Posts Tagged ‘Industrial Robot’

1950c – “The Iron Hand” Industrial Robot – Erie Engineering Company (American)

The Iron Hand (Sourced from here and authored by Kerry Kirsch)

The Iron Hand was a robot that was developed by someone at Erie Engineering Company, 840 West Baltimore, Detroit, Michigan in the shadows of the old General Motors Building. Erie Engineering was owned by my grandfather, Frank Karl Kirsch, and specialized in Tool & Die designs for the automobile companies. The name "Iron Hand" sounds like it was inspired by a comic book hero. Back then, safety was not the priority that it is today. At a very young age, I recall hearing several stories of people regularly being injured, or killed in a stamping press. I won't go into the details, but I suspect that these reoccurring tragedies led to the idea of the Iron Hand to automate press work. I don't know the exact date of the photographs, but a car is visible in the background. I would be interested from hearing from someone the model and date to get a more accurate timeframe. I am guessing that they are from the late 1940s, early 1950s.

I suspect that the guy in the first picture was the man responsible for the design – he looks like a proud father. Unfortunately, I don't know who he is. I understand that the robot was hydraulically powered and the photos seem to show a hydraulic cylinder. The part in the gripper is a sheet metal stamping that appears to be part of a floor pan.

[RH/ Car appears to be an 1950 Buick bucktooth grille designed by Henry Lauve]

Back in those days, there were not a lot of options for controlling machines. The Iron Hand was controlled by a traffic light controller. Basically it is a timer that fired hydraulic valves. The mechanism for the arm is really quite ingenious. If you look carefully, you will notice a cylinder at the rear of the arm that imparts motion for reaching through a pair of links of unequal length to the upper rear arm. The arm consists of 4 rods connected at an elbow. In the elbow is a link that imparts motion from the upper rear rod to the lower front rod. It produces near perfect linear motion with only one cylinder.

The above photo appears different from the other two. The robot is rotationally in a different position than in the previous photos and there appears to be some heavy chain attached to the frame that could not be seen in the others. I suspect this is because of the appearance of a waist axis. It’s not clear to me how this would have worked yet, but I'm sure someone has some ideas.

This is a photo of the prototype model I took recently. Under the triangular shaped plates at the top there was a short link that connected the lower left arm to the upper right arm. The link was broken off before I got the model. When I was in college, I measured it all up and wrote a Fortran program to model and plot how it would move. It produced near perfect linear motion. For my senior project at Lawrence Institute of Technology, I designed and built a similar arm that used 4 gears to replace the linking mechanism. I used a single DC servo motor with a harmonic drive gear reducer to rotate one of the rear arms at the base to achieve linear motion.

See other Early Teleoperators, Industrial Robots and Manipulators here.

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1959 – “TransfeRobot” – Shelley et al (American)



(1:13:11:00 – 1:14:31:00) 1961 London.

LS. Mr Miduch, the mechanic, switches on three robots. CU. Mechanic looking on. CU. Robots working. CU. Switch panel. CU. One robot working. MS. Three robots working together, they pause and two robots wait for signal from first then continue. MS. The inventor Mr Shelly, talking to mechanic, Mr Miduch and to camera – no sound.

(Orig. Neg.) Date found in the old record – 14/08/1961.

Edwin F. Shelley.


Automatic Handling and Assembly Servosystem by E. F. Shelley et al. See full patent details here.

