CLA-2 RR:CR:GC 962105 JAS
Port Director of Customs
P.O. Box 37260
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53110
RE: Internal Advice 16/98; Industrial Robot Systems Imported With and Without End-of-Arm Tooling
Dear Port Director:
Your memorandum, dated June 8, 1998 (CLA-01-01:MW KK), transmitted a request for internal advice, dated May 18, 1998, from counsel for ABB Flexible Automation, Inc., concerning the classification under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), of work piece positioners and industrial robot systems. Additional facts and legal arguments were presented by letter, dated March 30, 1999. Counsel summarized all relevant arguments at a meeting in our office on April 9, 1999.
The merchandise in issue consists of numerous models of an industrial work piece positioner, and numerous industrial robot systems, each consisting of a robot imported with a model S4C controller. The work piece positioner is imported separately and consists of an articulated structure, similar to an arm, on a base with drilled bolt holes for attachment to a fixed surface. It may be single or dual station and rotates both vertically and horizontally to deliver work pieces to and from one or more stations on an arc welding machine. The industrial robots each consist of an articulated structure, similar to an arm, on a base with drilled bolt holes for attachment to a fixed surface. They have lifting capacities or load ratings from 5 kilograms (11 lbs.) to 1,200 kilograms (2460 lbs.). The robots are imported either with or without end-of-arm tooling which dedicates them to a specific end-use application, such as arc welding, material
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handling, assembling, spraying, deburring and glueing/sealing, among others. The S4C controllers are devices which utilize preprogrammed software that contains specific operating instructions for the robot’s tooling. Each is stand-alone and floor mounted and is connected to its robot by power cables and signal connectors.
Counsel for the internal advice applicant maintains that the work piece positioners are material handling devices of heading 8428, HTSUS, a function described by that heading. This is because they mechanically handle goods, that is, move goods to and away from a welding machine, for example. Counsel maintains that robot systems imported complete with end-of-arm tooling are functional units under Section XVI, Note 4, HTSUS, and are classifiable in the heading appropriate to whatever function the system performs. Counsel maintains further that robot systems imported without end-of-arm tooling are incomplete or unfinished articles and are classifiable according to the essential character of the whole. In both cases, the appropriate heading is dictated by the specific end use application of the system. Counsel contends that robot systems imported without end-of-arm tooling are not precluded from classification as incomplete or unfinished functional units because they consist of a combination of machines that are interconnected by cables, and Note 4 merely requires that they be intended to contribute to a clearly defined function described by a heading in chapter 84 or chapter 85. Alternatively, counsel maintains that robot systems imported without end-of-arm tooling are composite goods classifiable, under GRI 3(b), HTSUS, as if consisting of the component which gives the system its essential character. Counsel states that the mechanical robots and their controllers are never bought and sold, nor imported separately. For example, if a robot malfunctions the company’s practice is to replace the entire system.
Your office is of the opinion that the work piece positioners do not perform a material handling function appropriate to goods of heading 8428, HTSUS; rather, they are mechanical devices that continuously present work pieces to the welding machine and, as such, are provided for in heading 8479, HTSUS, as machines and mechanical appliances not specified or included elsewhere in [chapter 84].
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Whether the work place positioners are described by heading 8428; whether the components of a robot system imported without end-of-arm tooling are composite goods classifiable in accordance with GRI 3(b) or are classifiable separately.
The provisions under consideration are as follows:
8428 Other lifting, handling, loading or unloading machinery...
* * * *
8479 Machines and mechanical appliances having individual functions, not specified or included elsewhere in [chapter 84]...
* * * *
8515 ...magnetic pulse or plasma arc soldering, brazing or welding machines and apparatus, whether or not capable of cutting...
* * * *
8524 Records, tapes and other recorded media for sound or other similarly recorded phenomena, including matrices and masters for the production of records...
* * * *
8537 Boards, panels, consoles, desks, cabinets and other bases...for electric control or the distribution of electricity...:
LAW AND ANALYSIS:
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.
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GRI 3(b) 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. Chapter 85, Note 6, HTSUS, states that records, tapes and other media of heading 8523 or 8524 remain classified in those headings, whether or not they are entered with the apparatus for which they are intended.
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 and Customs believes the ENs should always be consulted. See T.D. 89-80. 54 Fed. Reg. 35127, 35128 (Aug. 23, 1989).
