Using cobots for sanding: An ultimate guide

June 12, 2024
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Understanding cobots: The basics

Cobots, or collaborative robots, are designed to work side-by-side with humans without safety cages. They’re lightweight, flexible, and equipped with sensors that detect contact, so they immediately stop operating if they touch you.

Of course, this does not make them absolutely foolproof, but they’re generally much safer than the other models of bigger, bulkier, industrial bots. 

Key components of a cobot sanding system

To get started with cobot sanding, you'll need to:

  • Get an articulated arm cobot, like those made by Standard Bots. They have multiple joints that provide dexterity and a large work envelope.
  • You'll also want an end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) designed for sanding, like a sander head or sanding disc. The EOAT attaches to the cobot's wrist and provides the sanding action. Many come with built-in dust extraction to keep your work area clean.
  • A vision system helps guide the cobot. Cameras detect the part and its features so the cobot knows where and how to sand. Some vision systems can even detect the sanded surface in real-time and make adjustments to get an even finish.
  • Programming software lets you easily program the cobot's sanding path. You can either lead the cobot through the path manually or use 3D models of the part to generate a path automatically.
  • Of course, you'll also need a steady supply of sandpaper and sanding discs in various grits. Don't forget about things like air blowers to remove debris, dust extractors, safety fences, and emergency stops.

The benefits of using cobots for sanding

There’s a lot to love about cobots: 

  • Next-level productivity: Cobots can operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with minimal downtime (for maintenance). This allows factories to significantly boost productivity and output. Cobots also work at a fast, consistent pace with precision and quality. Basically, you’ll get more sanded parts in less time. 
  • High-quality finishes: Correctly functioning cobots provide more uniform sanding results for part after part. They apply the same amount of pressure and make the same motions repeatedly. This leads to high-quality finishes with minimal imperfections. Cobots also have built-in sensors that can spot flaws in real-time.
  • Reduced costs: Although cobots have high upfront costs, they can save money in the long run. Cobots don’t need wages, benefits, or time off. They also have minimal (but crucial) maintenance needs. Cobots improve productivity and quality, reducing waste, rework and returns which all add to cost savings. Plus, they have a great ROI of just 1 to 3 years. 
  • Major safety benefits: Cobots operate in a (generally) safe, controlled manner with advanced sensors and software. They have safeguards in place to avoid collisions or accidents. Cobots also take over dangerous sanding jobs, preventing health issues like respiratory problems from dust exposure. The result is a cleaner, safer work environment. 

Setting up your cobot for sanding

Let’s walk through the cobot sanding process step-by-step:

  • Power it up: Before you start, make sure your cobot is powered on and connected to a sturdy base. It's also a good idea to double-check that it has access to power.
  • Find the perfect spot: Securely mount your cobot in your workspace, ensuring it has enough elbow room to reach all the areas it needs to sand. 
  • Teach it the moves: Guide your cobot's arm through the sanding motions, pausing at key points. The cobot will record the path and repeat it perfectly. You can even program multiple paths for different parts or finishes.
  • Choose the right tool for the job: Attaching a sanding disc or belt end-of-arm tool to the cobot is vital. Make sure it's on tight, but still allows the cobot to move freely. Test it out on some scrap material first to avoid any unwanted surprises.
  • Keep it clean and safe: Sanding can get messy, so make sure your workspace is well-ventilated and has a dust collection system. Also, remember that while cobots are designed to work safely around people, it's always better to be safe than sorry. Double-check that your work area is clear of any obstacles and that the cobot won't bump into anything (or anyone).
  • Get the right sandpaper: Choose the right grit of sandpaper for the finish you want. Start with a rougher grit and gradually switch to finer ones for a smooth, polished surface. Don't forget about buffing wheels or polishing pads for that extra shine!
  • Multi-step sanding made easy: Need multiple sanding steps? No problem! Your cobot can handle it. Just program it to switch between different grits and tools for a flawless finish.
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Challenges and solutions in cobot sanding

Cobot sanding comes with its own set of challenges that you’ll need to keep in mind. 

The good news? For every challenge, there’s a solution: 

  • The reach issue: Cobots might not have the longest arms in the world, which can be a problem for sanding large or oddly shaped pieces. However, you can grab a cobot with an extended reach, or put it on a linear rail system to give it more working space.
  • Need for speed: Cobots aren't the fastest bots out there, which can slow things down if you're sanding a lot of stuff. But you can always get more cobots working together or choose a model that's built for speed and can handle heavier loads.
  • Programming puzzle: Teaching a cobot to sand properly takes some know-how and time. To make things easier, look for cobots with user-friendly interfaces or pre-made templates for common sanding jobs. It's also a good idea to invest in some training for your team.
  • Safety dance: Sanding can kick up dust and debris, which isn't great for your equipment — or your lungs. Make sure you've got a good ventilation and dust collection system in place and that everyone wears the right protective gear. Oh, and don't forget to do a thorough risk assessment before letting those cobots loose.

Summing up

Cobot sanding and finishing make the process easier, faster, and more reliable. The benefits are clear as day, but it does take a bit of strategic planning to implement cobot sanding successfully. 

Given some prep work, these clever robots can handle all your sanding needs — and more. 

Next steps 

Revolutionize your operations with the robotic arm RO1, a cutting-edge, six-axis innovation from Standard Bots engineered to boost efficiency for businesses of all sizes.

RO1 helps you:

  • Save big on automation: Get all the benefits of advanced automation technology at half the cost of comparable options.
  • Get top performance, guaranteed: RO1 outperforms the competition with its impressive 18 kg payload capacity and lightning-fast speeds, delivering precise and top-quality results for your manufacturing processes.
  • Adapt to new needs: Powered by advanced AI similar to GPT-4, RO1 continually learns and adapts to your specific task. Its intuitive no-code framework makes customization a breeze, ensuring optimal performance over time.
  • Put safety first: RO1 is designed to work hand-in-hand with your team, prioritizing safety through cutting-edge vision and sensor technologies.

Take advantage of our risk-free 30-day trial and see the transformative impact it can have on your business. Get in touch today to book a demo.

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