Universal Robots Gripper EOAT | Case Study

Introduction

Universal Robots (UR) is a global developer and manufacturer of user-friendly and flexible industrial robots. UR’s expertise in the robotics field has enabled businesses to derive creative concepts and innovative solutions for all productions.

Industry 4.0 is changing the way we create and manufacture products digitally, and a key formative tool in achieving that is through 3D printing. With companies increasingly looking to produce desired parts faster, gain flexibility, and be more precise than previously possible, the building of a digital ecosystem was imperative to reap the enormous benefits.

Situation

Robotic End-of-Arm Tooling (EOAT) helps in the automation and streamlining of repetitive industrial processes, and the goal of Universal Robots is to ensure that their robots can work collaboratively with humans – with no safety guards (subject to risk assessment) and problems.

Printing parts on a hobbyist printer is fine for prototyping simple models, but advanced functionality such as variable flexibility of materials and dissolvable internal structures really allows us to take things to the next level.”
Andrew Pether, Technical Communications Consultant, Universal Robots

Production of traditionally made EOAT with aluminum often takes around a week or more to complete. This includes the sourcing of components, building, assembly, and then being put to testing before it can be placed in service. If changes were required following testing, the whole process has to be restarted resulting in increased costs and added time.

Be it outsourcing for a new CNC or getting a replacement EOAT due to wear and tear, the whole process can be cost-inefficient costing around $200 with a turnaround time of 7 days.

Metal-based CNC grippers also posed another issue in that expensive and delicate metal parts could be damaged during gripping operations. Efficiency and performance weren’t optimized as conventional manufacturing makes it difficult to produce complex parts and are costly to produce. Besides having an impact on the actual machine payload, the hefty weight of the EOAT means that durability is an issue as the tool moves hundreds of times in a shift.

The automation of processes with 3D printing can bring about an increase in productivity, as we move into the next generation of manufacturing. With less reliance on having skilled operators around to operate the machines, repetitive work can be streamlined resulting in simpler operations.

Solution

With the need in challenging the geometry of existing metal grippers and having design freedom, 3D printing was adopted to enhance the performance of its grippers.

PolyJet technology was deemed most suitable given the requirements of the stated geometry. Agilus, a new advanced PolyJet Photopolymer that was capable of repeated flexing and bending, and offered superior tear-resistance was used.

From the initial concept design showing a solid gripper, our engineers further improved and optimized the design by adopting a lattice structure which enabled flexing during gripping. The capability of PolyJet in printing multi-materials in a single print enabled 3D printing of grippers in less than a day, compared to a week or more with CNC manufacturing.

Results

Time and cost savings of 98% and 74% respectively were enabled with a Connex3 3D printer. Instead of taking a week or more together with substantial costs to make a CNC gripper, a 3D printed gripper only took less than 2 days at a fraction of the cost. The lightweight tooling also diminished equipment loads and promoted greater robot efficiency.

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