Concerning the work piece positioners, counsel cites the 84.28 ENs on pp. 1296 and 1298, and notes that the heading covers a wide range of machinery for the mechanical handling of materials, goods, etc., and likens the function of the work piece positioners to that of conveyors of heading 8428 used for moving goods, usually in a horizontal direction, sometimes over very long distances. Counsel states that because the work piece positioners are described by the terms of heading 8428 they are specified or included elsewhere in chapter 84. For this reason, counsel concludes they are not provided for in heading 8479. We disagree. In HQ 957460, dated April 26, 1995, we held that nut feeders, devices for mechanically delivering nuts to a spot welding machine, were not material handling machines of heading
8428. We noted that standard dictionaries were not helpful in defining the term handling as it relates to machinery of that heading. Because the work piece positioners in issue here are not conveyors, the 84.28 EN discussion of conveyors on p. 1298 does little to resolve the issue. It remains unclear whether work piece positioners are truly material handling machinery for purposes of heading 8428. However, on p. 1423 under (l) MACHINERY OF GENERAL USE the 84.79 ENs, at paragraph (3), list mechanical distributors for continuous presentation of work pieces in the same alignment ready for the working operation, not specialized for any particular industry. Submitted product literature states the various work piece positioners in issue are used with arc welding systems. But, we concluded in HQ 957460 that welding is a process and does not denote a particular industry. As we did in that decision, we conclude that the work piece positioners in issue here are more akin by function to the cited description in the 84.79 ENs.
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We agree with counsel that robot systems, each consisting of a robot with end-of-arm tooling for a specific service application, and an S4C controller with software containing instructions compatible with that service application, constitute a functional unit under Section XVI, Note 4, HTSUS. The whole, minus the software, is classifiable in the heading appropriate to whatever function the system is designed to perform. Exceptions to this would be systems designed for glueing/sealing and for assembly applications. Machines that perform these functions are generally classified in heading 8479. However, we have consistently held that functional units cannot be classified in heading 8479 as that heading does not describe any machine by a clearly defined function. See HQ 958629, dated February 21, 1996, and related cases. For this reason, we will address the classification of robot systems for gluing/sealing and for assembly operations later in this ruling. The software in all cases remains separately classified in heading 8524, in accordance with Chapter 85, Note 6, HTSUS.
We conclude that robot systems, each consisting of a robot without end-of-arm tooling, but with an S4C controller and software compatible with a specific service application do not constitute functional units under section XVI, Note 4, HTSUS. See HQ 087077, dated March 27, 1991, HQ 957150, dated January 30, 1995, HQ 960632, dated October 27, 1997, and related cases. Counsel’s alternative claim is that the robot systems, as described, qualify as composite goods under GRI 3(b), HTSUS, and are thus classifiable as if consisting of that component which imparts the essential character. Relative ENs under (IX) on p. 4 state in part that composite goods may include those with separable components, provided the components are adapted one to the other and are mutually complementary and that together they form a whole which would not normally be offered for sale in separate parts. In this case, counsel maintains the components of these systems are always imported together, that the individual components are never imported separately. For example, if a robot were to malfunction the entire system would be replaced. In our opinion, evidence of how one company structures its importations is not conclusive of how the goods are normally imported or bought and sold. On the contrary, we are informed that industrial robots and process controllers are often imported separately. The available evidence does not support a conclusion that industrial robots without end-of-arm tooling and their controllers qualify as composite goods for tariff purposes. For this reason, the components must be separately classified.
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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. The S4C controllers conform to this description. 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 robot must be connected to its controller or have a controller incorporated into it in order to operate, but the specific mechanical function a robot performs is distinct from the function performed by the controller. The robots in 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. Industrial robots without end-of-arm tooling are not designed to perform a specific function, but can perform a variety of functions depending of what tool is added. The robots in issue imported without end-of-arm tooling are provided for in heading 8479.
Under the authority of GRI 1, the work piece positioners are provided for in heading 8479. They are classifiable in subheading 8479.89.97, HTSUS.
Under GRI 1, industrial robot systems, other than glueing/sealing systems and assembly systems, each consisting of a robot with end-of-arm tooling which dedicates them to a specific end use service application, and a model S4C controller, are functional units under Section XVI, Note 4, classifiable in the heading appropriate to that function.
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Under GRI 1, the components of industrial robot systems, each consisting of a robot without end-of-arm tooling and a model S4C controller, are separately classifiable, in subheading 8479.50.00, HTSUS, as industrial robots not elsewhere specified or included, and in subheading 8537.10.90, HTSUS, as other bases for electric control or the distribution of electricity, respectively. The components of the glueing/sealing system and the assembly system are similarly classifiable.
In all cases, the preprogrammed software the S4C controller utilizes is classified in appropriate subheadings of heading 8524, in accordance with Chapter 85, Note 6, HTSUS.
You are to mail this decision to the internal advice applicant, through its representative, no later than 60 days from the date of this letter. On that date the Office of Regulations and Rulings will take steps to make the decision available to Customs personnel, and to the public on the Customs Home Page on the World Wide Web at www.customs.ustreas.gov, by means of the Freedom of Information Act, and other methods of public distribution.
John Durant, Director
Commercial Rulings Division