Companies require unique automation solutions for their specific production environment, but they can’t constantly redesign their facilities for every new and different process and application. That’s why it’s crucial that manufacturers choose the optimal set of robotic accessories to maximize automation value. The appropriate accessories can help turn an entire production lifecycle into a seamless process – from purchase and installation to operations and redevelopment.
End-of-arm tooling, or EOAT, is one of those accessory solutions. Fitted at the end of a robotic arm to perform a wide range of tasks, robot grippers, for example, can deftly handle various materials, while robust sensors generate alerts to correct a robot’s positioning and tool changers allow for quick and easy switching from one tool to another. When fitted with these advanced tools, robots become intelligent objects capable of sensing, acting and behaving within smart manufacturing environments.
Intelligent robotic accessories offer the innovation, expertise and precision that smart manufacturing requires. These technologies are changing the economics of manufacturing, e-commerce and agriculture as industries increasingly leverage the built-in technology and intelligence of EOAT to considerably reduce production costs and efforts.
According to a study from Technavio on the EOAT market from 2016 to 2020, EOAT is expected to grow to a $9.2 billion industry by 2020, a surge that’s in line with the rising adoption of robotic automation. And, in 2018, the International Federation of Robotics issued a report stating that about 630,000 robot units will be supplied to factories around the world in 2021, representing an annual growth rate of 14 percent.
EOAT enables businesses to take on new applications because robots are more efficient when accessorized with EOAT for custom-tailored solutions. These intelligent tools have a significant impact on the robot’s performance and flexibility. In fact, automation process efficiency is highly dependent on the grippers and other intelligent tools that interface with the robot.
As an example, the Swedish machine shop FT Produktion installed a flexible robotic cell featuring a UR5 cobot from Universal Robots, two RG2 robot grippers from OnRobot and a ProFeeder modular system from EasyRobotics.
The RG2 2-kg payload robot arm gripper, like the type adopted at FT Produktion, is flexible, quick to deploy, and easy to customize and program. Ideal for a range of applications, customized fingertips provide great gripping flexibility and customers can use just one tool for different parts of their production needs.
The gripper can also be described as intelligent thanks to its automatic detections that remove the need for manually programming. The fingertips of the gripper can be easily customized, fitting the product shape for stable gripping. Furthermore, automatic depth compensation ensures the gripper’s fingers sweep in parallel across work surfaces. Thanks to pre-integrated software, employees with no technical background can set it up.
Because of these features, FT Produktion experienced quick results. Almost immediately, the sales department could accommodate orders with much higher volumes and shorter delivery times – without asking employees to work overtime.
“I would like to see more robots here,” says Mikael Andersson, machinist at FT Produktion. Andersson, who is now freed up from monotonous machine tending tasks, can be reallocated to do more value-added work.
In fact, the cell reached its return on investment in just nine months. “It’s one of the best business decisions we’ve ever made,” says Joakim Karlberg, owner of FT Produktion.
Overall, modern grippers and force/torque sensors, such as the type being employed at FT Produktion, prove that the potential of intelligent robotic accessories is enormous. With collaborative applications, businesses want more than just efficient automation from machines. They also want to access the robots remotely and diagnose problems online. Intelligent EOAT with smart hardware and software helps companies collect and analyze data to deliver feedback and increase capabilities.
Easy to adapt
Like FT Produktion, Tomenson Machine Works based in Chicago, also garnered major productivity enhancements by leveraging EOAT from OnRobot. Tomenson is a third-generation, family-owned manufacturer of precision hydraulic manifolds that is constantly focused on continuous improvement. The company turned to collaborative automation in its pin-stamping application to improve quality, profitability and worker satisfaction.
For Tomenson’s needs, OnRobot’s RG6 gripper was the EOAT of choice as it can handle dozens of different part sizes with fast and easy changeovers. It also sets the stage for ongoing automation in potential applications, such as CNC tending, deburring and packaging. When Tomenson first looked at repetitive tasks ripe for automation, the job of placing parts in a pin stamper for engraving was low-hanging fruit.
“Operating the engraver is tedious,” says Geoffrey Rose, secondary operations lead and quality supervisor at Tomenson. “It’s not often that people say, ‘Yay, I’m going to go run the engraver for eight hours.’”
Fortunately, automating the tending of the pin stamper was a straightforward process for the Chicago-based company’s first foray into automation. Despite the hundreds of part sizes going through the pin stamper, the RG6 is an adaptive gripper that’s able to handle a wide range of units.
“We liked OnRobot’s RG6 gripper for this application because we realized it could handle our biggest and smallest parts going into the pin stamper and wouldn’t require any extra programming or machining of extra grippers or end effectors,” says operations manager Alex Roake, who deployed the gripper on a UR3 collaborative robot arm from Universal Robots.
The tools and accessories fitted on and around robots make or break a robot’s effectiveness.
EOAT communicates two-way information exchanges between tools and robots that enable efficient operations and increase production. Some high-precision grippers use built-in technology that allows them to mimic human fingertips.
EOAT pushes the limits of human interaction. In fact, modern grippers are so sophisticated that they can even handle the fragile silicon wafers used in manufacturing computer processors, relying on force/torque sensors to locate and detect an object’s presence for greater accuracy.
These sensitive grippers are used in manufacturing processes that require the application of a precise force to achieve high-quality results. Applications, such as surface finishing, packaging and palletizing, machine tending and assembly, not only require precision, but also the ability to customize tasks based on batch size and subsequent necessities. This unique capability has also allowed enterprises of all sizes to introduce the right EOAT into their production line.
Businesses that continue using traditional methods to fabricate unique tools for specific manufacturing tasks, for example, are at a significant disadvantage because of the high cost and inflexible nature of this approach. In comparison, grippers, sensors and other flexible application-focused solutions can be customized to handle different shapes, sizes and materials.
These flexible, highly versatile tools can be seamlessly integrated into various production environments, thus shortening production cycles, reducing downtime and saving on the bottom line.
As technology continues driving transformation across industries, companies must consider automation to reduce costs and improve operational flexibility. To achieve this, robotic accessories need to be smarter as they are crucial in executing collaborative applications. Bringing intelligent technologies and tools to the forefront allows companies to meet the growing demand for industrial mechanization – and with a shorter learning curve, this empowers all enterprises to dream big with automation.