Patent number: 3007097
Filing date: Jul 2, 1959
Issue date: Oct 31, 1961

N/C-type programming for robots was pioneered in the 1950s by Edwin F. Shelley and his colleagues at US Industries. While research director at the Bulova Watch Company, Shelley sought ways to eliminate repetitive, monotonous manual tasks typical of light assembly work. In 1959, after moving to US Industries, Shelley filed for a patent on an "automatic handling and assembly servosystem," a device which evolved into US Industries' TransfeRobot. This fully programmable positioning system was designed for precision parts transfer and accurate placement operations for small parts, and had closed loop positioning control in three axes. Unlike the record-playback Unimate, the Transferobot was programmed much like a plugboard-type N/C machine. A kinematic study of the task to be performed was made to break it down into a series of discrete motions described as a sequence of positions. These preselected motions (and times) were listed in order on a process sheet and then transcribed onto a cardboard template used to pre-set the machine control. The template was placed over a panel of switches on the machine control and indicated which switches had to be thrown to achieve the desired sequence of motions. (The template also constituted a permanent record of the program which could be used to reconfigure the machine identically for future performance of the same operations.) The Transferobot was widely advertised as a reliable, low-cost, off-the-shelf, fully programmable automation device suitable for a broad range of industrial applications. US Industries President John Snyder explained that the TransfeRobot marked "a significant step in the process of liberating the working force of this country from mechanized drudgery" and Shelley estimated that it could displace a minimum of three million workers. The company scheduled their robot's debut for Labor Day, 1959. (Widely publicized also was a joint effort by US Industries and the International Association of Machinists to aid displaced workers; US Industries paid "dues" on each TransfeRobot sold to underwrite a cooperative American Foundation on Automation and Employment, which was devoted to worker retraining.) Several Transferobots were in fact sold to manufacturers of clocks, typewriters, automobiles, and candy but this pioneering venture into industrial robotics was prematurely interrupted when, in 1963, US Industries decided to discontinue its robot business, for financial reasons.

Footnotes: Edwin F. Shelley et al., "Automatic Handling and Assembly Servosystem," U.S. Patent No. 3,007,097 (filed September 1959, issued October 31,1961); US Industries brochures (Robodyne Division); "An Electrically-Programmed Small Parts Handling Device," Automatic Control, February 196o; John Snyder, quoted in Chicago Daily Tribune. September 8,1959; Edwin Shelley quoted in Edwin Darby, "Builds Robot to Man Production Lines," Chicago Sun Times, March 28, 196o, p. 44; telephone interview with Edwin Shelley, November 1983.

Source: Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation, David F. Noble, 2011.

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1954 – Programmed Article Transfer Patent – George C. Devol Jr. (American)

Programmed Article Transfer by George C. Devol Jr. See full patent details here.

Patent number: 2988237
Filing date: Dec 10, 1954
Issue date: Jun 13, 1961

Joseph Engelberger on the left, George Devol Jr on the right – c1960

[Image credit: The Estate of George C. Devol]

In the patent, Devol wrote, "the present invention makes available for the first time a more or less general purpose machine that has universal application to a vast diversity of applications where cyclic digital control is desired."

Devol's patent for the first digitally operated programmable robotic arm represents the foundation of the modern robotics industry.

At the suggestion of Devol's wife, Evelyn, the word "Unimate" was coined to define the product. 

In 1960, Devol personally sold the first Unimate robot, which was shipped in 1961 from Danbury, Connecticut to General Motors.

See the rest of the story in my later post on "UNIMATE" [TBC].

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1934-78 – Spray-paint robot patents – Pollard Jr, Pollard, Roselund and DeVilbiss Comp. – (American)

Pollard Jr

SPRAY PAINTING MACHINE by  Willard Lacey George Pollard Jr. See full patent here.
Patent number: 2213108
Filing date: Oct 29, 1934
Issue date: Aug 27, 1940

Pollard Sr


Patent number: 2286571
Filing date: Apr 22, 1938
Issue date: Jun 16, 1942



Patent number: 2344108
Filing date: Aug 17, 1939
Issue date: Mar 14, 1944

Why group these together?

In my timeline on the first Industrial Robots, I list the following:

 1934 – Programmable Spray-painting patent by Pollard Jr.
 1935-7 – "The Robot Gargantua" by 'Bill' Griffith P. Taylor – First 'pick-and-place' Robot.
 1938, April – Pollard's (Sr.) Automated positional spray-painting patent
 1939, August – Roselund filed his automated spray-painting patent.
 1941 – Isaac Asimov, aged 21 in May 1941, invents the word 'Robotics' in a robot story entitled "Liar!".
 1947 – Del Harder, a Ford executive, coins the word "Automation".
 1954, March – The Brit Cyril Kenward filed his " Positioning or Manipulating Apparatus" patent.
 1954, December – Devol's "Programmed Article Transfer" patent filed and granted.
 1955 – "PLANOBOT" by Joe Brown
 1959 – "Transferobot" by Shelley
 1959 – Working Robot and Prototype Unimate by Devol & Engelberger
 1960 – "Versatran"
 1961 – 1st "Unimate", installed at GM
 1962 – "Unimation" formed by Devol and Engelberger
 1962 – "Fleximan" by  Anthony Kaye
 1965-7 – Ole Molaug developed his Trallfa spray-paint robot. First production run in 1967. Now ABB.

