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HQ 963029

JULY 7, 2000

CLA-2 RR:CR:GC 963029 JAS


TARIFF NO.: 8479.50.00, 8537.10.90

Mr. Paul S. Anderson
Sonnenberg & Anderson
200 South Wacker Drive, 38th Floor
Chicago, IL 60606

RE: Industrial Robots With Stand-Alone Controller but Without End-of-Arm Tooling

Dear Mr. Anderson:

In a submission, dated July 6, 1999, on behalf of Motoman, Inc., you inquire as to the classification under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), of industrial robots. You presented additional facts and legal arguments at a meeting in our office on April 28, 2000.


The articles at issue are the SK and SV series electrically controlled industrial robots. Each consists of an articulated arm or manipulator on a base, a controller designated MRC, MRC II or XRC, and a programming or teaching pendant. Prior to importation, each robot is “configured,” that is, a program of instructions to implement the robot’s intended end use service application is burned onto a chip that becomes a permanent part of the controller, which is stand-alone and connected to the manipulator by electrical wiring or cables. The programming pendant is hand-held and attaches by cable to the controller. It functions as an input device that sends operating instructions in the form of signals which the controller interprets and uses to instruct the manipulator. Although each robot series are best suited, in terms of size, payload capacity and power, for certain applications, the vast majority are specified as being for arc welding or material handling. As imported, the robots lack welding guns, grippers or other end-of-arm tooling.

Citing rulings under both the HTSUS, and the HTSUS predecessor tariff code, the Tariff Schedules of the United States (TSUS), you contend that even without end-of-arm tooling a manipulator with its controller are within the common meaning of the term industrial robot as “an automatic machine which can be programmed to carry out repeatedly a cycle of movements.” Moreover, each model in an industrial robot series is an incomplete or unfinished article under General Rule of Interpretation (GRI) 2(a), HTSUS, having the essential character of a complete or finished material handling machinery of heading 8428 or an arc welding machine of heading 8515. Alternatively, you contend that each robot and its controller constitute a composite good under GRI 3(b), HTSUS, and that it is the controller that imparts the essential character to the good.

The HTSUS provisions under consideration are as follows:

8428 Other lifting, handling, loading or unloading machinery:

Other machinery

8479 Machines and mechanical appliances having individual functions, not specified or included elsewhere in [chapter 85]:

8479.50.00 Industrial robots, not elsewhere specified or included

8515 Electricsoldering, welding or brazing machines and apparatus:

Machines and apparatus for resistance welding of metal:

8515.21.00 Fully or partly automatic
other basesfor electric control or the distribution of electricity:

For a voltage not exceeding 1,000 V:

8537.10.90 Other


Whether a manipulator and controller, imported together, but without end-of-arm tooling constitutes an incomplete or unfinished good of heading 8428 or 8515; whether the manipulator itself is an incomplete or unfinished good of either heading.


Under General Rule of Interpretation (GRI) 1, Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), goods are to be classified according to the terms of the headings and any relative section or chapter notes, and provided the headings or notes do not require otherwise, according to GRIs 2 through 6. GRI 3(b), HTSUS, states in part that composite goods made up of different components shall be classified as if consisting of the component which gives them their essential character, insofar as this criterion is applicable.

The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System Explanatory Notes (ENs) constitute the official interpretation of the Harmonized System. Though not dispositive, the ENs provide a commentary on the scope of each heading of the Harmonized System. Customs believes the ENs should always be consulted. See T.D. 89-80. 54 Fed. Reg. 35127, 35128 (Aug. 23, 1989).

Section XVI, Note 4, HTSUS, covers machines consisting of individual components (whether separate or interconnected by piping, by transmission devices, by electric cables or by other devices) intended to contribute together to a clearly defined function covered by one of the headings in chapters 84 or 85. The whole, in such cases, is classified in the heading appropriate to that function.

