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Cobots and End Effectors as an Affordable, Flexible Solution for the Modern Factory

Collaborative robots (cobots) are on everyone’s minds as it continues to grow in popularity. Naturally, world leaders in automation, SMC Corporation has embraced this trend and is producing components to complement these applications.

Mikael Sandell, OEM & Key Account Manager for SMC Corporation Australia New Zealand (ANZ) in Sydney firmly believes in the power of collaboration. “Sharing expertise and insights between both cobot manufacturers and end effector (suppliers looks to improve flexibility, versatility and productivity in today’s modern manufacturing environment”,

“Today it is all about efficient, quality manufacturing with no room for error. At the same time, manufacturers are thinking of new ways to ensure social distancing and to deal with challenges around shortened supply chains, lights out manufacturing and reshoring.”

Why Cobots?

The market for collaborative robots is expected to experience robust and exponential growth in the coming years. A report from Interact Analysis predicts the collaborative robot market will be worth $7.5 billion by 2027. This would equate to roughly 29% of the global industrial robot market.

The economic benefits of cobots are particularly appealing. By some estimates, payback time for a typical cobot is between one and two years and can be as short as six months, according to the experience of some of our customers.

End effectors – A matter of symbiosis

End effectors, primarily in the form of grippers, enable the business end of the cobot to handle and manipulate parts with a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and materials.

The flexibility of adapting a cobot to many different applications is of major benefit. For instance, a cobot used to do screw-driving on an assembly line can be easily refitted with a different end effector and used in a pick-and-place application.

It is advised that machine builders or integrators communicate closely with their customers to ensure the success of the union. Choosing the correct end tool is critical to the success of the application. Here, one needs to consider size and weight optimisation too as the weight of the end effector affects the overall payload.

Based on this, SMC works closely with its customers to provide maximum gripping force and flow while maintaining minimum dimensions and weight.

Choosing the Correct End Effector

Start by defining the task, including the piece or pieces to handle (shape, weight, material).

The following questions should be considered: are all of them the same, or is there a mix? What is the required cycle time? Is precision needed? What about force? Does it need to be customised? 

SMC offers the following solutions:

Pneumatic grippers are well suited for general pick-and-place applications. Air-operated solutions, by definition, provide a higher force, speed, and operating frequency. If none of those parameters needs to be controlled or precise, a pneumatic gripper is the best solution.

Electric grippers - When it is necessary to control the position, force, or speed, you need to choose electric grippers. They allow partial closing and opening, for example. This is extremely helpful in some processes, as it does not compromise the cycle time. Controlling the grip force and speed makes them ideal for handling delicate pieces such as Printed Circuit Boards (PCB), or when the process requires handling of different pieces.

Vacuum grippers are generally in the form of suction pads. Suction holding is normally recommended for moving and transferring delicate or flimsy workpieces. They are available to fit many unusual shapes and are constructed from a variety of premium materials such as silicone, NBR, urethane and fluorine, or those compliant with FDA standards.

Magnetic grippers – For those applications where suction pads and grippers will not perform optimally due to uneven or porous surfaces, magnetic gripping is the answer. With a holding force of up to 120 N, it is a versatile solution with a great variety of applications for handling ferrous metals.

SMC offers all these gripping technologies and develops plug-and-play grippers and gripper systems for all cobot and robot suppliers. They are based on energy efficiency and performance, with a special focus on size and weight optimisation. The consideration of weight, overall dimensions and ergonomics assist machine wrist movements and avoid limiting its performance.

However, where SMC can really make a difference is in our capacity to combine a 360º approach to automation necessities such as electric solutions that assist cobot mobility with the technical support to customise automation solutions that adapt perfectly to production processes and ensure optimum flexibility.

Finally, one game-changing technology for the cobot market is the application of wireless technology (EX600-W from SMC) to drive pneumatic, digital, and analogue signals. This will reduce or eliminate cabling, especially for applications involving mobile devices, which experience such issues as breakage due to cable frictions. This can produce major machine faults and lead to downtime or lost production.

The alliance between cobot and end effector actualises the flexibility that industry and end-user demand nowadays. The new World Robotics 2020 Industrial Robots report, released in September 2020, states that collaborative robots have shown a rise of 11%. Of course, the cobot market is in its early stages of adoption but SMC is eagerly looking forward to being a part of this blossoming and exciting industry.

Visit SMC at stand E140 to find out more.

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