A robotic end-effector generally refers to any device that can be installed to a robot wrist. The term end-effector is commonly interchanged with the term end-of-arm-tooling or EOAT for short. End-effectors are the devices that give robots the capability to interact with their environment and perform specific applications. Think of them as the “hands” of industrial robots. End-effectors play a vital role in robotics because without them robots would not have the functionality needed to perform the many types of robotic applications. Robot end-effector technology has helped widen the scope of robotic applications to incorporate more complex and sophisticated processes.
Types of Robotic End-EffectorsThe types and structure of an end-effector integrated with a robot is dependent upon the task or type of application being performed. End-effectors are typically broken down into two categories; robotic grippers and tooling.
Robotic grippers are the most common of the two categories. They tend to be more cost-effective and can be deployed for a number of applications including assembly, palletizing, pick and place, machine tending, among many others. Robotic grippers may use mechanical, suction, or magnetic sources for the handling and manipulation of parts. A FANUC LR Mate 200id can be integrated with a small gripper to perform tabletop assembly applications. Mechanical grippers include types such as parallel and finger grippers. Parallel grippers consist of two sides of jaws that when closed parallel to one another can enclose or grasp objects. For this style of gripper, parts typically need to be uniform and regular shaped for optimal results.
For parts that are oddly shaped or delicate a finger style gripper can be deployed. Finger style grippers can range from two to five fingers; however, two or three fingers are the most common for industrial robots. These grippers provide greater flexibility since they can accommodate various part types and can provide gentle handling of sensitive parts. The FANUC M-10ia is ideal for integrating a finger style gripper for part transfer applications.
Vacuum style grippers can also be utilized for the lifting and transferring of delicate objects since they incorporate suction cups and air pressure to pick up and release parts. A FANUC M-710ic/50 is an example of a robot commonly integrated with vacuum grippers for material handling processes. Magnetic style grippers are popular amongst the automotive industry since their parts are composed of metals, allowing for the quick lifting and releasing of objects. Magnetic grippers are the most limited since they can only be used on ferrous materials.
The devices composing the tooling category of end-effectors are more application specific than the ones in the gripper category. Devices falling under this category include welding torches, cutters, drills, paint sprayers, and sanders to name a few. The task being automated by an industrial robot will dictate the type of tooling end-effector to be deployed. A Motoman MA1400 utilized for arc welding applications will need a welding torch for its tooling device. While the ABB IRB 4600 is popular for material removal processes and can be integrated with a cutting tool for cutting applications or a sander if being deployed for robotic sanding. Other robot applications requiring tooling end-effectors include milling, deburring, polishing, grinding, drilling, painting, sealing, dispensing, coating, and buffing.