When you’re ready to automate your manufacturing processes, one of the first questions you’ll face is whether to use traditional industrial robots or collaborative robots (often called cobots). While there are many differences, it’s important to remember that robots are only part of the equation. The robot itself can’t do any work without end-of-arm tooling (EoAT) such as grippers or sensors. If you’re looking into collaborative automation, EoAT is the key to optimizing your processes and growing your business with greater flexibility, higher output, and improved quality. 

Let’s look at the differences. 

Industrial robots are typically large, fixed equipment designed for high-volume, extremely high-accuracy, and high-speed production. Because of the speed of the robot’s arm movement, industrial robots can present safety risks to human workers, so they usually require safety measures such as a cage to keep humans out of the robot’s work envelope. The integration of the robot and its safety caging can drive costs up substantially, as can the need for professional services to program these complex robots and integrate them with other production equipment and machines. These characteristics make traditional robots best-suited for production processes that will continue unchanged for years, where return on investment (ROI) can also take years.  

For traditional industrial applications, EoAT will often be highly specific for the task. Because human workers are kept out of the work envelope, the tool doesn’t need to be designed for collaborative safety, and since the application will be programmed by an integrator, simplicity isn’t required. 

Collaborative robots are ideal for manufacturers with low-volume, high-mix production or who need to safely automate processes alongside human workers. That might include automating a repetitive task and handing a part off to a human for inspection or to complete a complex assembly process. Cobots typically have lower upfront costs and are easy to program with no previous experience, so they offer fast ROI. They are small and lightweight enough that they can be easily moved and redeployed to automate different processes throughout a manufacturing facility. These versatile, cost-effective, and user-friendly tools allow businesses of almost any size (and any level of technical expertise) to increase productivity, improve quality, and respond more nimbly to changing customer demands. 

The EoAT becomes a critical element of getting the most out of your collaborative robot. These tools are designed for safety around human worker and to be easy to program through the robot’s teach pendant. They’re cost-effective, highly flexible, and easy to change for different processes to support fast ROI and quick results. 

If you’re leaning toward collaborative robotics, it’s important to consider EoAT to make sure you optimize your investment and gain the full advantages of your cobot. 

Traditional Applications 

Big batches, little variability: Ideal for large companies that manufacture high volumes of the same products for long periods

Complex deployment: Requires extensive programming skills and takes days or weeks to set up

Requires constancy: Programmed for unchanging environment and the same movement with minimal need to adapt

Not safe without guarding: Typically requires safety guarding to keep human workers out of the robot’s work cell

Focus on the robot: Repeats the same actions for years, with unchanging tool that is integrated for a specific process

Big investment, longer ROI: Expensive robots, system integration, and operator training requires large upfront investment and takes longer for ROI

Collaborative Applications 

Low-volume, high-mix:  Designed for low-volume, high-mix production, where the robot is often redeployed for new processes 

Fast and easy deployment:  Easy to deploy with simple programming that even inexperienced users can set up within minutes 

Adapts to environment:  Flexible to adapt to changing environment and workpieces to be handled 

Collaborative and safe:  After risk assessment, humans can work alongside robot in collaborative applications 

Focus on the EoAT:  As robot arm becomes a commodity, focus shifts to EoAT to increase robot utilization  

Lower upfront cost, faster ROI:  Competitive pricing, in-house integration, and ease-of-use minimize up-front costs and speed integration, uptime, and ROI 

Collaborative EoAT Requirements

Easy to change:  Flexible, quick-change tooling to eliminate downtime between various processes 

Easy to program:  Tooling that is fast and easy to program and deploy using the cobot’s built-in teach environment 

Adaptable:  Tools that easily adapt to varying sizes, shapes, and conditions of workpieces and the environment 

Designed for safety:  Safe, collaboratively designed tools that simplify interaction with humans 

Flexible:  Flexible tooling that can be used for multiple processes 

Fast integration:  Cost-effective tooling that speeds integration and reduces need for additional equipment