How to master your Grinding robot: Choosing the right one for your factory

August 17, 2023
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What is a grinding robot?

A grinding robot is an automated machine that handles grinding tasks. It uses mechanical parts to grind, polish, and buff metal surfaces on a pre-programmed path. 

Grinding robots typically consist of a robotic arm (or multiple arms) outfitted with grinding tools like wheels, belts, and disks. The robot is pre-programmed with the proper speeds, angles, and pressures for a given grinding task. It can then perform repetitive jobs automatically and consistently.

When choosing grinding robots, the following factors come into play:

  • Size and reach - Robots come in many sizes with different reaches. Typically, grinders are looking for a robot that can reach across a large surface for grinding but is small enough to fit inside an existing space with minimal adjustment.
  • Load capacity - Robots have varying payloads, meaning the maximum weight the robot arm can hold. Grinders typically look for robots with a payload that is heavy enough to hold a heavy grinding tool and move the associated cabling. 
  • Precision - Unsurprisingly, grinders prize precision, known as repeatability in the robotics industry. This refers to the tolerance in which a robot can repeatedly grind the same spot for a consistent result each cycle.
  • Software  - The robot's software should be intuitive and easy to program for various grinding jobs. Look for options with simulation capabilities.
  • Safety features - Some robots come with built-in “Collaborative” safety features like collision detection and emergency halting. Nonetheless, grinders may want to consider installing safety fencing around their robot to protect unsuspecting staff from flying debris and sparks.

‍How grinding robots work

Grinding robots follow a specific workflow to maximize accuracy and consistency. 

Here's a simplified breakdown:

  • Workpiece introduction: The part to be ground is introduced into the robot's workspace. This could be done manually by an operator, or automatically using a conveyor system or another robot.
  • Robot execution: The robotic arm, equipped with the appropriate grinding tool, follows its programmed path. It performs precise grinding movements, applying the right speed and pressure for the desired finish.
  • Constant feedback: Sensors integrated with the robot continuously monitor the grinding process. This guarantees that the grinding tool interacts with the workpiece accurately, making adjustments as needed.

Types of grinding robots

It's important to choose the right type of grinding robot for your specific needs. Here's a look at the most common types:

  • Cartesian robots: These robots move along three linear axes, making them ideal for grinding flat surfaces over large areas. They're often mounted on a ceiling gantry.
  • SCARA robots: Known for speed and repetitive tasks, SCARA robots are good for grinding curved or uneven surfaces. However, they typically have a smaller range of motion than other types.
  • Articulated robots: These robots offer the most flexibility with multiple rotary joints. They can handle complex grinding tasks in hard-to-reach areas but may be more expensive and require advanced programming.

Key benefits of using a grinding robot

No matter the robot you choose, you’ll reap several benefits when you go for an automated grinding process.

Let’s take a look:

  • Improved, consistent quality: A grinding robot follows the exact same process every time, reducing human error and variability. This means fewer non-conformities and a consistent, precise finish every time.
  • A safer environment: Even with years of experience under their belt, grinding is a hazard for any member of staff. A grinding robot can work all day without injury or fatigue. Operators are no longer exposed to risks like eye injuries, burns, and sparks.
  • Increased productivity: The most obvious benefit of a robot is that it can work faster than humans, running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With a grinding robot handling the tedious, repetitive work, your operators are freed up to focus on more complex tasks. This can significantly boost productivity and throughput in your shop.
  • Speed and precision: Grinding robots offer unmatched speed and precision compared to manual work. They achieve tight tolerances, ensuring the perfect finish for each part.
  • Reduced costs: Although automated grinding robots require a substantial upfront investment, they can lower costs in the long run. Less rework and defective parts and a longer shelf-life for abrasives add up quickly. Labor costs are also minimized since robots don’t require breaks, overtime pay, or benefits.
  • Flexibility: Unlike dedicated grinding machines, robots can be reprogrammed for different parts and tasks. They can even swap out end-effectors to handle a variety of grinding, polishing, and finishing jobs.

Industries where grinding robots are used

You’ll be glad to know you don’t need to be a pioneer here. Grinding robots are used in several manufacturing industries, especially those involving metal fabrication.

If you work in a machine shop, understanding where grinding robots are commonly used can help you figure out if investing in this automation tech is right for your business. With that in mind, here’s a few examples:

Automotive industry

The automotive industry relies heavily on grinding robots for tasks like deburring, finishing, and polishing metal parts. Robots can grind down welds, smooth edges, and polish surfaces with speed, precision, and consistency. This helps automakers produce high-quality components efficiently and in large volumes. Normally, automotive companies will opt for large, heavy-payload six-axis robot arms.

Aerospace industry

Aerospace manufacturers use grinding robots to fabricate aircraft and spacecraft parts to extremely tight tolerances. Grinding robots can shape and finish parts like turbine blades, landing gear, and fuselages. 

Their accuracy and repeatability are essential for meeting the strict standards of the aerospace industry, where human variability can cause issues. Unsurprisingly, these manufacturers are most interested in robots with extreme levels of repeatability (precision).

