Industrial robots are powerful machines capable of automating almost any manufacturing process. Robots are made up of several components that all work together to provide functionality to the robot and add value to a production process. With many components and multiple terms for each one, it can be easy to confuse robotic terminology. Robotic end-effectors and grippers are two component terms that are most often confused with one another.
Robotic end-effectors are a vital component of a robotic system as they give robots the capability to interact with workpieces. End-effectors provide robots with specific functionality and without them robots would not be of any use to a manufacturing application. End-effectors attach to the robot wrist and are considered the “hands” of industrial robots. They are commonly referred to as end of arm tooling or EOAT and these terms can be used interchangeably with one another.
All robotic applications require some form of an end-effector. The type of end-effector selected depends on the application being performed by the robot. For instance, a FANUC Arcmate 120ic would need to be integrated with a welding torch for its EOAT in order to automate a MIG welding application. For a robotic cutting application, a Yaskawa MH50 would be fitted with a cutting tool to remove material from the workpiece. Robotic end-effector types are often categorized into two groups, tooling and grippers. Types of robotic end-effectors in these categories include drills, brushes, paint sprayers, vacuum cups, magnets, and clamps.
Robotic grippers, as mentioned above, comprise a category of robot end-effectors. However, the term gripper is often confused with the term end-effector and many make the mistake of using them interchangeably. These two are not interchangeable as end-effectors refer to all types of end devices integrated with robots, while grippers are simply a category of EOAT. There are three main types of grippers that fall within this category and they are mechanical, vacuum, and magnetic style grippers.
Applications that call for the lifting, touching, manipulating, grabbing, or releasing of objects will require the use of a gripper to make any of these motions feasible for robots. Typically, robotic applications requiring these kinds of movements include material handling, assembly, part transfer, pick and place, packaging, machine loading, and palletizing. Robotic grippers are the most common type of end-effector since they cover a wide range of applications, while those falling within the tooling category are more application specific.
Grippers provide robots with dexterity that is similar to a human’s, allowing them to take on more finer positioning tasks. A Yaskawa HP20 integrated with a two-finger gripper is capable of picking up a tiny pin and placing it within a small opening in an object. Without a gripper the robot would have no means to grab or place the pin. Grippers are not only needed for small part tasks, but also for heavy payload ones too. A FANUC R-2000ib fitted with a parallel clamp style gripper can palletize heavy boxes in preparation for shipping.
Clearing up the confusion between end-effectors and grippers will help users understand when to reference one over the other. It also helps with understanding the functionality of robotic components for successful robot automation.