Conversation with: Tom M., Senior Mechanical Engineer & Alex W., Senior Controls Engineer – Topic: Considerations for Robot EOAT (end-of-arm tooling) Design

With the integration of robotic equipment in your manufacturing facility, you’ll open vast possibilities for the work you can accomplish. However, there is another necessary component beyond just the robotic arms and their programing. To complete automation jobs with precision, but without damaging the parts you are moving or assembling, you need the right end-of-arm tooling (EOAT), also called end effectors. EOAT includes any devices attached to the end of a robotic arm, and that act as the contact touchpoint that allows the robot to interface with the part being produced. These may include grippers, welders, cutters, grinders, polishers, suction cups or electromagnetic lifters, material removal tools, and more.

We spoke with Tom, one of our Senior Mechanical Engineers, and Alex, one of our Senior Controls Engineers, to talk about the various considerations that go into EOAT design from both the mechanical side and the electrical / controls programming side, and about how the two sides work together to ensure the best possible outcomes.

As part of the Wes-Tech 3-step process, the first step is always to work with our customer to define the problem. Before design can begin, we ask important questions that have a profound effect on how we design the tooling:

  • Payload: How heavy is the product being moved? How delicate? What is it made of? For example, in a recent engagement (see the full case study here), Wes-Tech was asked to move a painted vehicle fascia along a line with robots. Ensuring the paint would not be scratched required a very different EOAT design than we would use for metal parts.
  • Space: How accessible is the area where the robot will be moving? How quickly does it need to move? How long will the EOAT need to hold the part? Will it move across open space or is there other equipment that needs to be considered and protected?
  • Control: Will the tools use pneumatic or electric operation? Pneumatic may be more ideal for high efficiency, but electric may be more programmable and flexible.
  • Changeouts: Is there a range of product and therefore a range of end effectors that need to be applied? For example, in a recent job where our customer runs six different products in the same robot space, we mounted a quick-change interface on the robot to make it easier to apply the appropriate tool as needed without halting production.

Once we have consulted with our customer to get answers to these questions, we can begin to design the right EOATs.

Our second process step with EOAT, just as with all of our engagements, is to develop the right concept. The applications group will work on solution options, and the EOAT team works to validate the options. We work through multiple levels of approvals to ensure the design works, and then several levels to ensure the application works as designed. For example, we were asked by one customer to help reduce risk to human workers by using robots to move heavy payloads (see the full case study here). The design had to consider the weight of the part, and to address safety aspects for the component, all of which was tested and validated many times over before the design was approved.

One major difference with Wes-Tech machines and robots is that we’ve designed them to be highly recoverable. Most of our robots have a smart homing routine so that they get back to a starting position with minimal operator intervention. Some robots, when interrupted, require a human to move the robot manually, which requires a skilled worker to ensure it’s done correctly. EOATs can be costly, and it is important to be careful not to damage them and to keep them from damaging anything else. This is just one more way Wes-Tech is always thinking about customer needs as part of our design process.

Finally, once the design is complete and validated, our third process step is to deliver the right solution to our customer, on time every time.

“At Wes-Tech, we always see the project through to the end. We never throw in the towel, but instead we will help come up with a way to make the design right to meet our customer’s requirements. We consider ourselves a part of the customer team, and we stay with the customer, support them, and ensure the installation gets up and running right through to the end.”

The Wes-Tech team is here to help you make the most of your manufacturing automation with creative, intelligent design and precision engineering, not just for your EOATs, but all along your line.

Team Wes-Tech

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