Robot of the Week: One Sheet at a Time

Handling multiple SKUs of delicate, difficult to manipulate material is tough for humans & robots. But with the right peripherals and clever gripper design, you can automate almost anything.

June 7th, 2023 2 min read

Handling delicate materials and tending extremely sensitive machinery is traditionally a bad choice for robotic automation. But with clever integration of the right peripherals and a custom end of arm tool, a previously impossible automation can eliminate expensive scrap, end mistakes that damage machinery, and stabilize and entire production process. 

Our Rapid Machine Operator, Steve works at an electronics fab in Santa Clara, CA. This RMO performs a task that might have been difficult or impossible for a traditional systems integrator to automate at a reasonable cost. Steve handles multiple sizes of copper foil sheets ranging from 24"x30" to 12"x18". The sheets are fed into a laminating machine to prep them for use as a base layer in large PCBs. If more than one sheet is fed into the laminator, it can result in damage to the machine, requiring expensive repairs and extended downtime. To make that issue even more pernicious, the copper sheets are cut using a method that creates a very slight curl at the edge, so that the sheets frequently hook together. How do you deploy a robot that can handle such a huge assortment of SKUs while at the same time verifying that every pick is only a single sheet? Well, if your robotics partner is Rapid, it's actually pretty easy. 

Thanks to a custom gripper designed by the Rapid Robotics engineering team, Steve can switch between material sizes without reprogramming. The human operator who loads the feeding fixture simply selects the correct material size, and Steve knows to activate only the suction cups needed for that sheet size. An ultrasonic sensor on the work cell ensures that the gripper never picks up more than one sheet. If Steve does pick up more than one sheet, it moves back over the tray and shakes to dislodge the extra part. And if the manufacturer needs to add another material size to the program, Rapid can easily push a new program to Steve over the cloud, with zero downtime.

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