By Thomas Knudsen, general manager Northern Europe, OnRobot
Within a diverse and innovative sector like the manufacturing industry, flexibility is key.
Robotics, a key enabler of this, has already taken this industry by storm, allowing factories worldwide to automate more and more tasks, cutting costs and increasing productivity.
However, simple automation is no longer enough. Manufacturers now require unique automation solutions for each specific production environment, to tackle the talent shortage they are facing, but can’t redesign facilities for every different process and application.
Therefore, companies must choose the correct robot accessories to optimise the automation opportunity and maximise its value.
The solution is the adoption of end-of-arm tools. End-of-arm tooling devices, or EOATs, are usually fitted at the end of a robotic arm to perform a range of tasks.
This seemingly small part of the robot plays, in fact, a key role in its effectiveness. But how are end-of-arm tools bringing value to manufacturing businesses?
Revolutionising the factory
EOAT’s are a total game changer when it comes to the robot’s performance and flexibility. Grippers and other intelligent tools that accessorise the robot can make or break the efficiency of the automation process.
For example, robot grippers can deftly handle various materials, while robust sensors generate alarms to correct a robot’s positioning.
Tool changers allow for quick and easy switching from one tool to another, enabling the robot to adjust to different item types and phases of the production cycle.
Some of today’s most ground-breaking grippers have a sense of sight and touch, which allows them to see and feel objects using built-in force or torque sensing.
These features can not only further increase the amount of diverse applications the robot can have, but also improve its precision exponentially.
End-of-arm tools also enable collaborative applications: they create a two-way information exchange between tools and robots, allowing more efficient operations and increased production.
Moreover, manufacturers can now access the robots remotely and diagnose problems online.
Intelligent EOAT’s with smart hardware and software help collect and analyse data to deliver feedback and increase capabilities.
With the current focus on IoT hardware and big data, collaborative robots which feed into this can contribute significantly to a manufacturer’s productivity analysis.
Pick and place
An area where end-of-arm tools are also demonstrating their outstanding value is pick and place.
This part of the manufacturing process has been automated for years, but there was always space for improvement in terms of picking and placing certain items with the adequate force.
Products in the technology industry such as smartphones or tablets required a more delicate approach to avoid damage, which today’s smart grippers can deliver, by detecting the nature of each item and adapting their grip.
As well as this, intelligent grippers can be used in the food packaging sector to gently handle extremely frail products, such as wafers, while keeping them intact.
High time for adoption
As technology continues to drive transformation across industries, companies must consider automation to reduce costs and improve operational flexibility.
Businesses that continue using traditional methods, such as fabricating unique tools for specific manufacturing tasks, 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 customised to carry out a multitude of different tasks in a series of diverse environments within the manufacturing process.
So, the businesses which don’t implement these revolutionary tools will be left behind by their more forward-thinking competitors.
About the author: Thomas Knudsen is general manager, Northern Europe for OnRobot, a provider of end-of-arm tooling for industrial robots.