Universal Robots Multi-Axis Suction 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, more flexibility, and more precise than previously possible, the building of a digital ecosystem was imperative to reap the enormous benefits.

Situation

Multi-Axis Suction End-of-Arm Tooling (EOAT) which are used to pick up multiple parts through independent vacuum channels are utilized in a wide variety of industries to ensure proper material “pick and place” flow in warehouse operations.

Traditional Suction EOAT usually picks up items that have a flat surface, but their hefty weight results in a reduced payload. The sharp edges of CNC EOAT presented a safety hazard, with workers’ at risk of injuring themselves during operations.

CNC produced EOAT were restricted in design due to the constraints of traditional manufacturing and are unable to meet requirements. UR thus wanted to explore the opportunity of producing a lightweight EOAT that was able to pick multiple parts at a quicker pace. In addition, each end of the vacuum was to have their independent channels to accommodate different pick and place patterns.

Solution

As traditional CNC was constrained by design and are unable to mill out internal channels for the individual vacuums, the decision was made to go to FDM technology because of their ability to build complex, precise and durable parts.

Polycarbonate (PC) was chosen from the range of available materials because they are widely adopted in the food industry for their sterilization capability. Their good mechanical properties were superior to ABS and other thermoplastics while offering superior durability, flexibility, and strength for high-impact operations.

From the initial concept design which unfortunately posed a safety risk with the possibility that fingers could get stuck during operations, our engineers leveraged on the design freedom of 3D printing for a more effective solution with bent fingers. The use of FDM technology also allowed for the insertion of embedded inserts to the air supply connector and suction cup, which improved the overall durability of the EOAT tool and ability to pick up objects of varied sizes.

Results

Design iterations of the printed product could be made as and when required with shorter processing time. Not only was the printed EOAT available in days instead of weeks, it was also more capable, customizable and cost-effective compared to using conventional CNC.

Time and cost were also reduced as lesser components were required for assembly, usually within a couple of days using FDM printed EOAT. Traditional CNC required the sourcing of a larger number of components with the whole process taking around a week or more.

The overall design was optimized with the insight software by adjusting the thickness where needed for strength or flexibility. The making of a lightweight tool without compromises was realized while avoiding sharp edges around the EOAT for safety.

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