Where technology brought us 

Lipid Research Center
2188 West Lawn
Iowa City, IA 52242

Rux Funeral Home
313 Market St
Galva, IL

Rux Funeral Home
507 S Chestnut
Kewanee, IL

Marycrest International University
1607 W 12 St
Davenport, IA 52804

St. Ambrose University
518 W Locust
Davenport, IA 52804

Palmer College of Chiropractic
1000 Brady St
Davenport, IA 52803

Augustana College
639 38 St
Rock Island, IL 61201

H & R Block
1715 W Locust St
Davenport, IA 52804

E & J
200 24 Ave
Rock Island, IL 61201

American Institute of Commerce
1801 E Kimberly Rd
Davenport, IA 52807

Rock Island County Farm Bureau
1601 52 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

Hempel Pipe and Supply
951 S Rolff St
Davenport, IA 52802

McGladrey & Pullen, LLP
Certified Public Accountants and Consultants
220 North Main St Suite 900
Davenport, Ia 52801

McGladrey & Pullen, LLP
Certified Public Accountants and Consultants
600 35 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

1607 John Deere Rd
East Moline, IL 61244

John Deere Pavilion
1400 River Dr
Moline, IL 61265

John Deere Store
1300 River Drive Suite 100
Moline, IL 61265

Birdsell Chiropractic
1201 5th Ave
Moline, IL 61265

2484 53 St
Bettendorf, IA 52722

17th St and 5th Ave
Moline, IL 61265

2132 E 11 St
Davenport, IA

1422 5th Ave
Moline, IL 61265

Robots aren't just for movies or kids' toys

By Sarah Larson, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer

Photo courtesy of the Rock Island Arsenal
Workers at the Rock Island Arsenal use a computer-controlled robotic arm to place a hot ingot into a 16,000 hammer. Robotics are used in many places where it may be too dangerous for a human to work.
Click for larger image
Photo courtesy of the Rock Island Arsenal
The Rock Island Arsenal now owns one of the few seven-axis machines in the world. It can perform a series of functions all at the same time.

Few Quad-Cities families have Rosie the Robots to do the laundry, but robotics and computer-controlled machines are standard at many Quad-Cities industries.

They are used in every kind of manufacturing imaginable.

-- M. A. Ford Manufacturing, in northwest Davenport, uses computer-numeric control (CNC) machines to make industrial cutting tools.

-- Seaberg Industries, in Rock Island, uses CNC machines to make machine parts for Caterpillar and other companies.

-- Olsen Engineering, in Eldridge, uses CNC machines to make pins and other precision parts for clients like Case Corp., Deere & Co. and others.

-- Modform Inc., in East Moline, uses CNC lathes and mills to make parts for manufacturers like Harley Davidson, Caterpillar and Deere & Co. Modform vice president and general manger Ken Huss said the flexibility of the programmable machines saves money, because one machine can do the work of many.

``The program tells the machine what to do,'' Mr. Huss said, ``so it can make an ashtray on this pass and a coffee cup on the next, if you wanted.''

Genesis Systems Group, in Davenport, has made robotics its business. The company makes robotic systems for arc welding, spot welding and thermal cutting systems.

The Rock Island Arsenal is one of the most significant local users of CNC and robotics technology in manufacturing. The arsenal has CNC machines for milling, turning, grinding, cutting and other tasks.

The arsenal first began using computer-controlled machines in 1958, according to Howard Husson, chief of operations support division. His division supplies tools, programs and work methods for the manufacturing operations.

Like the computers that control them, CNC machines have evolved greatly over the years, but basic operating principles remain the same. Computer programs are downloaded into the CNC machine's memory, and the machine then repeats the programmed motions over and over.

Machines controlled by computers rather than operated conventionally by humans have many advantages, Mr. Husson said. One of the greatest is cost savings.

CNC machines make parts faster, because time needed to set up the machine and run through the production schedule is reduced by 40 to 50 percent over conventional machines.

The machines also can perform many tasks, such as cutting lines or punching holes, at once, Mr. Husson said. Conventional machines perform one task at a time, which increases the likelihood of measurements being off.

CNC machines also are highly accurate, often to plus or minus one-thousandth of an inch, he said.

``Overall operations are more controlled and consistent,'' Mr. Husson said, ``because they are running off a program, rather than an operator.''

The arsenal has used robotic technology for about 15 years, Mr. Husson said. Robotics basically mimic a person's arm motion, enabling a machine to perform many of the same tasks human operators once did. They often have greater ranges of motion and can bend and twist where human arms cannot.

Robotics often are used to perform tasks that would be dangerous for people to do. The arsenal uses robotic arms for welding, painting and forging, Mr. Husson said. Robotic welders and forgers do not need protection from burns, and robotic painters do not have to be protected with breathing apparatuses.

Robotic forgers, for example, can pick up hot chunks of metal straight from a furnace and stick them into a hammer, Mr. Husson said. They also can lift several hundred pounds at a time.

Like CNC machines, robotic arms produce absolutely consistent work, Mr. Husson said. Once programmed, robotic arms will repeat a motion every time, exactly.

CNC machines also have disadvantages, though, Mr. Husson said. They are more complex than conventional machines, so they need more maintenance. Also, the machine operators must be more skilled than workers who run conventional machines.

Plenty of training is available, though. Black Hawk College professor Mike Drefchinski has taught classes on setting up, programming and running CNC machines since 1967.

Many more industries use CNC technology today than did decades ago, Mr. Drefchinski said.

``When I started teaching, CNC was primarily used in defense and aircraft,'' he said. ``Now it's pretty much just required to be able to function in a manufacturing environment.''

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.