A line of collaborative tooling products that work seamlessly together can have a dramatic impact on long-term ease-of-use and flexibility, allowing tools to be easily moved between multiple robots and processes with no additional training. New capabilities can also be easily added such as force/torque sensing on a finger gripper. This is ideal for sensitive applications such as placing parts in a blister pack or for precision applications such as inserting a part into a chuck with a defined amount of force or polishing over a contoured surface. Force/torque sensing is also ideal for processes where the robot and humans work collaboratively side-by-side such as a cobot that hands off a part to a human worker for a secondary operation. A collaborative gripper with built-in force/torque capabilities senses the human worker's grasp of the part and automatically releases it, just as another human worker would.

4. Cost-Effective for Fast ROI. Low upfront costs and fast ROI are attractive benefits of collaborative automation, especially for small and mid-sized manufacturers. Because the tool is such a critical aspect of the success of the application, collaborative tools must be simple enough to offer quick success even for operators with no previous robotics experience. These tools minimize the number of cables that could interfere with the robot's actions or cause downtime and must be robust enough for ongoing productivity in an industrial environment running 24/7.

While collaborative automation often pays for itself within months, a line of collaborative tools can continue to build ROI over time. A manufacturer can start with a simple automation process and once workers are comfortable and ROI has been proven, the company can extend the application with more capabilities for greater productivity enhancements. For instance, productivity can be increased over time by a change from a single gripper to a dual-finger gripper, which maximizes cycle time but is as simple to use and program as a single gripper and requires no re-engineering. Similarly, a full line of interoperable collaborative finger and vacuum grippers can be exchanged or combined as needs evolve or sensors can be added for new applications or to enhance quality. Implementing a quick changer nearly eliminates downtime between process changes for additional cost savings.

EoAT Decisions for Common Collaborative Applications

Versatile, collaborative EoAT in packaging applications can be easily redeployed if products or logistics contracts change.

Collaborative automation is designed for easy implementation, even for those who aren't robotics experts. But to maximize success and ROI, it's worth considering what you want to accomplish and what technical capabilities and experience you have in-house. Some applications are more complex than others and may require outside integration help. For most companies, “walk before you run” is good advice. Look at all the processes you're considering automating and start with one of the easiest applications. Even if this isn't your highest-volume or most costly process, you're likely to see significant savings more quickly with a fast success.

Choose a tool that can work across multiple production cells and processes and save programs for quick changes between tasks. Once your employees gain confidence and familiarity with the robot and tool, you can move on to more complex applications. Common applications to start with include machine tending and packaging, which can offer immediate results in terms of increased productivity, agility, and ROI. Each has its own considerations for EoAT decisions.

Machine Tending Applications

Machine tending requires repetitive motion and a high level of consistency, even after hours of work. By automating these processes, you can improve worker safety and ergonomics and make employees available for more valuable tasks. Automation can also increase output and allow production to continue after normal work hours. For example, you may be able to automate processes that can run overnight to have material ready for workers in the morning, which allows you to expand to multiple shifts without adding workers. A tool with customizable fingertips allows the robot to handle components with diverse geometries and high surface finish.

With the right tool, you can also dramatically increase production with a single robot by moving from a single to a dual gripper. A dual gripper decreases cycle times and boosts CNC machine utilization as it is able to handle two objects and actions simultaneously, even highly variable materials.

Packaging Applications

Packaging and palletizing applications can be easily implemented with one cobot and then replicated across similar lines to increase productivity and profitability. With versatile, collaborative EoAT, the robotic application can be easily redeployed if products or logistics contracts change.

With a line of plug-and-produce collaborative grippers, a single robot can also be used for multiple processes. For instance, a finger gripper can be used to pack a box with parts, then can be changed for a vacuum gripper to palletize. Dual grippers can precisely palletize two different shapes and sizes of boxes at the same time and new electric vacuum grippers eliminate the need for an external air supply and hoses. Stacking and packaging tasks that require a human sense of touch can be automated quickly and easily with the addition of force/torque sensing on a finger gripper, which supports even delicate packaging applications such as placing parts in a blister pack.

EoAT Drives Innovation and Results

As collaborative robot arms become commoditized, the innovation occurring around EoAT is enabling manufacturers to deploy robotic technology in new ways and gain new advantages. Collaborative EoAT such as grippers, sensors, and tool changers have become critical elements in the success of collaborative applications such as machine tending and packaging. The more manufacturers understand their EoAT options, the greater the return they will see in output, quality, and profitability.

This article was contributed by OnRobot, Odense, Denmark. For more information, visit here .