Automation is at the heart of many manufacturing processes, using robots to perform repetitive tasks that humans might find mundane after a while. However, an essential part of robot-enhanced manufacturing is the attached tools often fixed to the robot’s end. Hence the name End of Arm Tool (EOAT). These specialized tools are determined by both the task and the robot type. Nevertheless, the objects these robots handle are also a significant determinant of the kind of EOAT required. This guide aims to acquaint you with all the information about EOAT, including its advantages, design, application, custom features, processing, and safety considerations. So, if you are ready, let’s dive in.
II. Understanding End of Arm Tooling
End of Arm Tooling (EOAT) is an application-specific tool attached to the end of robotic implements operating within an automated manufacturing line. These applications also depend on the industry, including automotive, defense, medical, waste management, logistics, and packaging. For instance, a typical EOAT will be an adhesive dispensing tool a robot uses to seal packages in the packaging industry. Also, the automotive sector utilizes drill and cutting tools to drill bolt holes in automotive components. Other EOAT can include welding torches, grippers, brushes, screwdrivers, and tool changers. These tools make manufacturing faster and more efficient, cutting out all the time-wasting human activities, including the unavoidable human errors common with human-completed tasks. Probably the most critical advantage is the automation of tasks that helps to increase productivity and output while ensuring a high-quality result.
Additionally, EOAT is very cost-effective in the long term, with a high return on investment (ROI). The versatility of EOAT is yet another merit of EOAT, considering that it is used extensively in different applications and across several industries. What’s more? It is customizable to fit project-specific requirements increasing its possibility to handle several more applications. Still, many manufacturers are usually skeptical about purchasing EAOT due to the high initial purchasing cost. Also, not every task might be cost-effective. Using robotics and EOAT to automate and properly assess the project and the specific task is key before embarking on a spending spree.
III. Types of Ends of Arm Tooling
As hinted previously, EOATs are of several types depending on the project and the individual tasks within the project. The selection of EOAT will be based on several considerations, including the weight of the objects it will be handling and the suitability of the environment where it will be used. Nevertheless, there are a few EOATs that are universal and are found in multiple industries.
A typical ubiquitous EOAT is grippers. Their job is usually to lift objects from one specified location to another. However, diverse types of grippers exist across different industries and are suitable for different tasks. One is mechanical grippers which are excellent for heavy objects requiring a solid grip, especially in heavy manufacturing such as automotive and defense. Magnetic and pneumatic grippers are most suitable for lightweight objects requiring little lifting power but high processing speed, such as food processing and packaging. For non-porous objects, vacuum grippers are the most suitable enabling a firm but gentle grip so that the objects are not damaged.
One other EOAT that is common across many manufacturing sectors is tool changers. They help manufacturers save production time by removing the need for humans to change the attached tools. Tool changers take care of automatically switch tools for the robots when the tasks change.
At some point, there would be a need to design a custom EOAT to meet a specific project need for which a standard tool is unavailable. These bespoke robotic solutions often cost more but also offer more benefits. However, a cost-to-benefit analysis will reveal its true worth.
IV. Material Handling and Manipulation Techniques
Depending on the EOAT attached to the robotic arm, certain principles will be applicable in guiding, handling, and manipulation techniques used by the EOAT. The EOAT is capable of effectively carrying out specific functions.
One common functionality of EOATs is the picking and placing of objects. These objects can be packaged goods, components, or sorted items. The EOAT required for this activity is often the vacuum gripper which uses the clamping ability of two or more clamp teeth to grip the object and a programmed cause of travel to place the object in another location.
Furthermore, a mechanical gripper is more suited to handling a clamp and holding activity where there is no itinerary needed to complete the activity. This type of EOAT is often found in heavy manufacturing facilities where heavy lifting is constantly happening as part of the production process.
Dedicated cutting tools like blades and bits used in manufacturing procedures like CNC machining are also required by EOAT in cutting and trimming activities. These cutting tools are mostly tailored to specific projects and must be designed to fit into certain robotic arms.
For industries where coating and dispensing of liquids is the norm, special EOATs comprising hoses are usually designed to carry out tasks like painting and spraying. This EOAT is applicable in automotive and aerospace industries where coating components is a critical manufacturing procedure.
While other EOATs are available for other industrial manufacturing tasks, including dimensional inspections, determining the specific task before EOAT selection is critical to choosing the most suitable EOAT for the job.
V. Design Considerations for EOAT
Designing the most suitable EOAT for a project is extremely critical to the success of the project, and design engineers need to be aware of certain considerations that can significantly affect the suitability of EOAT.
One essential consideration for designers is the EOAT’s payload and capacity to handle the weight of the intended object. The EOAT must support the object’s weight and hold it in place without any damage to the EOAT or the object itself. Many pick-and-drop activities and pick-and-hold tasks require a strong grip and the ability to handle heavy objects.
