Robots In Manufacturing And Their Use Of End Effectors

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End effectors are devices that are attached to the wrist of a robot. Another name for an end effector is end of arming tool (EOAT). They can act as robot peripheral accessories or devices because they do not need to be installed into the robot's arm. An end effector allows the robot to interact with its tasks. Many of the robotic operations require the use of EOATs, without them, a robot may be unable to perform even the simplest tasks.

Many end effectors are either mechanical or electromechanical. Although they often look the same, they have different functions and modes of operation. Some may function as grippers, others as sensors and others as, process tools. Simple end processors may perform simple tasks like picking up objects and placing them in another. These are often performed by two-fingered grippers. A complex EOATs however, may deal with the more difficult tasks such as advanced sensory systems.

Basic Types Of End Effectors

Grippers

These are the most common end effectors. There are different types of grippers. Grippers are probably the most diverse type of end effectors. The most popular being the fingered grippers. These mostly vary from 2-5 fingers although some may have 6 or more. Other types include; vacuum, magnetic and needle grippers.

Despite their humble use, gripper EOATs can perform very useful tasks such as picking up objects and placing them in another area. They are also useful for assembly, especially for manufacturing companies. They can also manipulate objects and tend to machines as needed.

Process Tools

These are not any less diverse than the grippers and different process tools serve different purposes. They serve mainly in the manufacturing industry.

Unlike grippers, they do not simply perform menial tasks. They can change actual processes. From welding to 3D printing, to painting etc, robots with process tools can achieve a lot.

Sensors

Certain operations in the manufacturing industry require the use of robots to reduce hands-on tasks as much as possible. Sensors are one way of enabling robots to perform these tasks. They are useful tools especially for certain operations that require the use of robots designed to perform sensor oriented tasks. They are useful for collecting data that would have otherwise been tedious to collect and analyse manually.

There are different types of sensors that serve as end effectors such as ultrasonic, 2D and 3D cameras, infrared and laser sensors.

How To Determine The Best End Effector For Your Needs

With so many options available, how can you decide what end effector is best to meet specific needs? When deciding which EOATs are best you must first consider several factors. At the core of analysing the different factors, one thing remains constant i.e. specificity. Only with a specific mindset will a specific requirement be met. Some specifics to consider include

What are the specific needs of the company? Does the company need to assemble materials or print 3D materials using robots?

Which type of end effector will best serve these needs? Will a gripper, process tool or sensor work best.

After the type of EOAT has been settled on, what other specific features will be considered. For example, if their company has settled on a gripper, it may need to narrow it down to a vacuum or a magnetic gripper. 

How To Pick An End Effector

Picking an EOAT will come into play when all other factors are considered and something specific determined. Various factors will determine the choice made.

Cost

Any decision made will be determined by the financial ability of the decision-maker. The best choice in most cases is the affordable choice. In some cases, however, a company may opt to invest in an expensive end effector rather than a cheaper one because of the quality desired.

Preference

Any choice must be based on what appeals to the needs and wants of the company. In such cases, preferences will come before function. Some tasks can be performed by different types of robot end effectors which would make choices lean more towards preference.

How To Use A Robot End Effector

The general patterns of how EOATs work may be similar but when it comes to the finer details,  operations may be slightly different. Each end effector will have different protocols of communication, the programming interfaces used may also differ. Different levels of expertise will also be required to get the robot end effectors running.

In most cases, however, there are 4 basic steps to set up and use an EOAT.

Begin by mounting up the end effector onto the wrist of the robot.

Ensure that all power connections are correctly attached. These connections may be electric, hydraulic, pneumatic etc.

Connect the communication interfaces between the controller of the robot and the EOAT. Ensure that it is operational.

Ensure that the programming of the end effector is incorporated into the robot's program. In the past, this is the hardest step. Nowadays there are many software options available to use that make the incorporation simple and fast.

Control And Design Of End Effectors

Controls of robot end effectors are mostly done by robot controllers or computers. The simplicity or complexity of the controls will differ, however, based on the type of EOAT used. A simple one for example may use a more discrete control form while a complex system that needs to send more information to the robot may need to use industrial protocols of communication.

Designs of different EOATs will differ based on their type and specific roles.  Some companies may need their EOATs customized to allow them to perform tasks properly and effectively. Having designs customized will increase the cost but it is a worthwhile investment of the cost of failure is considered. Companies that do not have specific needs may rely on off the shelf effectors to perform the tasks effectively.

Wrapping Up

Robot end-effectors are essential tools for companies and businesses that use robots for regular tasks. They are cost-friendly in the long run because they generally reduce costs and increase efficiency.



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