Medical device industry

Ever wonder how a scalpel gets sharpened? Medical device companies frequently employ grinding robots to manufacture surgical instruments, implants, and other healthcare equipment. 

Grinding robots allow them to craft medical-grade metal parts with the high level of precision and quality demanded for use in and on the human body. Companies in this industry typically deploy six-axis, smaller grinding robots.

Grinding robots are also found in industries like:

  • Oil and gas - For grinding valves, pipes, tanks, and other components where safety is paramount.
  • Heavy manufacturing - For example, machining extremely large parts in hydroelectric dams, wind turbines, or even nuclear/thermal power plants.
  • Tooling - For grinding cutting tools, dies, and machine tool parts with high accuracy.

If your machine shop serves customers in any of these sectors, a grinding robot could be a worthwhile investment and a way to stand out from your competitors.

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Implementing and integrating a grinding robot into your shop

Once you’ve chosen a grinding robot that meets your needs, it’s time to implement it into your shop’s workflow. 

Here are some tips to help integrate your new automation equipment smoothly:

  • Pick a location for your grinding robot that is convenient for both loading parts and any post-grinding processing. Make sure it has a stable, vibration-free base and adequate ventilation. Consider how the robot will interface with existing equipment and any safety precautions needed. You may need to reconfigure your shop floor layout to accommodate it, especially if you don’t have an existing way to deliver and secure parts for grinding.
  • Work with the robot manufacturer or a certified engineer to program your specific grinding operations. If you’d rather do it yourself, ensure you pick a robot equipped with simple, no-code-required programming software.

    Have (a lot of) sample parts on hand to make sure the robot is programmed to handle every small differentiation or imperfection in your blanks that your human staff wouldn’t think twice about adapting to.
  • Run the robot through dry runs and test grinds with scrap pieces first to work out any kinks. Check that it is grinding accurately and efficiently before using good stock. Many manufacturers underestimate the time it takes to program a robot and deal with every edge case (if you’ll pardon the pun).
  • Ensure staff who will operate, load/unload parts, and maintain the grinding robot receive proper training. Work with your manufacturer or integrator to provide both classroom and hands-on instruction. Cover basics like safety procedures, programming, troubleshooting, and routine maintenance.

    Even if you have staff who won’t interact with the robot as part of their day-to-day role, it’s worth making sure they know what to expect from the robot and how to activate emergency stop buttons and other safeguards. ‍

Pick the right end-effector

The end-effector is the tool the grinding robot uses to directly interact with the workpiece. Choosing the right one is key to achieving the desired finish and maximizing efficiency.

Here are some common types:

  • Abrasive tools: Grinding wheels, sanding discs, and other abrasives physically remove material to shape, smooth, and polish surfaces. Choose the correct grit and material composition based on your workpiece and desired finish.
  • Vacuum tools: These can be attached to the end-effector to capture debris during the grinding process, improving cleanliness and safety.

How to choose a high-quality grinding robot manufacturer

Choosing the right grinding robot manufacturer is crucial for the success of your automation project. 

Here's what to look for:

  • Industry experience: Choose a manufacturer with a proven track record in your specific industry. Their expertise will ensure your robot is optimized for your applications.
  • Ease of programming: Intuitive software makes it easier to program and reprogram your robot. This is especially important if you don't have dedicated robotics engineers on staff.
  • Customer support: Responsive support and readily available spare parts are essential to minimize downtime and ensure your investment is protected.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Consider the total cost of ownership, including initial purchase, programming, maintenance, and support.
  • Integration: Look for a manufacturer that offers seamless integration with your existing equipment and software.

While there are many reputable options on the market, these are the leading grinding robot manufacturers:

  • Standard Bots (USA): Standard Bots offers the most affordable, easy-to-use, and powerful robotic arm for machine shops. Their RO1 robot boasts an impressive payload capacity, precision, and a plug-and-play design, making setup and integration a breeze.
  • ABB (Switzerland): This global robotics leader provides a wide range of industrial robots, including models well-suited for grinding applications. They are known for their reliability and advanced technology.
  • FANUC (Japan): A major player in industrial automation, FANUC offers high-performance grinding robots with speed and precision.
  • KUKA (Germany): This German manufacturer specializes in heavy-duty industrial robots, offering powerful solutions for large-scale grinding tasks.

Summing up

Grinding robots bring a ton of benefits to machine shops across the board. They make parts better, faster,  and way safer. They're even flexible enough to handle different jobs. 

Remember: Finding the right robot and manufacturer is super important. Think about their experience in your industry, how easy it is to program, the support they offer, and how well it'll fit with your existing machines.

Next steps

If you’re ready to bring a grinding robot to your business, RO1 by Standard Bots is a great choice for machine shops large and small:

  1. Affordable: RO1 is the most affordable robotic arm in its class, starting at almost half the price of incumbent competitors. 
  2. Powerful: RO1 is faster and more precise than competitors, despite having the highest payload capacity in its class at 18 kg.
  3. Integrated: RO1 comes equipped with built-in relays to control almost any machine on the market, including plug-and-play support for Haas CNC milling machines.

Speak to our solutions team today to organize a free, 30-day onsite trial and get expert advice on everything you need to deploy your first robot.

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