How Automation for Military Impacts Industrial Automation

How Automation for Military Impacts Industrial Automation

Using flexible robots to handle large jobs, cameras to relay critical information, and developing rehabilitative help for the wounded are ways the military's use of automation parallels the private sector. The military needs high quality results and wants to keep people safe just like private companies use automation to achieve error free production and reduce workplace injuries.

Today's advances show the power of flexible automation and how robots adapt to the needs of users.

Read on to get new ideas for using automation in your business.

Tackling Large Challenges

Precision and repeatability are two reasons why flexible automation is used with aircraft in the military and aerospace industries. Mobile robots are used to remove paint from aircraft and drill holes during aircraft assembly that are more precise than what a person can accomplish.

Stripping paint off a C-130 aircraft requires mobility. Fixed robots can't do the job economically since more than two would be required and some cells would be sitting idle while the others worked.

In the article New Applications for Mobile Robots, Erik Nieves of the Motoman Robotics Division of Yaskawa America, Inc. in Miamisburg, Ohio, said, "Mobility is a force multiplier for robots."

In the aerospace industry, drilling holes is one of the most common uses of robots. Robots are efficient in drilling holes and they can repeat the steps with precision. The write up Robots in Aerospace Applications notes that robotic drilling is less expensive than manual labor that requires expensive tooling such as jigs and fixtures.

Mobile robots have proven they can handle large tasks and the technology will have a continued role in the construction of roads, bridges, and buildings.


Taking data from the surrounding environment and using it to achieve a successful end result is another way automation is powerful. The military is investing in new imaging technologies for high-risk situations.

Consider a sniper who has one chance to hit a target. Various sensors are used to help a soldier calculate settings that account for changing conditions. The use of this sophisticated imaging is described in the article Machine Vision Benefits from Changing Military Standards. It also mentions a specialized market for high-speed digital video recording software and solutions.

NorPix Inc. of Montreal, Quebec is a firm that supplies the military's on-going demand for this technology. "[Users] can acquire images from multiple cameras, each with its own output, overlay location and time data, and store it on any device they like – solid state drives, standard hard drives, whatever," said NorPix President Luc Nocente.

Military users have done everything from record video from cameras placed around ground vehicles to managing de-icing on plane wings.

Commercial markets have benefitted from technological advances in the armed forces. For example, infrared cameras are expected to grow by 23 percent during the five-year period 2013 to 2018.

Much of that growth will come from areas like automotive, the emerging night-vision smartphones, and surveillance—some of the markets responsible for the advance of sensors used in machine vision cameras.

Improved Mobility

Changing conditions don't only take place in combat. Homes, offices, and hospitals have unpredictable environments where service robots are programmed to handle tasks. An unexpected stack of boxes or someone walking in front of a robot provide challenges for manufacturers.

Closed doors have been insurmountable obstacles in the past. Not anymore. A write up on service robots in Our Autonomous Future with Service Robots tells about a soft gripping robot funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

An early stage robot could turn a door handle, jam it open, and then move through the door before closing it. Another one is a three-fingered hand that can turn a key in a door handle.

The new technologies described in the article are enabling robots to understand their environment. This will help persons with acute and chronic physical disabilities to lead more independent lives.

A leading researcher in this area is Dr. Rory Cooper, a U.S. Army veteran who has a spinal cord injury. He is the Founding Director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dr. Cooper is also a past recipient of RIA’s Engelberger Award, the robotics industry’s most prestigious honor.

His organization's innovations include developing algorithms to improve control of electric powered wheelchairs and the SMARTWheel which improves wheelchair propulsion.

The military uses automation in tasks where the stakes are high. For manufacturers, the objectives may be different – like competing in new markets and aiming for zero production errors – but just as important.

Industrial automation can be applied in many ways. The field is dynamic and new breakthroughs are occurring all the time. Stay current on trends and discover the impact on your business with regular visits to A3