Before you start busting out your favorite manufacturer’s catalog, you’ll want to start with choosing the correct type of robot. The major types of Laser Cutting robots include:
Gantry-mounted robots, or “Cartesian” robots, feature a track system which supports and guides the robot arm along multiple axes. This design offers an extended work area, making it ideal for cutting larger materials or executing cuts over a significant area. The integration of robotics in Gantry-mounted systems enhances the speed and accuracy of cuts, enabling manufacturers to tackle large-scale projects with unparalleled efficiency.
Articulated robots emulate the dexterity and flexibility of human arms, making them adept at intricate and complex laser cutting tasks. These robots are capable of executing cuts from various angles and orientations, allowing them to access hard-to-reach areas and intricate contours. With the addition of robotics, Articulated robots can navigate with precision and adapt to the ever-changing demands of modern manufacturing.
Collaborative robots, or Cobots, are a safety-focused form of an Articulated robot. In the context of laser cutting, Collaborative robots can perform precise cuts in close proximity with your human staff and with minimal need for safety equipment, ideal for busy production lines where your robot will be handing off parts to humans for further processing. Specifically, Cobots come equipped with features like collision avoidance, emergency halting and even foreign object detection.
Whichever type of robot you choose, there are a few specific considerations you’ll want to keep in mind when picking a particular model for your laser cutting application:
Robotic integration and compatibility: Evaluate whether the robot is compatible with your current production setup, including conveyors, workstations, and auxiliary equipment. You’ll want to be sure of how you’ll get parts to the robot and what length of reach your chosen robot needs to have. If you want the robot to directly interface with surrounding equipment, such as your existing laser source or a conveyor for controlling the flow of parts.
Programming and control software: Choose a robot that offers user-friendly software, ideally with visual programming options that simplify the creation of intricate cutting paths and patterns. You’ll want to make sure your team can program the robot and calibrate the cuts, rather than have to hire a consultant programmer every time your production line changes.
End-effector flexibility: The end-effector, meaning the tool attached to the robot, is the bridge between the robot and the material being cut. If you’re a high-mix shop, opt for a robot that supports a variety of end-effectors, allowing you to effortlessly switch between different cutting tools based on material type, thickness, and intricacy of cuts. Consider robots that offer quick-change mechanisms for end-effectors, reducing downtime and maximizing versatility.
Speaking of end-effectors, let’s explore these in more detail. A robot without an end-effector is like an arm without a hand, so choosing the right one is just as important - if not more so - than choosing the robot itself.
End-effectors are often manufactured by a separate company from your chosen robot arm and have their own considerations. Here are the main things you need to know:
Cutting heads: Unsurprisingly, the main end-effector you’ll need for your robot is a specialized cutting head. The best end-effectors often incorporate features such as adjustable focus, lens protection, and dynamic beam control to adapt to different materials and cutting requirements. You’ll need to power the cutting head separately from your arm and ensure the payload of the robot is high enough to lift the end-effector and any attached cabling.
Autofocus: One step up from a cutting head with an adjustable focus is one with an automatic focus. These clever end-effectors can sense and adjust to compensate for inertia without the need for human intervention. These end-effectors can vertically move their beam unit without requiring the robot arm to move, which can speed up cycle times and drastically reduce the complexity of programming.
Vision systems: Vision systems, equipped with cameras and sensors, provide real-time feedback on material positioning and alignment. These end-effectors enable the robot to adjust its movement and cutting paths based on visual data, ensuring precise cuts even on irregular or misaligned surfaces. This is suitable for complex cuts where autofocus is too imprecise.
As we mentioned above some end-effectors go a step further, incorporating tool changers that facilitate seamless transitions between laser sources of the inclusion of additional tools, such as plasma cutters. It’s essential to ensure that any considered end-effector possesses the requisite capacity to manage the dimensions and weight of the materials earmarked for cutting.
Now that you know what you’re looking for, you need to know where to look. Here are some of the top manufacturers of Laser Cutting robots:
FANUC is the largest Japanese robotics corporation. They produce extremely reliable and versatile Laser Cutting robots for industrial use. FANUC Laser Cutting robots can handle 3D laser cutting and welding on complex parts. They offer a wide range of robots with different work envelopes, payload capacities, and mounting options to suit any application.
ABB is a prominent Swiss robotics corporation and provides precise, automated laser cutting for high productivity and quality. Their robots utilize advanced control systems for the precise manipulation of laser beams over a workpiece. ABB offers various Laser Cutting robot models with different load capacities and reaches to handle any workpiece size.
KUKA is a leading German robotics enterprise who produce a range of Laser Cutting robots for automated laser processing in manufacturing. KUKA’s laser cutting robots feature high payload capacities, large work envelopes, and advanced control systems for precise and flexible laser cutting. Their robots can handle complex 3D laser cutting, welding, and surface treatment applications.
Standard Bots, located in the United States, are an innovative entrant to the market. Their RO1 Six-Axis robot is extremely versatile and works across many different applications. The company is known for being cost-effective, offering no-code programming with a class-topping payload and precision.
You now have everything you need to go Laser Cutting robot shopping. Do your research, get references from other manufacturers with similar operations, and don't be afraid to ask lots of questions.
Interested in bringing a Laser Cutting robot to your own business? RO1 by Standard Bots is a great choice for machine shops large and small:
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.