Maximizing the Impact of End-of- Arm Tools

Whether it’s handling something as delicate as cherry tomatoes, machine tending, or moving steel car parts there are a variety of specialized end-of-arm tools to meet demands in any industry.

Choosing the right one seems obvious, but let’s get a look at end effectors from the viewpoint of the engineers who design them. What decisions do they face and how do they create such a wide range of tools?

Handling an array of products isn’t the only consideration when building functionality. Safety is important because people and robots are collaborating more closely than ever.

Multi-Function Performance

In aerospace, end-of-arm tools are used to drill, fill, and buck as noted in the article Aerospace Manufacturing on Board with Robots as Kuka robots are used to build jets. The robots, able to function at any angle, work on both sides of the airplane’s fuselage to drill, countersink holes, insert fasteners, and rivet.

Materials handling has seen breakthroughs with end-of-arm tools. Many robots mimic the movements of human hands with finger-like grippers, but are you aware of one that looks like a ball?

A webinar viewable on the Robotic Industries Association’s webinar page show the dramatic changes that have occurred with innovations like the Versaball, developed by Empire Robotics. The company’s breakthrough product emerged from research conducted through Cornell University.

Versaball handles objects that don’t have a consistent surface and there are no pinch points as shown in a demonstration video. It’s used in a variety of industries including food and automotive.

Specialized end-of-arm tooling is nearly eliminated and it makes producing short runs of a product an affordable task. This particular gripper uses sand-like material. Gripping action for different weights and shapes happens as air is blown into the ball to soften the material that hardens and grips when the air is drawn out.

Creating a gripper means there has to be a lot known about the part itself, including where to pick it up and how much force is needed. In the age of mass customization, when consumers are demanding products that have unique specifications, flexible robots with grippers that are easy to change are growing in demand.

Fail-Safe Performance

Safety remains important as people and robots continue to collaborate and this need has created another innovation in end-of-arm tools.

One of the first grippers made specifically for human-robot collaboration was introduced in early 2016. The Zimmer R800 gripper series has no sharp edges, and as part of the anti-crushing protection the fingers will disconnect from the gripper automatically when exceeding a defined force. After it’s been tripped, the gripper is easy to manually reset.

Gripper designs are responding to the marketplace. As noted in the webinar, end users want both complex and simple solutions. Changing the tool and programming it have to be easy. This makes robots more cost-effective when the end effector can be changed depending on the function. Instead of purchasing multiple robots to handle different tasks, one robot or robotic arm that can be fit with different grippers lets a small to mid-size company diversify product lines at little additional cost.

Specific developments with something like end-of-arm tools can bring new life to manufacturers who want to take big leaps forward in their businesses. Stay on top of research, trends, and products through information gathered and presented on A3.