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Robotic Arm: Components, Types, Working & Applications

robot arm

Robotic arms are highly sought after by industries to automate their manufacturing processes. These machines are versatile and perform various tasks, from picking fruit to handling nuclear waste in radioactive environments.

In the event of a nuclear disaster, robotic arms can be used to remove debris from inaccessible areas due to the high levels of radiation.

Due to their simple designs, they are easy to manufacture because they are only required to perform a few mechanical functions.

To provide a better understanding, we have explored the various components, types, and applications of robotic arms in this article.

Components of a Robotic Arm

A robotic arm comprises several components that serve specific functions to facilitate its movement, control, and interaction with the environment.

Components of a Robotic Arm

The general components of a robotic arm include:

  1. Base

The base serves as the foundation of the robotic arm, providing stability and support. It houses the motors and mechanisms necessary for rotational movement along the horizontal axis.

  1. Joint

Joints are articulation points along the robotic arm where movement occurs. Depending on the design, robotic arms may feature various types of joints, such as revolute (rotational), prismatic (linear), or spherical (multi-axis), allowing for a wide range of motion.

  1. Links

Links are the segments or sections that connect the robotic arm’s joints. These links are typically rigid structures made of metal or composite materials, providing structural integrity and transferring forces and motion between joints.

  1. Actuators

Actuators are the components responsible for generating motion in the robotic arm. Depending on the application requirements, they can be electric, pneumatic, hydraulic, or even piezoelectric.

Actuators convert energy into mechanical motion, enabling the robotic arm to move its joints and perform tasks.

  1. End Effector

The end effector is the tool or attachment mounted at the robotic arm’s end that interacts with the environment to perform specific tasks.

End effectors vary widely depending on the application. They include grippers, suction cups, wielding torches, cutting tools, or specialized sensors.

  1. Sensors

Sensors are crucial components that provide feedback to the robotic arm’s control system, enabling it to perceive and adapt to its surroundings.

Typical sensors used in robotic arms include proximity sensors, encoders, force sensors, vision systems, and tactile sensors. These sensors help the robotic arm to detect objects, measure distances, assess forces, and ensure precise control during manipulation tasks.

  1. Control System

The control system is the brain of the robotic arm, responsible for coordinating the movements of the actuators based on input commands and sensory feedback.

It includes hardware components such as microcontrollers, processors, motor drivers, and software algorithms for motion planning, trajectory generation, and feedback control.

The control system ensures the robotic arm operates safely, accurately, and efficiently while performing its intended tasks.

Types of Robotic Arms

The term “robotic arm” refers to a collection of robotic mechanisms that share similar applications. However, each type of robotic arm has unique distinctions that make it better suited for specific tasks. Some of the different types of robotic arms include:

  1. Cartesian

Cartesian robotic arms, or gantry robots, utilize a cartesian coordinate system (X, Y, Z) for movement. They feature linear motion along each axis, providing precise and predictable movement in a structured environment.

An example of Cartesian robotic arms is the Automated CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining systems. It employs a Cartesian robotic arm to move cutting tools along predefined paths to carve out precise shapes from raw materials.

  1. SCARA (Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm) Robotic Arms

SCARA robotic arms feature a combination of rotational and linear joints, typically with two parallel joints for horizontal movement and one vertical joint for vertical movement. They offer high speed and precision in a horizontal plane while maintaining rigidity in the vertical direction.

SCARA robots are commonly used in assembly lines for tasks such as pick-and-place operations, soldering electronic components onto circuit boards, and packaging products in the food and beverage industry.

  1. Articulated Robotic Arms

Articulated robotic arms mimic the structure of human arms with multiple resistance joints, allowing for a wide range of motion and flexibility. They excel at reaching into confined spaces and manipulating objects with dexterity.

Industrial robots used in automotive manufacturing employ articulated arms to perform tasks such as welding, painting, and assembly of complex components like car bodies and engines.

  1. Delta Robotic Arms

Delta robotic arms feature a unique parallel kinematic structure with multiple interconnected links connected to a fixed base. They excel in high-speed applications requiring precise positioning and rapid movement.

Delta robots are often used in the food industry for tasks such as sorting and packaging items on conveyor belts and in pharmaceuticals for high-speed drug dispensing and packaging.

  1. Collaborative Robotic Arms (Cobots)

Collaborative robotic arms are designed to work alongside humans in shared workspaces without safety barriers. They feature advanced sensors and safety mechanisms to detect and avoid collisions with humans.

Cobots are increasingly deployed in manufacturing environments to assist workers with assembly, inspection, and material handling tasks. For instance, cobots can help with soldering and quality control operations in electronics assembly.

How do Robotic Arms Function?

So far, we have gained an in-depth understanding of robotic arms, including their types and components. But how do they function?

Robotic Arms Function

We have provided a detailed breakdown of the steps involved in the functioning of a robotic arm, from how it receives commands to how it processes sensory data and executes movements with finesse and accuracy.

  1. Input Commands

The operation of a robotic arm begins with receiving input commands from an external source, such as a computer or a human operator.

These commands can be programmed instructions, manual inputs, or sensor signals detecting environmental changes.

