Robai Corporation, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, makes high-dexterity robots that are used in a wide range of applications. One example involves using robotic arms to simulate the effect of a human’s movements on mobile electronic devices.
In most robotic applications the end of arm tool (EOAT), also known as an end effector, is custom designed to hold a unique part or piece of equipment. It is usually made from metal via traditional manufacturing methods and can take up to two weeks to produce.
In contrast, Robai’s software capabilities allow it to develop sophisticated robotic programs very quickly. The time disconnect between the two parts of production creates a self-imposed bottleneck in the company’s ability to turn products quickly, and nimbly meet customer needs.
Moreover, metal end of arm tools are expensive to produce, heavy, and cannot incorporate intricate design components.
To alleviate this, Robai’s management considered several different 3D printing methods as an alternative to CNC machining.
Ultimately, they chose the Stratasys 3D printer with FDM technology as the means to create its end of arm tooling.
“We selected FDM because it has much greater strength and durability, uses materials that are available in a wide range of colors, and reduces the need for secondary processing,” said Ranjan Mishra, Cyton engineering manager for Robai.
FDM technology is an additive manufacturing process that builds plastic parts layer by layer, using data from CAD files. It allows Robai to produce plastic EOATs in a fraction of the time and cost required for conventional metal tooling. The lighter weight of 3D printed tooling also makes it possible to use smaller, less expensive robots.
For example, Robai used a 3D printer to produce an EOAT for accelerometer motion testing on devices ranging from smartphones to a small laptop; each device was designed in 90 minutes and then printed overnight.
“Using traditional methods to make end of arm tooling requires about 70 hours of manufacturing time, costs $7,000 and is generally delivered in about two weeks,” said David Askey, Chief Business Development Officer of Robai. “The use of FDM has made it possible to reduce the labor to about four hours, the cost to $400 and lead time to one day.”
For Robai, that means a 94 percent improvement in both time and cost from its previous way of doing business.
Askey concludes, “With FDM, we’re able to print the part, tailor it exactly to the customer’s needs and have it ready for them in a day or two. That lets us deliver quick, high quality solutions for our customers.”