Initially, NY A86781, dated September 17, 1996, is representative of rulings you cite in which Customs has classified manipulator arms and controllers as industrial robots. The cited ruling, however, merely states the robot models at issue, for use in polishing and deburring operations, will be imported with a programmable 200-volt automatic compensation controller. There is no indication in the description that this configuration requires a functional unit analysis.

We agree that a manipulator equipped with welding gun, gripper or other appropriate end-of-arm tooling, imported with its controller, with or without a programming pendant, constitutes a functional unit under Section XVI, Note 4, HTSUS. The whole would be classifiable, in this case, either in heading 8428 or in heading 8515, as appropriate. However, Customs has consistently expressed the opinion that
classification of goods or apparatus as an incomplete or unfinished functional unit is not supported by any HTSUS legal note or by the ENs. See HQ 087077, dated March 27, 1991, HQ 962105, dated April 22, 1999. We have also held that General Explanatory Note (VII) to Section XVI, Note 4, on p. 1228, states that component parts not complying with the terms of Note 4 fall in their own appropriate headings. See HQ 960632, dated October 27, 1997, which stated in part on p.5 “Either an importation of components constitutes a complete functional unit, or each component is separately classifiable in its own appropriate heading.” For this reason, we are unable to accede to your claim as a composite good under GRI 3(b), HTSUS.

A finding that an entire importation fails the functional unit test does not negate the possibility that two or more components within the importation might constitute a functional unit, if the requirements of Section XVI, Note 4, HTSUS, are met. Relevant ENs under (3) on p. 1506 include within heading 8537 apparatus using a programmable memory for the storage of instructions for implementing specific functions such as logic, sequencing, timing, counting and arithmetic, to control through digital or analog input/output modules, various types of machines. In this case, the programming pendant and the controller are individual components connected by a cable that contribute together to the function of electric control or the distribution of electricity appropriate to heading 8537.

The remaining issue is the classification of the articulated arm or manipulator as an incomplete or unfinished good, either of heading 8428 or of heading 8515. You argue that each manipulator is permanently configured for a particular service application by an erasable programmable read-only memory (EPROM) chip installed in the controller. Further, you discount the significance of the end-of-arm tooling which you contend is minimal in size when compared to the main portions of the robot. In our opinion, this argument would be more probative if the controller were incorporated in the manipulator so as to constitute a unitary article of commerce. In this case, however, it is the manipulator itself we are considering and it lacks distinguishing characteristics that would establish its essential character as a good of heading 8428 or 8516.

The ENs, at pp. 1422-1424, include within heading 8479 machines that have individual functions and which are not excluded by an applicable legal note or are more specifically provided for elsewhere in the HTSUS. Mechanical devices have an individual function even if they must be incorporated into a more complex entity, provided this function is distinct from that which is performed by the entity in which it is incorporated. A manipulator must be connected to its controller or have a controller incorporated into it in order to operate, but the specific mechanical function a manipulator performs is distinct from the function performed by the controller. The
manipulators at issue have individual functions for purposes of heading 8479, and are not more specifically described in any other heading of the HTSUS. Further, the ENs include within heading 8479 industrial robots for multiple uses, those capable of performing a variety of functions simply by using different tools. However, the heading excludes industrial robots designed to perform a specific function; these are classified in the heading covering their function. Whether the mechanical units here are characterized as Industrial robots or manipulators, because they lack end-of-arm tooling they are not designed to perform a specific function, but can perform a variety of functions depending of what tool is added. We conclude that the manipulators at issue, imported without end-of-arm tooling, are provided for in heading 8479.


Under the authority of GRI 1 and Section XVI, Note 4, HTSUS, the MRC, MRC II or XRC controller and programming pendant are a functional unit provided for in heading 8537. They are classifiable in subheading 8537.10.90, HTSUS. The manipulator is a machine or mechanical appliance of heading 8479. It is classifiable in subheading 8479.50.00, HTSUS,


John Durant, Director
Commercial Rulings Division

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