Robotic Tooling

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Robot tooling is a critical component of an industrial robot. Tooling is the equipment that allows the FANUC M-10ia and other articulated robots to interact with workpieces and the work environment. It is what gives an industrial robot a specific functionality. Tooling can also be changed to give a robotic manipulator a different function in order to accommodate different applications.

In robotics tooling is usually referred to as a robot’s EOAT (end of arm tooling) or end-effector. Both terms feature the word “end” because a robot’s tooling is typically integrated to the end of the industrial robotic arm, attached to its wrist. Robotic tooling is essentially the “hand” of the robot. Without it the Yaskawa MA1440 could not weld or the Universal UR10 would not be able to transfer parts. Tooling allows manufacturing robot arms to perform programmed applications.

Tooling Categories

There are three main robot tooling categories. These are grippers, process tools, and sensors. Robotic grippers are the most versatile category of robot tooling and because of its versatility it is the most common. As the name of this category implies, grippers allow robot manipulators to grip objects. Robots integrated with grippers are typically used to automate material handling processes as grippers allow robots to pick up, handle, manipulate, grasp, and release parts. Within the gripper category are several different types. These include bag, vacuum, finger, and magnetic grippers.

Process tools are more application specific. They are basically power tools but instead of being held by a human they are attached to an industrial robot arm. Process tools for robots include weld torches, drills, material removal devices, paint sprayers, and 3D printing devices.

Tooling that falls under the sensor EOAT category includes cameras, scanners, ultrasonic sensors, infrared, and force-torque sensors. These are mainly used for quality control purposes such as automated inspection applications. Some may be integrated in order to ensure the accuracy of an application as is the case for force torque sensors.

Robot Tooling Power Sources

In addition to a variety of robot tooling types, there are also multiple sources of power for end-effectors. The three power sources used for tooling include hydraulic, electric, and pneumatic. Hydraulic end-effectors are powered through the pumping of oil. It is the most powerful power source of the three, but is the least common. Its lack of popularity is mainly due to the use of oil which can cause spills and just be messy in general. It is also the most expensive to operate.

Electrically powered robot tooling utilizes electric motors for the energy source. This power source is ideal for robots operating in clean work environments as they do not cause contamination. They are the cleanest tooling power source for robots. The only caveat is they can only provide light to moderate power.

Pneumatic power is the most common energy source for robot tooling. It utilizes compressed air to power EOAT devices. Compared to the other power sources, it is relatively easy to integrate and extremely cost-effective. It also provides a tremendous amount of force with less weight of the tooling device itself.

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