The below extract from an article on The True Origins of Parallel Robots by Ilian Bonev published on January 24, 2003 as a result of talking to the now late Mr. Willard L.G. Pollard Jr. It suggests that the control unit from Pollard Jr.'s patent was used with the mechanical manipulator from Roselund's patent [The Roselund patent is assigned to the DeVilbiss Company]. It further mentions that Pollard Jr. issed a license to DeVilbiss to use his patent in 1937. The article then suggests a prototype was built prior to the granting of Roselund's patent, but, to date, I've found no corrobative evidence to support this. To that extent, I've seen no evidence, including advertisments, trade magazines, etc where, if these 'robots' [automatic spray-painting machines] were actually built, were also offered to the public.

At this time I need to say that DeVilbiss secured a license to sell Trallfa spray-painting robots in 1978. 

So between 1937 and 1978 I've seen no evidence to date that DeVilbiss prototyped, manufactured and sold an automatic spray-painting machine as shown in any of the Pollard's nor Roselund patents, only hearsay from  Ilian Bonev's article (see below).

If anyone out there has any evidence of DeVilbiss robots or automated spray-painting machines from this period please contact me so we can attempt to resolve this open and important issue.

In 1975, another engineer, inventor by the name of Jerome Lemelson offered DeVilbiss license to patents including US3412431, which included a gantry crane and positional controller for a molding machine, very similar to a spray-painting robot. DeVilbiss did not ake up this offer.

This became of issue when Levelson filed for patent infringement against DeVilbiss.

Its not clear to me why this became of issue if DeVilbiss had its own patents. Possibly it was just the controller component, of which Pollard Jr had offered earlier on license. Had the license expired? 

The Lemelson lawsuit became problematic when DeVilbiss was sold to Illinois Tool Works Inc. ITW eventually lost and Lemelson picked up a cool US$17Million in 1992. See the whole legal story here.

The True Origins of Parallel Robots 
By Ilian Bonev
Special thanks to Willard L.G. Pollard, Klaus Cappel, Mike Beeson (Dunlop Tyres), and Sam Evans (British National Museum of Science and Industry)

Recently, I had the rare opportunity to talk with two of the pioneers in the field of parallel robots, Mr. Willard L.G. Pollard Jr. and Mr. Klaus Cappel, and to learn remarkable facts about a third one, Dr. Eric Gough, and his still existent tire-testing machine. This feature article makes a number of key revelations that will rewrite the history of parallel robots. Through this new look at the past, a major lesson should be learned concerning the lack of communication between industry and academia.

Was the First Industrial Robot a Parallel Robot?
A decade later and only seventeen years after the term "robot" was coined, a new parallel robot was invented for automated spray painting by Willard L.V. Pollard. Was this the commonly claimed first industrial robot (see for example BusinessWeek's Robot Milestones)?
In the parallel kinematics community, Pollard's parallel robot is well known as the first industrial parallel robot design. This ingenious invention represents a five-DOF three-branched parallel robot. In this parallel robot, three proximal arms are pivoted by rotary motors fixed to the base, and three distal arms are connected to the three proximal arms via universal joints. Two of the distal arms are connected to the third via ball joints, while a tool head is connected to the third distal arm via a universal joint. Thus, the three motors determine the position of the tool head, while its orientation is controlled by two other motors fixed at the base and transmitting the motion to the tool head via flexible rotary cables. Pollard's parallel robot was intended for spray painting but, unfortunately, was never built. 
The first spatial industrial parallel robot, patented in 1942 (US Patent No. 2,286,571).
The first industrial robot to be built was not the above one and cannot be credited to the same Willard Pollard… The engineer who co-designed the first industrial robot was Willard L.V. Pollard's son, Willard L.G. Pollard Jr.
On October 29, 1934, Willard Pollard Jr. filed a patent for a spray painting machine. The patent consists of two parts: (1) an electrical control system and (2) a mechanical manipulator. The control system consists basically of perforated films, the hole density of which is directly proportional to the speed of each motor. The mechanical manipulator, on the other hand, is a parallel robot based on a pantograph actuated by two rotary motors at the base. Pollard Jr.'s patent was eventually issued on June 16, 1942, but, in the meantime, a license was granted to the DeVilbiss company in 1937. In 1941, DeVilbiss, later to become the first industrial robot supplier, completed the first prototype under the direction of Harold Roselund. Roselund's spray painting robot, later patented in 1944, was not a parallel robot and used only the control system proposed by Pollard Jr.

