Robotic material handling involves using industrial robots to lift, hold, move, or reposition workpieces. Material handling encompasses the largest category of robotic applications including automated assembly, pick and place, part transfer, packaging, palletizing, and machine tending. Many general-purpose robots are ideal for automating material handling processes including the FANUC R-2000ib and Yaskawa Motoman MH24. Automating material handling applications with industrial robots increases productivity, speeds up cycle times, and improves the overall efficiency of a manufacturing process. However, there are additional measures that can be taken to optimize a robotic material handling application in order to realize the full benefits of automation.
Grippers are the type of end-effector integrated with industrial robots for material handling automation. Ensuring you have selected a gripper that is compatible with the workpieces involved with your application is key for optimization. The most common types of grippers utilized for material handling are mechanical grippers, vacuum grippers, and magnetic grippers. Mechanical grippers feature a claw or finger-like design. Claw-style grippers are best for oddly shaped or heavy objects. While finger-style grippers typically feature a soft rubber exterior for handling sensitive objects. Vacuum gripper utilize suction cups to grab objects. These robotic grippers can handle a variety of parts, even delicate ones. Magnetic grippers are limited to metal workpieces only, which is why they are heavily utilized in the automotive industry. If your material handling application involves a high mix of part types, integrating your robot with a tool changer can allow for different grippers to be quickly switched out. This ensures the appropriate gripper type is used for each part while avoiding interruptions for EOAT changes.
Integrating vision systems with robots is becoming the standard for material handling automation. A vision system provides visual feedback to an articulated robot, essentially providing it with the sense of sight. With vision robots are able to distinguish different part types, verify parts, and locate parts. Robots with vision systems are able to automate more complex material handling applications and quickly adapt to changes. With a vision system the FANUC Lr Mate 200ic can automate material handling applications with a high degree of variability including different types of parts and part locations. Vision systems also improve the accuracy of robots which can be helpful in material handling when six axis robots may have to interact with other objects, equipment, or machinery.
Adding collision detection to your material handling robot can help prevent your robot from colliding with parts, equipment, fixtures, or other structures. Since material handling robots may need to interact with conveyors, workstations, or fixed machinery collision detection can be beneficial for protecting your robot and the EOAT from damage due to a collision with one of those objects. Collision detection is also beneficial for preventing interference in a multi-robot material handling process. Collision detection sensors are able to measure unusual force or torque as well as when contact is made with another object. The sensors can then alert the robot’s control system to slow down or completely stop operation altogether to prevent damage to the robot, workpieces, or other equipment.
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