4 Technologies That Make Pick and Place Robots More Practical Than Ever

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Pick and place robots have been around for a long time, but today’s solutions are evolving to give operations the extra hands they need. Hands that can move faster, lift heavier loads and do it more consistently than people can. In fact, there’s a practical role for picking robots in almost any industrial environment. And when compared to other automation options, they have one of the lowest barriers to entry.

Today, picking robots are being used in a variety of ways from grabbing parts in assembly settings, packing boxes in shipping facilities, organizing bins, loading machining tools or inspecting parts, and all kinds of other helpful tasks.

Here’s what is setting them—and companies—up for success:


Vision-enabled robots aren’t anything new, enabling the choice between one part or another. Today’s picking robots can be seamlessly integrated with full 3D vision with low noise, high-resolution cameras to detect shape, size, reflectivity, and color. This capability drastically improves the reliability of tasks like bin sorting and quality control.


Whereas a single encoder may have controlled a robotic arm historically, feedback sensors are now being installed from the base of the arm all the way to the tool center point (TCP). What’s more, pure serial interfaces relay the information, making it clearer and more actionable than ever. Temperature and gearing inaccuracies are just two examples. Perhaps most importantly, these technologies allow for built-in functional safety and predictive maintenance.


In a way, a robot’s motion is only limited by where the robotic system can physically be. Cartesian robots, for example, move on X, Y and Z orthogonal axes along precise Cartesian coordinates. Aside from dimensional movement, speed has also reached amazing rates. Take the XR Series four-axis, compact gantry robots from DENSO Robotics who have a cycle time of .56 seconds and are “17 percent faster than their conventional Cartesian robots with combined move of coordinated slide and swivel motions.” Meanwhile, micrometer-level motion allows the TCP to be controlled well enough to handle items measuring in millimeters.  


Vision, gripping strength and sensing temperature all mirror a human sensation or capability. The one sense that many have hoped for, but admitted was unlikely, has been a form of tactile sensation. Truth is, we’re getting there fast. In fact, we’re at a point where force and torque sensing are effectively complimenting other “sensory” abilities.

Force and torque sensing make it possible for robots to accurately perform processes like grinding, deburring, sanding, and polishing. When it comes to working with micro parts, vision can help. But it isn’t enough to pick up and align micro parts without help from some of this extra sensing. Force sensing is also aiding product testing, packaging, and robotic assembly applications.

These technologies, which only continue to advance, are clearly making pick and place robots more powerful and impactful than ever. If you have a process or cell that you’ve been thinking about automating, come see the latest in pick and place technology in action at the Automate Show in Chicago, Illinois, May 6-9, 2024.

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