Also, design engineers need to consider the response time of EOAT to programmed instructions during the production process. This factor is critical for speed and precision in completing tasks, as robotic automation is usually designed to be faster, more efficient, and more accurate than humans.
The EOAT must suitably fit the robotic arm required for the tasks, especially for custom design, where the EOAT is designed to achieve a specific non-standard activity. Designers must ensure that the EOAT dimensions, size, and weight are compatible with the supporting robotic arm.
The type of material handled, environment suitability, and potential hazards are other important considerations designers should factor into the design of EOAT.
VI. End of Arm Tooling in Various Industries
The number of industries and applications where the use of EOAT is critical is numerous. As with innovations like rapid prototyping, manufacturers across different sectors understand the versatility and benefits of EOAT and see it as an essential part of their production. Some of these industries are highlighted below.
- Automotive: This industry is one of the first and the biggest users of end of arm tooling, considering that many heavy components are often assembled to form automobiles. Automation is critical to achieving efficiency in manufacturing automobiles. Activities like welding, grinding, drilling, screwing, and coating are a few of the many applications of EOAT in the automotive industry.
- Packaging: The logistics and packaging industry is another massive user of automation and EOAT as they often use it for packaging goods before transporting them to their location. A typical EOAT in this industry is a vacuum gripper. Sometimes, a custom EOAT is necessary for packaging irregular objects.
- Electronics: These days, electronics are made of tiny and delicate integrated circuits that must be welded together on an electronic board. The intricacy of the procedures requires great care and accuracy to achieve the desired result. Hence, EOAT is used to achieve the intricate precision and quality required.
- Medical and pharmaceutical: EOAT is still at an assistive level for various medical procedures, including some surgeries. Providing the right medical tools during a medical procedure is a major use of EOAT using the pick and place EOAT.
- Food and beverage: Sorting, processing, and packaging are essential parts of the food and beverage industry, most of which use automation with EOAT. This process is more accurate and faster with the use of end-of-arm tooling.
VII. Integration with Robotic Systems
The different applications of EOAT warrant that it be used with the right robotic system. However, the right robotic system is often a function of the complexity of the task. Here are the distinct types of robotic systems based on the intricacy and level of precision required and the EOAT to be integrated.
- Collaborative robots (cobots): The design of this type of robotics is such that they can assist humans in many ways with minor tasks. Hence, their collaborative ability helps to make the job faster and more efficient, with a reduced tendency for errors. They are much safer than the other types of robotic systems.
- Industrial robots: This robotic arrangement is designed to handle heavy manufacturing and is often isolated from humans during their operation as they can be a source of risk to humans. You’ll usually find these types of robots in heavy manufacturing facilities.
- Cartesian robots: Especially for pick-and-drop activities requiring some sort of programmed itinerary, cartesian robots are designed to help move packages about predefined locations.
Selecting the most suitable robotic system to integrate with a specific EOAT will require the consideration of factors like the speed and accuracy required, EOAT compatibility, and design weight. These considerations help to identify a robotic system that will increase the efficiency of the operation without causing any failures or damage. Having a dependable EOAT partner is another viable alternative to achieving successful robotic system integration.
VIII. Maintenance and Troubleshooting
When there is a malfunction, identifying the problem can be challenging, especially when dealing with highly sophisticated equipment like robotic automation and end-of-arm tools, nevertheless, following specific guidelines, especially the ones laid out in the user manual, can significantly help in discovering the source of the problem.
Firstly, ensure that you strictly adhere to the cleaning and maintenance routine in the user’s manual, including using the right lubricant at the appropriate time. These maintenance procedures are critical to the efficiency and optimal performance of your EOAT. Also, identify and fix minor issues, like replacing worn bolts, seals, and hoses, before they worsen. Additionally, the longevity of your EOAT is equally important as the maintenance routine, and having a troubleshooting roadmap is always a good thing. Start by identifying loose fittings, including bolts, screws, and fluid-carrying hoses that are broken and fixing them. Never hesitate to contact the manufacturer’s technical support line, as they can often give directions based on your problem with the EOAT.
IX. Safety Considerations and Best Practices
Carrying out a job hazard analysis (JHA) is an important aspect of every job, especially when specialized equipment like robotic automation is used. A job hazard analysis assesses the risk associated with the specific production method and the equipment employed, which helps you know how to tackle the job hazard. To ensure the safety of workers around equipment like EOAT, you must adhere strictly to industry best practices for health and safety. Implementing safety guidelines and standards, such as having an emergency exit and muster point in case of an emergency, is critical. Also, ensuring that personnel training on safety precautions on the job takes place periodically is essential. Safety devices like emergency stop buttons on machines like EOAT are essential to avert any unforeseen hazard if a machine begins to malfunction and needs you to stop its operation immediately. Ultimately, the safety of personnel comes first in every project and should be taken seriously with machines like robotic automation and EOAT.
