Drilling Robots: Automate for Fast and Precise Results

06 January 2022
Drilling robot removing metal material
Mark Fairchild
Freelance Technical Copywriter
,
Fairchild Copywriting

Drilling robots are improving productivity in the automotive, aerospace, and many more industries. Discover their characteristics and how to source them.

A remarkable spectrum of manufacturers benefits from using drilling robots. In this article, we explore drilling robots through the following topics.

  • Industries Using Drilling Robots
  • When Should You Automate?
  • Types of Drilling Robots
  • Cost Considerations
  • How to Source Drilling Robots

Industries Using Drilling Robots

Industries using drilling robots include:

  • Automotive
  • Aerospace
  • Electronics
  • Furniture
  • Medical equipment
  • Many other kinds of manufacturing

Main Uses of Drilling Robots

Drilling robots come in many shapes and sizes. They can vary greatly depending on the following:

  • Type of material being drilled into
  • Diameter and depth of the hole
  • Force required
  • Rotational speed of the spindle and drill bit

There is a stark difference between a drilling robot used to put holes in the fuselage of an aircraft and a drilling robot that puts holes in plastic for cell phone manufacturing. For example, you will need a heavier, more rigid robot for drilling into metal than for wood. Rigidity and strength will largely determine your choice of robot. Torque and rotational speed will be crucial in deciding on the End-of-Arm-Tooling (EoAT).

Drilling robots are frequently used to perform additional operations, including:

  • Tapping
  • Reaming
  • Countersinking
  • Shaving
  • Milling
  • Deburring

By changing the EoAT, a drilling robot can perform these other functions.

When Should You Automate?

Robots are becoming faster, more flexible, and less expensive. Thus, the number of applications for which it is cost-effective to use robots is growing all the time.

The critical question in deciding to use robots is to look for bottlenecks in your production process. That’s where you want to apply the resources to automate. It is also essential to find a robotics vendor with a depth of experience in your industry. They will be able to use the knowledge they’ve gained with other companies to offer suggestions. These automation experts will also be able to provide advice on calculating ROI.

Using a robot to perform drilling has many advantages over manual methods:

  • Accuracy and precision
  • Repeatability
  • Speed
  • Lower labor cost
  • Reducing errors

Perhaps the most significant advantage is reliability. Robots don’t get tired, develop work-related injuries, or need vacations. They can work 24/7.

Things to consider

Drilling robots represent a significant capital investment. Robotic solutions range from $100,000 to multi-million projects. The user will need a sufficient volume of drilling tasks to justify the cost.

Dexterity

Most drilling robots are not mobile or have only a limited degree of mobility. So, for example, they are not used to build a house on site. For this application, one would need a humanoid robot that can walk around the worksite and drill. Such robots are not yet commercially available.

That said, robotic arms are more flexible than CNC machines. On an assembly line, robotic arms can reach into spaces that are difficult or impossible for humans.

Robots can be used in tandem with CNC machines. For example, a widespread application for robots is machine tending. If you have a CNC cell for drilling into which workers need to insert and remove workpieces, you are a viable candidate for a machine-tending robot.

The capabilities of drilling robots can be extended. One example is adding more degrees of freedom to the robotic arm holding the drill. The larger the number of degrees of freedom, the more complex kinds of movements the arm can make. This, in turn, determines how complicated a workpiece the drilling robot can handle.

Add-ons

More components can also be added, such as vision systems, measuring instruments, and awareness sensors. A vision system enables the robot to use markings on a workpiece for reference. Vision systems can automatically sense the dimensions and position of the workpiece. Computer-aided vision makes setup easier and faster. Various measuring instruments enable the robot to check the dimensions of the hole and do a quality control inspection after drilling.

Additional EoAT makes it possible for the drilling robot to go back to the hole it just created, and perform a tapping operation, making threads in the hole.

However, note that tapping requires higher torque than drilling. You may need a heavier, more robust robot arm for tapping.

A burr left on the surface of the workpiece at the site of drilling can be removed with a deburring tool.

Safety

Historically, drilling robots have been separated from workers for safety reasons. A worker can be injured by colliding with the robot. Small particles thrown off by the drilling process could also be dangerous. For some applications, adding awareness sensors makes the robot capable of being used safely around people.

Types of Drilling Robots

Most drilling robots used in manufacturing will be of the articulated arm type with six (or more) degrees of freedom. However, a SCARA robot might be used for smaller holes in softer material, such as in electronics manufacturing. Other robot types might be used, depending on the application.

Articulated robot arms tend to be the most expensive. For specific uses, different robot types might be more cost-effective.

Components

The main components of most robotic drilling systems are:

  • The articulated robot arm
  • The End of Arm Tooling (which will include a spindle)
  • A vision system

Complementary Solutions

Depending on the application, there are a variety of auxiliary systems that function in tandem with drilling robots.

Here are a few:

  • Cooling system – the workpiece and the EoAT might need to be continuously or periodically cooled because the drilling friction creates heat.
  • Gripping and jigs – you might need fixturing to position the workpiece for drilling and hold it in place.
  • Automatic tool changer – if the application needs several different tools or sizes of drill bits, an external tool exchanger will be required.
  • Mounting options – most drilling robots are bolted to the floor. They can also be fastened to a vertical surface or the ceiling. Mobile platforms are also available.
  • Safety equipment – fences to separate drilling robots from workers are commonly used. Light curtains can also be employed that slow down or stop the robot, depending on how far away a person is.

Maintenance and Expected Lifespan

According to Motion Controls Robotics, most users will get 8 to 10 years of reliable use from an articulated robot arm. Robot arms can be refurbished and restored to like-new condition. There is a robust marketplace for used and reconditioned robots.

Rotating spindles may have a different lifespan. Your application and use will be the determining factor. Some companies specialize in rebuilding and repairing spindles.

Special maintenance sensors can be attached to a spindle. These sensors measure the health of the spindle based on its vibrations. Such a monitoring system allows the user to schedule maintenance more intelligently. A monitoring system also helps to avoid catastrophic failures.

Cost Considerations

If you are drilling into a relatively soft material, you will want a smaller, more lightweight robot. Naturally, such robots are less expensive. If you are drilling into metal, you will need a larger, heavier robot. Metal drilling robots need higher rigidity and larger torque. They also need to apply more force. Thus, robots for drilling into metal are more expensive than those for drilling into wood, fiber, and other relatively soft materials. 

Used robots are available and are considerably less expensive than new ones.

How to Source the Ideal Drilling Robot for Your Organization

HowToRobot is a global platform connecting end-users with robot and automation suppliers worldwide. We have the world’s largest directory of robotics companies. Using our guide, you can find the type of robot you need, ideally suited for your application.

Perhaps you want to automate a drilling task but are unsure what you need. You can get tailored solution proposals from various suppliers. Simply describe your project and start receiving answers.

You can also get quotes and receive product information for specific drilling robots, parts, components, and consultancy services. You will receive product information and pricing from multiple vendors.

Please note that impartial HowToRobot experts can help you navigate through the process. Click here to set up a consultation with an expert advisor.