A robot is defined as “a programmed actuated mechanism with a degree of autonomy to perform locomotion, manipulation or positioning”, as defined by the International standard ISO 8373 “Vocabulary”. We distinguish between industrial and service robots (as well as medical robots).

Any types of “pure” software (“bots”, AI, Robotic Process Automation-RPA), voice assistants, autonomous cares or ATMs (and other smart machines) are not robots in this sense.


An “industrial robot” is an “automatically controlled, reprogrammable multipurpose manipulator, programmable in three or more axes, which can be either fixed in place or fixed to a mobile platform for use in automation applications in an industrial environment”. (according to ISO 8373:2021).

Reprogrammable means it is designed so that the programmed motions or auxiliary functions can be changed without physical alteration (alteration of the mechanical system). Multipurpose refers to the capability of being adapted to a different application with physical alteration. A manipulator is a mechanism consisting of an arrangement of segments, jointed or sliding relative to one another and axis is the direction used to specify the robot motion in a linear or rotary mode.

We classify different types of robots based on their mechanical structure.


A “service robot” is a “robot in personal use or professional use that performs useful tasks for humans or equipment”. According to ISO 8373 robots require “a degree of autonomy”, which is the “ability to perform intended tasks based on current state and sensing, without human intervention”. For service robots this ranges from partial autonomy – including human robot interaction – to full autonomy – without active human robot intervention.

Service robots are categorized according to personal or professional use. They have many forms and structures as well as application areas.

The “new” ISO robotics vocabulary standard ISO 8373:2021 defines medical robots as a third category next to industrial and service robots. A medical robot is a robot intended to be used as medical electrical equipment or medical electrical systems.

An AMR or autonomous mobile robot is a service robot according to this definition.


Collaborative industrial robots are designed to perform tasks in collaboration with workers in industrial sectors. The International Federation of Robotics defines two types of robot designed for collaborative use. One group covers robots designed for collaborative use that comply with ISO 10218-1 which specifies requirements and guidelines for the inherent safe design, protective measures and information for use of industrial robots. The other group covers robots designed for collaborative use that do not satisfy the requirements of ISO 10218-1. This does not imply that these robots are unsafe. They may follow different safety standards, for example national or in-house standards.

There is considerable variance in the types of collaborative robots meeting the above specifications, and the level of contact between robot and worker in collaborative applications. At one end of the technical spectrum are traditional industrial robots operating in a separate workspace that workers can enter periodically without having to shut off power to the robot and secure the production cell beforehand – a time-intensive procedure that can cost thousands of dollars per minute of machine downtime. The robot’s workspace can be fitted with sensors that detect human motion and ensure the robot works at very slow speeds or stops when a worker is within the designated workspace. At the other end of the spectrum are industrial robots designed specifically to work alongside humans in a shared workspace. Often referred to as ‘cobots’, these robots are designed with a variety of technical features that ensure they do not cause harm when a worker comes into direct contact, either deliberately or by accident. These features include lightweight materials, rounded contours, padding, ‘skins’ (padding with embedded sensors) and sensors at the robot base or joints that measure and control force and speed and ensure these do not exceed defined thresholds if contact occurs.

  • Cartesian robot (rectangular robot, gantry robot): manipulator which has three prismatic joints, whose axes form a Cartesian coordinate system
  • SCARA robot: manipulator which has two parallel rotary joints to provide compliance in a selected plane
  • Articulated robot: manipulator which has three or more rotary joints
  • Parallel/Delta robot: manipulator whose arms have links which form a closed loop structure
  • Cylindrical robot: manipulator which has at least one rotary joint and at least one prismatic joint, whose axes form a cylindrical coordinate system
  • Polar robot (spherical robot): manipulator which has two rotary joints and one prismatic joint, whose axes form a polar coordinate system

The reasons why companies consider investing in a robot system differ widely. Some factors include the positive effect on parts quality, increase of manufacturing productivity (faster cycle time) and/or yield (less scrap), improved worker safety, reduction of work-in-progress, greater flexibility in the manufacturing process and reduction of costs.

Overall, robots increase productivity and competitiveness. Used effectively, they enable companies to become or remain competitive. This is particularly important for small-to-medium sized (SME) businesses that are the backbone of both developed and developing country economies. It also enables large companies to increase their competitiveness through faster product development and delivery. Increased use of robots is also enabling companies in high cost countries to ‘re-shore’ or bring back to their domestic base parts of the supply chain that they have previously outsourced to sources of cheaper labor.

Main reasons for investing in industrial robots:

  • Increased flexibility to quickly adapt production and respond to changes in demand and smaller batch sizes
  • Improved resilience to deal with production peaks and withstand systemic shocks such as COVID-19
  • Energy and resource efficiency through optimized performance (reducing energy consumption, material waste and increasing yield)
  • Improved productivity and support for manufacturing employees (Improving quality of work for employees, complying with health and safety rules)
  • Reducing operating or capital costs
  • Improving product quality
  • Increasing production output rates
  • Save space in high value manufacturing areas