As the team at Techgen Media Group sees more and more fabricators place robots and cobots on their shop floors, we wondered: How does a new adopter know which end effectors they need to augment their newly automated operations?
To make heads or tails of the various options, we spoke with Kristian Hulgard, general manager of the Americas at OnRobot, a maker of end effectors also referred to as end-of-arm tooling (EOAT). His company has been creating the tools needed for successful automation deployments since the launch of OnRobot and its two initial plug-and-play electric grippers in 2015.
FAB Shop: For companies that are new to automation, where is a good place to start?
Hulgard: The best place to start is actually with our D:Ploy software and OnRobot’s focus on applications, rather than our extensive range of EOAT and other hardware components. Here’s why:
Inside every great industrial robot cell is great software – and it’s on the software side that OnRobot has made pioneering progress. D:Ploy software is a gamechanger for automation deployments and the culmination of our mission to make automation accessible to all, even small companies with no prior robotics experience.
The software, which is currently available for palletizing, transferring, CNC and packaging applications with more applications coming, automates the process of getting a robotic application up and running, allowing deployment directly on the manufacturing floor – with zero programming and zero simulations required. The industry’s first automated platform for building, running, monitoring and re-deploying collaborative applications, D:Ploy enables complete applications to be deployed in just a few hours.
D:Ploy automatically discovers most of the installed hardware and generates the robot motion based on the obstacles and cell boundaries defined in the workspace. The program logic, signals exchange, event handling and robot movement are automatically created for the entire application based on a few inputs, such as cell boundaries, workpiece attributes and pick position.
From the EOAT perspective, D:Ploy means that EOAT and robots can be seen as “one” on the software side in ways that just haven’t been possible until now, as the software works with all major robot arm brands. It automates the robot deployment process across the entire cell including the robot arm and EOAT.
The era of spending hours trying to get your EOAT installed and working correctly with your robot arm is over. Automation deployments that were once measured in weeks and days are now measured in hours, resulting in massive time savings compared to conventional deployments.
Can you give an example of what users can expect after deploying the software?
For palletizing applications, the initial deployment by an integrator using conventional methods can take up to 40 hours. With D:Ploy, it can be done in three hours. Similarly, the re-deployment for palletizing takes 17 hours conventionally but 2.5 hours with D:Ploy. Likewise, for CNC machine tending applications, a traditional deployment takes 36 hours. With D:Ploy, it’s reduced to 6 hours.
D:Ploy also includes remote monitoring and diagnostics features, which provides automatic data collection from any leading robot and all OnRobot tools for real-time and historic views and alerts. This software turns raw robot data into easy to read, customizable KPIs, accessed via an intuitive interface.
It’s important to note that OnRobot takes an application-centric approach to solving production challenges and that this is driven by manufacturer’s experience.
Manufacturers are problem solvers, and they turn to automation to solve specific challenges they are facing in their processes. Labor shortages, particularly in manual machine tending, finishing and palletizing tasks, are driving a lot of this automation adoption. These roles are getting harder to fill, and manufacturers need automation that is affordable and easy to deploy right out of the box. Rather than thinking about the grippers or other EOAT first, manufacturers tend to come to us and to our global integration partners with a specific application in mind.
In many cases, this is because manufacturers have to fill a position, say in a palletizing or deburring role, immediately just to keep production going.
In situations like these, our customers don’t have time to waste exploring different EOAT, and deployments that can take days, weeks or even longer. Companies need effective, safe, affordable and complete solutions to their manufacturing challenges. And they need solutions that are easy to deploy right out of the box. D:Ploy captures all of this by providing a complete, easy-to-deploy robotic application, but application-centric thinking runs through all our offerings.
What are the different types or categories of EOAT and what applications are they best suited for?
Guided by feedback from manufacturers, we separate our EOAT and other solutions, which includes sensors, software, mounting and toolchanging, and accessories, into five main application groups: machine tending, material removal, material handling, quality and assembly.
Much of our EOAT can be used across several application domains whereas others are highly specialized.
For example, our dual gripper setup is a popular choice for machine tending tasks, essentially cutting cycle time in half. But, it is also often used in other material handling applications, as well.