X. Cost Factors and ROI
Assessing the return on investment (ROI) is a key aspect of any manufacturing business, especially using sophisticated and expensive equipment like EOAT. The initial cost of purchasing a robotic system is often huge. It can deter most manufacturers from investing in getting one, especially if it is a small-scale manufacturing business with a limited budget. However, the numerous advantages of robotic automation and EOAT far outweigh the initial purchase cost in the long term. Nevertheless, depending on the complexity and size of your project, the price of an EOAT will vary with complicated projects, with requirements for handling heavy manufacturing and customization being the most expensive. Also, maintenance, repairs, and energy consumption can significantly increase overall costs and should be considered before purchasing an EOAT.
XI. Choosing the Right EOAT Partner
Identifying the right EOAT partner can save you the stress and high cost of purchasing and maintaining a robotic production line. However, it requires a thorough examination of specific attributes that ensures your partnership is fruitful and yields quality products. One critical attribute to consider is the number of years the partner has existed in the industry, including the expertise of its technical staff. This factor shows they have a consistent track record of quality production and timely delivery. Also, their most complex project delivered successfully over the years will show you their level of expertise, including the sophistication of their equipment. However, the capabilities of their customer care team will indicate their ability to communicate project status and to answer technical inquiries from customers and partners alike. Lastly, an ideal EOAT partner should have a quality management system conforming to acceptable industry standards like ISO 9001 to assure customers of their commitment to quality products and processes.
XII. Future Trends and Developments in EOAT
Present advancement in technology indicates where EOAT is heading in the future. One key area of advancement is in the material used for EOAT, where more lightweight materials with better handling and increased performance are constantly developed for manufacturing EOAT. This allows designers to increase the efficiency of EOAT at a reduced cost. Another future trend is the increase in demand for EOAT, considering the rise in e-commerce, which significantly relies on the accelerated packaging and warehousing of supplies using automation with advanced robotics. But all these opportunities are not without challenges, some of which include high costs and a long training curve for operators of automation equipment like EOAT. Nevertheless, the decline of experienced hands in the manufacturing industry will continue to provide avenues and opportunities for more automation and innovative ways of improving production efficiency.
XIII. Customizing EOAT for Specific Applications
Not all robots will take standard EOAT. Just like in mold design, the requirements of the project will dictate the type of EOAT required for the production process, with some requiring an innovative design tailored to the project’s unique needs. Hence carefully analyzing your process requirement with EOAT designers is the first step to identifying the need to customize one. Once the need for customization is established, certain design considerations and requirements for the EOAT are necessary. These factors include the tool’s speed, accuracy, and load-carrying capacity. Also, the arm’s compatibility with the robot is essential for effective control and increased performance.
XIV. Training and Education for EOAT
With sophisticated equipment such as EOAT, it is important to have a continuous training program for operators and other personnel involved with its usage. These programs help them to keep up with advancements in EOAT technology with a thorough understanding of its working principle. It also helps to remind personnel of industry-standard operating procedures, especially for health and safety. With the pandemic’s recent effects, innovative ways of holding classes have become the new normal. Online courses are vital as course resources can now be assessed online with a few clicks. Also, industry workshops for EOAT professionals present huge opportunities for operators to stay abreast of EAOT trends, innovations, and technological advancement. Ultimately, these programs will benefit the participants, and the company’s production efficiency will increase, among other benefits.
XV. Overcoming Common EOAT Challenges
While EOAT brings numerous advantages to manufacturing, it is still not immune from certain challenges. However, overcoming these challenges will begin with identifying them, and one of such challenges is the need to adapt to different product shapes and sizes as obtainable in mold manufacturing. Many EOAT custom solutions will be centered around fitting an irregular shape or size into an EAOT, with the design meeting the dimension requirements of the object. As an EOAT user ensuring constant performance and quality despite an unfavorable environment will be key. Additionally, the ability to implement a modular EOAT system will be particularly important in an ever-evolving production environment making it easier to quickly adapt to new production requirements.
In a nutshell, End of Arm Tooling (EOAT) comes with numerous advantages for various industries, including increased efficiency, production, and accuracy. However, not all projects can utilize standard EOAT and will need to customize one for the project’s special needs. Therefore, designers must consider factors such as speed, payload, and the accuracy of the custom EOAT solution. They also need to ensure that it does not constitute an occupational hazard to the users. EOAT is an immensely beneficial tool if you thoroughly understand its working principle with the appropriate considerations in mind.