Realize Productivity Gains with Smart Robotic Tooling

In my last blog post, I shared how implementing IO-Link can expand visibility into your robot implementations and secure a high ROI. In this blog, I will share how you can better capitalize on your robot utilization and gain productivity with pneumatic and electric smart grippers.

Using Pneumatic & Electric Smart Grippers

Figure 1 – Sensors used in grippers provide position and open/closed feedback of the jaw. Photo courtesy of Balluff Worldwide.

In traditional pneumatic gripper applications, sensors are often not utilized. Proper function is assumed, i.e., the jaw opened and closed properly based on the signal sent to the air valve. This can cause unnecessary collisions or process failures due to stuck/worn mechanical components, leaks in the pneumatic lines, or small variations in the process cycle. Adding sensors to the grippers (Figure 1), creates a closed loop and minimal discrete feedback, like open or closed jaw, is provided. With the addition of smart sensors, we can monitor exact gripper jaw position and provide application diagnostics improving the capabilities of the robot end-effector. And finally, gripper intelligence features are expanded even further with electric grippers, giving precise control over the motion profile of the tool and providing detailed condition data on the equipment.

Regularly for smart sensors and smart grippers, these commands and the data are handled via IO-Link communication, which allows for process data, parameter data, and event data to be shared with the PLC and monitored via the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) connections. By utilizing IO-Link, both electric and pneumatic grippers can be enabled with intelligence to improve robot implementations.

Part Quality, Inspection, Delicate Part Handling & Measurement

Some of the most common applications like bin-picking, part stacking, or blank de-stacking make assumptions about the part being handled. But the first assumption many people make is that the robot is holding a part. Without sensor verification that the part is in place, how can it be guaranteed that the process is running without defect? And a second assumption that the correct part was loaded into the machine by the operator can cause hundreds of part defects if continued without verification. It is vital that the right part is loaded into the equipment every time, and as many parts look very similar manual inspection isn’t always accurate.  A gripper is an excellent place to gauge and inspect parts as it is physically touching the part. This is done by utilizing an analog position measurement sensor to determine the distance change of the gripper jaw. In addition to this, the position measurement sensor also can provide feedback for tactile gripping applications when handling delicate or precise parts. By utilizing position sensing for inspection and handling of the part, we can improve part quality and reduce production defects.

Production Flexibility, Format Change & Part Identification

In addition to quality inspection, by measuring the part, we can identify the part and make automation changes on-the-fly based upon this information, creating much higher levels of flexibility and making it possible for in-process format change. With one piece of equipment and the utilization of smart sensors on pneumatic grippers or smart electric grippers, more product can be produced. With higher efficiencies manufacturers can realize significant productivity gains.

Figure 2 – GEH6060IL-03-B servo electric gripper with delicate or elastic parts. Photo courtesy of Zimmer Group US, Inc.

In my next blog, I will discuss how expanding the use of end-effectors adds flexibility and are now easier than ever to include in your robotic applications.

Will Healy III is the Industry Marketing Director at Balluff Inc. in Florence, Kentucky and he is enthusiastic about smart manufacturing, automation and STEM education. Will graduated from Purdue University with a degree in mechanical engineering and has been sharing his passion for automation for more than 10 years in a variety of industries. He is published and quoted in various trade magazines, works as an industrial adviser for multiple universities and has widely presented on the value sensors, networking and IIoT bring to manufacturing.

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