Meanwhile, the OnRobot Sander is EOAT designed specifically for sanding, buffing and polishing applications. Built-in software tools combined with a force sensor ensures that consistent force is applied, producing the same finish every time. Even the grit changing process is automated, which ensures 24/7 sanding availability.
For quality and other vision-based applications, OnRobot Eyes is a 2.5-D camera system with one-shot calibration, fast programming and seamless gripper integration.
For material handling applications, you might select the VGP20 electric vacuum gripper for palletizing cardboard boxes, or, for a solution that can handle metal sheets, you would likely select our MG10 – a versatile, easy-to-use magnetic gripper that provides unique adjustable force and grip detection features for unprecedented levels of control.
It’s important to note that OnRobot’s entire range of EOAT is all-electric. There are no pneumatics to integrate (and service). No air lines trailing through the cell. No external compressors to worry about. Not only does this make our EOAT easier to install and maintain than the alternatives, it makes the tooling smarter, too.
In the case of the MG10, for example, the gripper will hold onto the item even in the event of a power outage or emergency stop. But the intelligence goes even further; our range of all-electric EOAT feeds real-time data to our software – data that can be used for analytics, performance tweaks and scheduling maintenance.
Are there guidelines to follow to determine when to choose a classic gripper versus a vacuum gripper, for example?
If you are at all unsure about the best gripper to use for your application, visit our website and explore the section of our website called OnRobot Learn. The Applications section of the OnRobot website is another great place to start exploring your options. There you will find links to how-to videos and even find gripper suggestions for your application.
If you decide to handle all the integration and gripper selection in-house, there are a few brief guidelines to keep in mind. For many applications, such as sanding or screwdriving, there is highly specialized EOAT built to meet the demands of the specific task. Selecting the right EOAT for these applications is relatively straightforward.
For other applications, such as those requiring a gripper, selecting the right one can be more challenging due to the variety of grippers available.
The first items to consider are the dimensions, weight and materials of the items the gripper will be handling. For example, you need a different gripper for small, irregularly shaped items than you need for heavy metal items. You might use a powerful electric vacuum gripper like the VGP20 with suction cups for palletizing applications that involve handling cardboard boxes with heavy items. But, for smaller, lighter palletizing applications, you might select one of our smaller grippers.
Armed with that information, you can start narrowing down your gripper choice. The main technical specifications to keep in mind are payload, the load the gripper will be handling; force, how much force is required to perform the task; weight of the gripper itself; and the energy source, electric or pneumatic, for example.
On average, how many end effectors do your customers invest in? Is there a recommended method for storing them when not in use?
Our customers typically invest in one to two grippers per robot arm, but a lot depends on the types of application. The same gripper could be used across a wide range of palletizing tasks, for example, but you’ll need different EOAT to get the same robot working on screwdriving applications.
Our tools can handle multiple parts and products, but we do see a lot of customers return when they are ready to deploy their robot on a new application. All our EOAT is maintenance-free, so as long as you store it in an environment that meets the temperature and IP rating in the product spec sheet, you’re good to go.
For a company that is involved with high-mix, low-volume fabricating, would you recommend one of OnRobot’s quick-change tools?
Yes. Quick Changer is a perfect match for high-mix, low-volume manufacturing environments and across all applications that incorporate OnRobot EOAT and all leading robot brands. This is because it enables EOAT to be switched in 5 sec. flat, so production lines can keep running even when there is a regular product mix.
The Quick Changer can handle a 20-kg or roughly 44-lb. payload, and it comes with a safe, easy-to-use locking mechanism that enables tool changes without screwing – all of which makes for speedy automation deployments – and re-deployments – and quickens ROI.
Does OnRobot offer training and, if so, what is the learning curve like?
It’s like pickleball; you figure it out the first time you try it, especially if you use D:Ploy.
The learning curve for deploying a complete industrial robot cell is miniscule. It is not uncommon for people with no previous robotics experience to get a simple pick-and-place application running in a matter of hours.
Finally, OnRobot Learn is a fantastic, free resource for learning all about collaborative applications. It has resources for those using our D:Ploy software and for those who prefer manual programming.