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Navigating the Future: EOAT, 3D Printing, and the Evolution of Manufacturing Workflows

In the realm of industrial robotics, End of Arm Tooling (EOAT) emerges as a cornerstone for leveraging precision systems to drive volume production. End of Arm Tools like end effectors, vacuum tools, sensors, and welding tools, facilitate tasks ranging from intricate machining to assembly processes. As a crucial interface point, EOAT is where the technology meets the part it's producing — it doesn't matter how expensive or well designed your robotic infrastructure is if it can't interact with your work pieces. This article delves into the symbiotic relationship between EOAT and 3D printing, exploring how this integration reshapes manufacturing workflows, along with a glimpse into the future of industrial automation.

What is End of Arm Tooling?

End of Arm Tools are the interface point where robot arms interact with the world around them. Positioned at the tip of robotic arms, EOAT encompasses a variety of tools: Static operation tools for welding and drilling, observational tools like cameras and sensors, grippers that operate as industrial end effectors, and many more. Industrial end effectors enable robotic arms to grasp, manipulate, and execute diverse tasks, ranging from relocation to intricate machining and assembly processes.

The applications of EOAT are as diverse as the tasks they undertake. From securely gripping parts and joining parts (welding) to scanning/information gathering and using suction to move parts, EOAT ensures precision, speed, and adaptability in the realm of industrial automation.

Advantages of EOAT and 3D Printing

The ability to 3D print EOAT supercharges the utility of robotics in factory applications. 3D printing enables manufacturers to customize and quickly fabricate a wide variety of custom tools — reducing cost and lead time while improving performance. Notably, 3D printing enables the production of end effectors with non-marring composites and high strength-to-weight ratios. This innovation enables robots to transport heavier payloads with lighter end effectors, allowing manufacturers to increase throughput and flexibility.

Efficiency, Accuracy, and Adaptability: Additive manufacturing facilitates the creation of durable, wear-resistant end effectors with Continuous Fiber Reinforcement (CFR). EOAT needs to be both lightweight and strong, and CFR decreases weight and increases strength.

Rapid Robotics uses CFR to print custom end of arm tooling for robotic arms. In 12 hours, the Rapid Robotics team can produce a brand new gripper that conformally grips parts, is highly reliable, and weighs 30% less than an off the shelf gripper. By utilizing CFR 3D printing for EOAT, Rapid Robotics has produced robots with grippers that have never broken in the field and operate in a wide variety of use cases like material handling, medical devices, and automotive.

Rapid Robotics uses The Digital Forge to 3D print custom end-of-arm tooling, input tracks, and fixtures for their robotic arms.

EOAT-Enabled Applications

Bringing theory into practice, the integration of EOAT with industrial 3D printers reduced manufacturing cost and lead time by over 90% for Dixon Valve.

Dixon Valve utilized composite 3D printers for manufacturing EOAT for its robotic arms. However, a challenge arose when grippers holding abrasive surfaces quickly wore out printed composite parts. This is one weakness of composite EOAT — a lack of strong wear resistance — which can result in wear out of parts over time. However, by leveraging the Metal X metal 3D printer, Dixon Valve manufactured grippers with the advantages of 3D printing while maintaining the necessary surface hardness, a feat unattainable with traditional composite printing.

By printing the grippers with the Metal X, Dixon Valve achieves the same advantages that 3D printing affords without sacrificing part durability.

The ongoing evolution of 3D printing technologies, coupled with innovative materials, promises a future where EOAT continues to push the boundaries of industrial automation. The ability to print grippers with metal not only enhances design possibilities but also makes it easier to create wear resistant EOAT, a critical aspect in industrial settings.

Revolutionizing Manufacturing with 3D Printed Tooling and Fixturing

Today’s manufacturers face unprecedented pressure to deliver new products faster while reducing costs. Durable tooling, a linchpin in manufacturing, almost always represents a significant cost. Recent advances in 3D printing are reshaping this landscape, offering a solution to reduce the cost of durable tooling while accelerating time-to-market for new products.

3D Tooling in Additive Manufacturing

Markforged's introduction of continuous fiber composites and low-cost MIM-based metal FFF printing has expanded additive manufacturing beyond prototyping. Now, manufacturers have a viable technology to address their expensive tooling challenges. The key obstacle? Education. Markforged is actively working to educate the manufacturing community on the benefits associated with functional 3D printed tooling.

Real-World Implementation: Dixon Valve illustrates how advanced additive manufacturing systems are at the forefront of this revolution. Dixon Valve utilized Markforged printers to create both metal and composite gripper jaws. These jaws needed to withstand the physical and chemical rigors of a manufacturing environment while providing a cost-effective solution to reduce tool-making time. The composite jaws enabled engineers to retool a robotic arm in less than 24 hours, while the metal jaws were able to hold abrasive parts without wearing out, demonstrating the real-world applicability of 3D printed tooling.

Cost Benefits and Increased Efficiency: There are substantial cost benefits achieved by manufacturers adopting 3D printed tooling, with companies able to produce 10-50% of their durable tooling through this innovative approach. The average cost savings of 3D printed parts versus machined parts, a staggering 80%, further underscores the financial advantages. Equally significant is the +90% reduction in lead time for these printed parts, leading to enhanced efficiency across various facets of manufacturing.

Secondary Benefits Impacting the Bottom Line: Beyond the direct cost savings, manufacturers stand to gain several secondary benefits. Line changeover efficiency, optimization of design cycle time, reduction in scrap rates, increased throughput, and ergonomic advantages for operators contribute to an extensive list of positive impacts on the business.

By using Markforged carbon-fiber parts, EOAT can also improve strength-weight ratio, which puts less stress on the parts and can extend the useful life of the tools. The collective value brought about by the adoption of 3D printed tooling on the factory floor extends to impact the bottom line significantly.

In the ever-evolving landscape of industrial automation, the convergence of EOAT and 3D printing emerges not just as a technological advancement but as a transformative force reshaping the very foundations of manufacturing. Explore how EOAT and 3D printing intersect to redefine efficiency, precision, and adaptability in the realm of industrial robotics and manufacturing here

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