating a new generation of robots, and there is a brand new and ever-increasing market that didn't even exist just a few years agoused robots.

"The market for used robots is bright indeed," says industrial technologist Peter Struwing, owner of IndustrialReseller.com. "Used robots are being placed into a wide range of industrial manufacturing situations and applications. They cost a lot less than new robots and do the job quite well.

"Robots are stronger, more efficient, don't get hurt, don't file lawsuits, don't take vacations or ask for overtime pay. The first generation robots are being retired and replaced by new and more advanced robotics in manufacturing complexes all over the world. The renovations are resulting in increased availability for top-of-the-line first generation models produced by companies like Fanuc, Motoman, Panasonic, and Nachi," he added.

"We give them a second chance at a productive life."

Used robots are finding work in places where people find the work boring, repetitive or hazardous. The most common commercial use for robots is on the assembly line, especially where machines can be used to perform repeated mechanical actions, like in the making of mechanical parts and other machines. They can be used to decrease the risk of variation due to human error and reduce risks to humans working in hazardous conditions, like welding hot metals or breathing toxic fumes. This pushes costs down by decreasing the number of workers needing higher wages for the hazardous work.

Struwing says that used robots often have a few minor faults that come from prior use and need to be revived with just a little cleaning up and tender loving care. "The cost of bringing a used robot online is a bargain compared to the cost of a new robot and in many cases, engineers can have these machines performing like brand new. For the price of some spare parts, these robots can be productive for another 10 to 15 years. More and more uses for used robots are being found every day," he says. "Manufacturers are very interested in protecting workers, saving money and avoiding risk.

"Sure, there are many jobs that robots simply can't do, but the changes and shift-overs in smaller manufacturing facilities are occurring steadily all over the country. Used robots will soon be commonplace."

I wonder if in my lifetime the price of used robots will come down low enough that I can afford a few. I am making a wish-list. So too might researchers and engineers. A low-cost used robot might be the jumping-off point for creating a new application for the mineral industry.

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