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In robotics, a manipulator is a device used to manipulate materials without direct physical contact by the operator. The applications were originally for dealing with radioactive or biohazardous materials, using robotic arms, or they were used in inaccessible places. In more recent developments they have been used in diverse range of applications including welding automation, robotic surgery and in space. It is an arm-like mechanism that consists of a series of segments, usually sliding or jointed called cross-slides, which grasp and move objects with a number of degrees of freedom.
In industrial ergonomics a manipulator is a lift-assist device used to help workers lift, maneuver and place articles in process that are too heavy, too hot, too large or otherwise too difficult for a single worker to manually handle. As opposed to simply vertical lift assists (cranes, hoists, etc.) manipulators have the ability to reach in to tight spaces and remove workpieces. A good example would be removing large stamped parts from a press and placing them in a rack or similar dunnage. In welding, a column boom manipulator is used to increase deposition rates, reduce human error and other costs in a manufacturing setting.
Additionally, manipulator tooling gives the lift assist the ability to pitch, roll, or spin the part for appropriate placement. An example would be removing a part from a press in the horizontal and then pitching it up for vertical placement in a rack or rolling a part over for exposing the back of the part.