  1. Sensor Data Acquisition

Suppose the robotic arm is equipped with sensors, such as proximity sensors, vision systems, or force sensors. In that case, it gathers data about its surroundings.

This data provides crucial information for the robotic arm to perceive objects, measure distances, assess forces, and ensure safe and accurate operation.

  1. Control System Processing

The robotic arm’s control system processes the input commands and sensor data. The control system typically comprises hardware components such as microcontrollers, processors, motor drivers, and software algorithms for motion planning, trajectory generation, and feedback control.

  1. Motion Planning

Based on the input commands and sensor data, the control system generates a motion plan that specifies the desired trajectory for the robotic arm to follow.

This involves determining the sequence of movements required to reach the target position while avoiding obstacles and constraints in the workspace.

  1. Actuator Control

The control system sends signals to the actuators of the robotic arm, instructing them to move the joints according to the planned trajectory. Actuators can be electric motors, pneumatic cylinders, hydraulic pistons, or other devices capable of converting energy into mechanical motion.

  1. Movement Execution

The actuators drive the movement of the robotic arm’s joints, causing it to follow the planned trajectory. Each joint moves in coordination with the others to achieve the desired overall motion of the arm.

The robotic arm may perform tasks such as reaching, grasping, lifting, rotating, or manipulating objects as input commands require.

  1. Feedback Control

Throughout the movement execution process, the control system continuously receives sensor feedback to ensure that the robotic arm moves accurately and safely.

Feedback control algorithms adjust the motion of the arm in real time based on deviations from the planned trajectory, changes in the environment, or unexpected disturbances.

  1. Task Completion

Once the robotic arm has completed its assigned tasks, it may return to a designated resting position or await further instructions.

The control system monitors the completion of tasks. It sends status updates or alerts to the external source, signaling that the operation is finished or requiring intervention if issues arise.

  1. Safety Protocols

Safety protocols are in place to prevent accidents and protect the robotic arm and its surroundings. These protocols may include emergency stop mechanisms, collision detection systems, and compliance with safety standards and regulations.

Applications of Robotic Arms

Robotic arms are versatile and precise tools with uses across many sectors. Here are some real-world examples of how robotic arms are employed.

  1. Manufacturing Industry

Robotic arms are extensively used in manufacturing for assembly, welding, painting, and material handling tasks.

For instance, automotive manufacturers employ robotic arms to assemble car components quickly and precisely. In contrast, electronics manufacturers use them for soldering and testing circuit boards.

  1. Healthcare Sector

In healthcare, robotic arms are employed in surgical procedures to enhance precision and reduce the invasiveness of surgeries. Da Vinci Surgical Systems, for example, uses robotic arms controlled by surgeons to perform minimally invasive surgeries with improved agility and accuracy, resulting in shorter patient recovery times.

  1. Agricultural Sector

Robotic arms are increasingly being integrated into agricultural processes to automate tasks such as harvesting, pruning, and sorting produce.

Companies like Harvest CROO Robotics have developed robotic strawberry harvesters equipped with robotic arms capable of picking ripe strawberries at high speeds, addressing labor shortages and increasing efficiency in the agricultural sector.

  1. Space Exploration

Robotic arms play a crucial role in space exploration missions, assisting in tasks such as satellite deployment, maintenance of spacecraft, and collection of samples from celestial bodies.

The Canadarm series of robotic arms, developed by the Canadian Space Agency, has been utilized on various space shuttles and the International Space Station (ISS) for maneuvering payloads and conducting experiments in space.

  1. Logistics and Warehousing

In logistics and warehousing operations, robotic arms are employed for order fulfillment, palletizing, and inventory management.

Amazon’s fulfillment centers utilize robotic arms in their automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) to pick, pack, and ship orders efficiently, reducing fulfillment times and improving customer satisfaction.

  1. Food and Beverage Industry

Robotic arms are used in the food and beverage industry for packaging, sorting, and quality control tasks. For example, FANUC’s Food Grade Delta Robot is employed in food processing facilities for high-speed packaging of snacks, confectionery, and ready-to-eat meals with utmost hygiene and efficiency.

Conclusion

The widespread use of robotic arms in various industries highlights their crucial role in modern automation. They have revolutionized multiple sectors by boosting productivity and innovation, from improving the accuracy of surgical procedures to streamlining manufacturing processes.

Their versatility has proven helpful in fields such as the automotive assembly line, the surgical theater, and even outer space. Robotic arms can handle various tasks, from delicate manipulation to heavy lifting, with unparalleled precision, making them valuable assets in the pursuit of efficiency, safety, and progress.

Looking ahead, the future of robotic arms promises even more incredible advancements. Ongoing research and technological innovations will integrate advanced sensors, artificial intelligence, and soft robotics, making robotic arms more adaptable, autonomous, and collaborative.

Additive manufacturing techniques will enable the creation of increasingly intricate designs. At the same time, biologically inspired concepts may unlock new levels of agility and versatility.

These developments herald a new era of robotic arms capable of tackling even more complex challenges with finesse and ingenuity. This will drive further transformation across industries and open doors to unprecedented possibilities.



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