1965-7 – Trallfa spray-paint robot – Ole Molaug and Sverre Bergene (Norweigan)

Images and text source from here.

The original name of ABB’s robot factory at Bryne was Trallfa, a company that pioneered development of a robot for spray painting in 1965 – 67. It has its origin in a company manufacturing wheelbarrows, sack trolleys and transport equipment, which was founded in Bryne in 1941 by Nils Underhaug.
Nils Underhaug, a young man from Nærbø, wanted to enter into the automobile repair trade. By the age of 17, he had already created his first automobile, a monster with four bicycle wheels and a 1 ½ horse power engine, which scared the horses in the neighborhood and aroused the surrounding farmers’ disapproval. But it worked! Little did he know then that he would later come to play an important part in the world of the automotive industry.
Nils completed his education and apprenticeship as an auto mechanic and worked for some years repairing automobiles. In 1941 Nils decided to start his own company. Equipped with a case of automobile tools and USD 2000 in the bank, plus an optimistic outlook on life, he started a trolley factory – Trallfa – on February 1, 1941.
Nils started out with only two employees. The factory grew steadily, and soon Trallfa could move into its first real factory building. Wheelbarrows became their specialty. New designs were created, prices lowered and the new wheelbarrows became a great success. The wheelbarrows were painted by hand, and despite the fact that several workers with modern equipment worked in shifts, painting became a bottleneck.
In 1962, Jæren Automation Association, with Nils Underhaug as chairman, employed Ole Molaug as manager. Molaug was a young mechanical engineer from a small place at the farthest end of a fjord in western Norway. After graduating from technical college, he returned to his father’s workshop to earn a living at the wood turning lathe. He early had the idea to use electronic devices on the shop floor, and wondered a lot about constructing a robot. He learned electronics through private
studies. Later he received a grant from the Research Council of Norway to continue his studies.
Molaug brought his robot idea up for Nils Underhaug and were challenged to come up with specific plans for a spray painting robot. Ole studied the spray painting methods at Trallfa and on July 1, 1964, he presented a paper outlining his idea accompanied by a simple sketch, estimating the cost to USD 1500 – 2000. Nils Underhaug gave Ole Molaug the go ahead.
Molaug took charge of the electronics and tool maker Sverre Bergene from Trallfa was entrusted with solving the mechanical and hydraulic challenges. They worked at night and into the small hours, while doing their ordinary work during the day. Even though colleagues began to gossip about “those expensive toys”, they never lost faith.
In the summer of 1966, the robot had progressed far enough to be introduced at the Trallfa stand of the local exhibition “Jærdagen”. There it executed profile drawings, and crowds gathered to see this strange contraption performing.
So far so good, but would it really work? The opportunity came in February, 1967, when the robot had a trial run at the conveyor in the factory’s paint shop. Nils Underhaug had the honor of pressing the button to start the robot. Start it did, and painted wheelbarrow boxes passing along the conveyor – one after the other. The results were excellent.

To make a long story short, Trallfa decided to go into production with its robot. In 1969 the first industrial spray painting robot were delivered to Sweden for bath tub enameling. The company established itself early as the leading supplier of robots for spray painting applications, as it still is today in ABB.

Also, Ccontributed greatly on the electronics side.

The above images from Tormod Henne, December 2009 book on the history of ABB robots.

Ole Molaug