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Flexible robotic end effectors for redeploying robots

POSTED 01/04/2021

 | By: Mark Patterson, Business Development Manager

Before cobots and other fast-deployable robots, many automated manufacturing cells incorporated only fixed or dedicated tooling rather than solutions that are easily updated. An advantage of fixed automation is that it allows for reliable and high throughput but also tends to be custom engineered towards a specific process. Changes in the workpiece or production process often mean redesigning large sections of the fixed automation system or even starting completely over from scratch. With the onset of robots, flexible automation solutions are being considered in anticipation of unknown future demands. End-of-arm-tooling (EOAT) on robots can be updated to accommodate changes and the robots themselves can be reprogrammed to complete new tasks.

Cobots and other fast deployable robots have made automation even more flexible. These intuitive robots can be programmed in minutes and re-tasked for new operations across the factory floor, resulting in increased productivity. With the wider use of cobots, new types of EOATs should also be considered. End effectors that are flexible in design and can be redeployed in minutes without additional engineering time are ideal for supporting updated manufacturing demands. These flexible gripping systems should be re-deployable together with the robot even multiple times and reconfigured to accommodate new challenges. EOAT changes such as differing quantity, type, and orientation of gripping tools should come as naturally as reprogramming robots.


Implementing a flexible solution up front allows for processes to be changed quickly, easily and inexpensively in the future.

Solutions that allow you to swap out different sizes or styles of grippers easily offer great value for factories that have parts that range widely in weight and dimension. Being able to add multiple grippers to a tool without having to design or machine adapter plates can also be important when choosing the best solution for flexible automation. A multi end-of-arm-tool can help increase production by having an unfinished part in one gripper and picking a finished part with the other and loading immediately after, saving precious seconds over the course of operation. Sometimes more grippers are needed or various orientations such as back to back, offset, or other configurations to avoid robot singularity. Being able to adjust angles of adapter plates on the fly is an advantage when unforeseen interference issues arise. Anything that makes the end effector flexible in design and easily modified can only add to the ease of use of the redeployable robot.


Make your End-of-Arm-Tooling work smarter, not harder!

When a robot needs to be redeployed quickly sometimes there is not enough time to properly evaluate the operation in the same way as the original EOAT. Flexible EOATs can be assembled directly on the end-of-arm often without need for any need for prior CAD modeling. Through trial and error, problems like mechanical interferences or limited robot reach can be easily solved by physically changing or adjusting the tool to fit in the available space. For example, in a CNC lathe loading project, a workpiece being handled from its end rather than from its side could affect the overall space available to the robot to maneuver inside the machine. Sometimes the machine does not have room to accommodate a robot with the gripping tool mounted centrally to its wrist when loading the workpiece into the lathe chuck. Instead, the EOAT may need to be offset from the robot wrist in order to reach inside the machine. Traditionally a custom-designed adapter would need to be created, but with flexible solutions, extensions can be assembled effortlessly for increasing the robot’s reach using standard components. Flexible gripping solutions should also have a flexible finger design so that a standard solution can accommodate as many different parts as possible. Having fingers that can be repositioned on the base jaws of a mechanical gripper is an excellent way to increase the flexibility of a standard end effector. This allows the grip position to be adjusted on the base jaw and allow for a wider range of dimensionally different parts.

Now is the time to think about the processes you have in place and what improvements to downtime, or productivity could be made. If planning for flexibility in the future is your priority, talk through some flexible gripping options, or get ROI advice from the SCHUNK team, who are available to discuss your application and your options.