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Robotic End of Arm Tooling

3D print end-effector components

From painting to pick-and-place operations, robotic arms perform a variety of tasks with excellent endurance, speed and precision. Compared with machining end-of-arm components from metal, 3D printing saves time and expense while producing lighter-weight parts that perform better and cause less wear and tear.

Overview of the application

Robots are used to perform tasks such as sorting, transporting, palletizing, inspecting and machining. A robot’s end of arm tool (EOAT), also called an end-effector, is selected based on the operation it will perform, such as gripping or welding, and is specific to the part or tool that the robot manipulates. Although there are standard, off-the-shelf EOATs, robot integrators and end-users often need customized solutions to engage uniquely shaped objects, optimize operations and improve productivity. Because of the low-volume nature of custom EOATs, many are machined from metal. They are combined with stock components such as vacuum cups, actuators, framing components and quick changers. However, the time, cost and effort to machine custom EOATs can be prohibitive, which is why end-users may settle for non-customized, stock solutions.

Value of using FDM

FDM technology provides an alternative method for producing EOATs that can provide dramatic time and cost savings while optimizing performance. FDM is an additive manufacturing (3D printing) process that builds plastic parts layer by layer using data from 3D computer-aided design (CAD) files. With FDM, EOATs can be customized and tailored to a specific application while often accelerating implementation on the production floor.

FDM technology and materials make EOATs that result in many performance advantages for robots. FDM EOATs are lighter than those made with metal, which means that robots can move faster or carry larger payloads. Weight reduction also improves motor efficiency and reduces component wear, extending the time between preventive maintenance (PM) cycles. FDM technology easily makes hollow internal structures and the thermoplastic materials are lightweight, yet durable. When combined, weight reductions of ninety percent or more are possible. Plastics have two additional advantages: they won’t scratch the products they grip, and they dampen impact forces so that a tool crash is less likely to damage the robot. An FDM EOAT can also have components like magnets and sensors embedded during the FDM build process. Fully encased, the components are protected and won’t mar the parts that come in contact with the EOAT.

FDM EOATs can be as simple or complex as needed, which gives designers the freedom to create tooling solely for its specific function. For example, EOATs can have integrated vacuum channels, assemblies consolidated to a single part, or organic shapes that conform to the object being manipulated by the robot. This design flexibility provides a unique opportunity to optimize robot performance and with FDM technology, design complexity doesn’t increase cost.

FDM EOAT manufacturing is responsive, efficient and straightforward, turning EOAT design projects into simple tasks. If a design needs to change, FDM can produce a new tool in as little as one day. New or revised designs and replacement EOATs are delivered and mounted on the robot quickly, regardless of complexity. During robot testing and validation, a quick response avoids delays in starting up a production line. Once FDM EOATs are operating in production, rapid revisions keep the line running at peak performance.

Benefits of FDM

Average lead time savings:70% - 85%
Average cost savings:75% - 85%
Greater design freedom:Internal vacuum channels
Consolidated assemblies
Complex geometry
Integrated components
Greater performance:Lightweight/low mass
Optimized designs
Impact dampening
Increased velocity
Extended preventative maintenance cycles
Rapid response:In-house fabrication
Redesign as needed
Reduced downtime
*Typical time and cost savings derived from numerous end-user analysis, testimonials and feedback. Actual savings may vary based upon numerous factors, including traditional time/cost, part geometry and utilized technology.

FDM is a best fit

Size:25 mm (1 in) to 400 mm (16 in)
Quantity:1 to 100s
Design:Complex/organic shapes
Materials:Thermoplastics are acceptable
Tolerance:≥ ± 0.13 mm (0.005 in)
Fabrication:In-house needed
Revisions:Frequent changes or replacements