Robot Grippers and End Effectors: Uses, Benefits, and Cost Analysis

06 December 2021
Robot gripper also known as a robotic end effector
Catherine Bernier
Content Manager
,
Content for Cobot

This guide provides a comprehensive understanding of end effectors – what they are, how they work, and how to source the right one for your application.

End effectors are key to every robot application. End effectors are the devices that allow your robot to interact with parts and components. Because of this, they are an important factor to ensure your robot can perform the desired application. By reading this article, you will be more confident in understanding what end effectors are and how to choose the correct one for the task. Topics in this article: 

  • What is an end effector?
  • What are end effectors used for?
  • Any known challenges with end effectors?
  • Where to source end effectors?
  • What does an end effector cost?

What Is an End Effector?

End effectors are the piece of the robot that interacts with the parts or components in the environment. Sometimes they are referred to as “end-of-arm tooling” or “manipulator.” End effectors are found at the end of the robot’s arm. There are many types of end-effectors for different types of applications. Some examples of end effectors include: 

  • Mechanical grippers
  • Pneumatic grippers
  • Suction cups
  • Weld torches
  • Magnetic gripper

What Are End Effectors Used For?

An end effector is a device the robot uses to perform its proposed task. Often the end effector is a type of gripper that is used to manipulate parts. For example, palletizing robots use end effectors to pick up and move boxes. These end effectors are commonly either mechanical/pneumatic grippers or suction cup systems. But not all applications require the robot to manipulate parts. In welding applications, robots have welding torches mounted to the end of their arm. The proper end effector allows this robot to perform its welding task. 

End effectors are required for every robotic solution. Without end effectors, robots would be quite useless! End effectors are critical for the robot to perform its task properly. Some common applications for end effectors include:

  • Grippers and suction cups
    • Material handling
    • Pick and place
    • Assembly
    • Sorting
  • Weld torches and lasers
    • Welding

The specific solution will have the biggest influence on which end effector you should select. For example, imagine you are considering a robotic solution for your part sorting application. You’ve already selected a delta robot since it is a high-speed low-payload application. How can you separate ferrous from non-ferrous parts? You can certainly use a mechanical gripper if the parts have edges that allow them to be picked up. But a better solution might be an electromagnetic gripper. These are the types of considerations required when selecting the right end-effector.

Any Known Challenges With End Effectors?

robot-end-effector-3fingers

 

There are certainly challenges with end effectors since they are such a critical component of the design process. Understanding these challenges can help you avoid potential headaches in the future. Some common challenges include:

  • Selecting the right end effector
  • End effector control
  • Maintenance

Selecting the Right End Effector

Choosing the right end effector is crucial to ensure your robot can operate properly. Choosing the wrong type of tooling can have negative effects ranging from reduced operational efficiency to the inability to successfully perform the task. For example, it’s obvious that you can’t use a mechanical gripper for a welding application. But what about a mechanical gripper vs. a suction cup system? This decision often comes down to the shape, size, and complexity of the part. Integrators and suppliers may have the ability to design a proof of concept for your application. This proof-of-concept testing should include the use of various end-of-arm tooling to determine the best choice for you. 

Besides the end effector type, there are more granular considerations when choosing an end effector. There are many different manufacturers of end effectors each with several models and different versions with unique specifications. These specifications should be considered carefully based on your application and gripper type:

  • Grip/suction force
  • Gripper stroke
  • Precision
  • Weight
  • Size
  • Torch style

End Effector Control

How you control the end effector is another consideration when designing your robot system. End effectors require either electrical or electrical and fluid power to operate. There can be challenges associated with controlling your end effector. For example, it would be unwise to choose an end effector that requires pneumatics without pressurized air available in the vicinity of the robot and no plan to add this infrastructure. Different end effectors that require electricity might have different power requirements. It is important to understand these requirements beforehand and ensure you have an adequate control system to operate your end effector. Not all end effectors are compatible with your robot system or existing infrastructure.

Maintenance

Like all equipment in your facility, end effectors require routine maintenance. Adhering to the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule is critical for getting the most out of your investment. Failing to follow this schedule can lead to failure of the end effector and can potentially damage other equipment. Common maintenance tasks for end effectors include: 

  • Cleaning
  • Greasing
  • Seal replacement
  • Spring and bearing replacement
  • Checking for leaks

Are you unsure whether you have the right selection for your application? Our network of independent advisors is ready to help! They can aid you in your automation journey from finding potential projects to receiving feedback from suppliers. 

Where to Source End Effectors?

robot_gripper

 

End effectors are manufactured by robot manufacturers, 3rd party component manufacturers, and some integrators and specialty shops. This means you have a wide selection of resources available to you for sourcing end effectors. Most suppliers can help you understand which types of end effectors will work for your application. For simple applications, it is often very convenient to use one of the manufacturer-supplied end effectors. However, for some special applications, you may need to reach out to a 3rd party supplier or integrator. 

Do you need to find a supplier today? Our proposal tool will connect you with potential suppliers in your region. Provide details about your business and what you are looking for to start receiving quotes. 

What Does an End Effector Cost?

End effector cost varies widely based on the end effector type and complexity. A small pneumatic gripper or small suction cup system could be only a few hundred USD. More complex or specialized grippers or large systems can be several thousand dollars. Powerful electromagnets, welding systems, or high-end vision systems can be in the tens of thousands of dollars (USD). End effector costs should be considered when building an ROI case for your automation project. Neglecting this factor can significantly alter your ROI math. 

Can a project with a costly end effector still be a net-positive investment for you? To answer this, you first have to understand the true cost of the process you want to automate. Our investment calculator can help you get an overview of the costs you face as well as how much you stand to gain by automating.