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Dealing with Decommissioned Industrial Robots

written by: Ricky • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 4/27/2011

After a robot has outlived its normal utility, its disposal becomes a challenge for the enterprise using it. Resale, sending to a scrap yard, using it for land-fill, and recycling are some of the options available for decommissioned robots.

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    What are Robots?

    By definition, robots are aids created to make work easier, faster, more accurate, and safer to do. They are mechanically driven and have some artificial intelligence that can be programmed to perform different commands. Robots have been developed for many reasons, but have largely found their major use in the manufacturing sector. Some of the work that can be performed by industrial robots is the lifting of heavy weights, painting, drilling, welding, and handling chemicals and hazardous materials. These robots are mainly fixed and have limited movement.

    Maintenance departments and facilities that handle hazardous material also use robots to do work. Exploration missions to the moon and more recently to Mars used robotic equipment to survey and collect data for research centers on earth. Exploration robots are built to withstand extreme conditions and are mobile; they need to be mobile to conduct geological surveys and collect data and samples. Anti-terrorism agencies and the military use robots to neutralize dangerous things like bombs or mines. Personal robots are rare since they need to be programmed to do many different tasks.

    Assembly Line Robots  

    Pick N Place Robotic Arm  

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    Decommissioning of Robots

    When industrial robots stop working or are replaced with newer versions, it is called "decommissioning." The problem of disposal, of course, starts after the robot has been decommissioned. Resale, sending to a scrap yard, using it for land-fill, and recycling are some of the options available for decommissioned robots. The fate that a decommissioned robot meets depends on the nature of work for which it was developed, the materials used for making it, and the law of the land.

    Recycling

    If no potential customer for the used equipment comes forward, retired industrial robots should ideally be sent to recycling plants for the proper disposal of the different materials used to build them. Most robots are built using plastic and metals, which should not pose any dangers, but within these robots are many electronic sensors, motion detectors, batteries, motors, and other part that may contain harmful materials. This does not apply to all robots, but particularly does for robots that are constructed as a single operational unit.

    Robotic attachments like used pick and place robots, painting robots, and precision welding, positioning, and manufacturing robots, as well as all robots that receive commands from a central command, do not pose a high pollution risk as they are composed mostly of mechanical parts. Nevertheless, all used robots, if possible, should be sent to robot recycling units who specialize in dismantling them and extracting all the reusable parts and materials.

    Storing

    Robots that have been used in certain hazardous operations such as inside nuclear power plants may never get proper disposal due to the nature of the work they have to do. When they are retired or break down, replacement is done and the old robot is moved to a storage area within the secured perimeter.

    Exploration robots are also never built for cycling since there fate is not predictable. Robots on the moon and mars are some example of these kinds of irretrievable robots.

    Back on earth the problem is getting bigger with the risk of contamination of water reservoirs and underground water by harmful elements that are contained within the artificial intelligence and sensors that controls the robots mobility and precision. People who are environmentally conscious have created innovative ways by which they can contribute to reducing pollution.

    Retired Robots and Art

    Artists have begun using them in designs to decorate offices, businesses, and homes and parks. Some of these innovative artists create sculpture depicting different scenarios that modern day people face on a daily bases. Some interior decorators use retired robots which have been extracted of all harmful elements to decorate robot enthusiasts homes and rooms with them. Robotic arms used for welding can be used as lamp holders or as a coat rest.

    The Problem of E-Waste

    With the world population increasing on a daily basis and demand for produces and resources increasing, there is urgency now more than ever to act responsibly towards e-waste. With few recycling plants distributed around the world and more e-waste being produced on a daily basis humanity has to think twice before we find ourselves buried in the waste itself.

    With proper management and financial support, e-waste like used robots can be recycled and extracted parts can be reused on other models of robots. This requires a lot of time and man power since they need to be dismantled piece by piece in order to perform the job correctly.

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    References

    Mikkel Groover, Michell Weiss, Roger Nagel & Nicholas Odrey, Industrial Robotics: Technology: Programming and Applications, McGraw Hill Publishers

    http://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/pdf/educator-story_robot.pdf

    Image Credits

    http://www.piab.com/Global/Solutions/Packaging/Pick-and-place.jpg

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-gDS9a0M6rzs/Ta82I9QmWgI/AAAAAAAAANI/INNjs57jwIo/s1600/industrial_robots.jpg

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