The 3 types of pick and place mechanism

February 27, 2024
Standard Bots robot visualizer

What is a pick and place machine and its mechanism?

A pick and place machine, also known as a Pick and Place robot, is an automated assembly system that picks up components and places them onto a surface for assembly. 

The “picking up” part is done using a vacuum nozzle or mechanical gripper called an end-effector. This end-effector is attached to a robotic arm that moves to pick up the component from its initial position. 

The arm then moves the component to the desired location and places it down – hence the name “Pick and Place”.

The specific Pick and Place mechanism used depends on factors like the type, size, shape and material of components being handled as well as required precision and production volume.

So, when choosing a Pick and Place system, it’s important to think long and hard about all these factors to choose a solution that can accomplish your assembly needs efficiently – and cost-effectively, hopefully.

Types of pick and place mechanisms

Not every Pick and Place mechanism is the same, and you need to know them like the back of your hand before you invest in one. 

Let’s go deeper to uncover what they’re all about: 

Fixed automation pick and place systems

Their focus is on high-speed, repetitive tasks within a set configuration, making them a staple in environments with minimal product variation but high production volumes

They’re often seen in sectors like food and drink packaging, pharmaceuticals, and automotive manufacturing, where they excel at tasks like sorting and assembling products quickly and reliably. 

Their main strength is in their speed and continuous operation capabilities, offering a cost-effective solution for mass production needs. 

However, their rigidity means adapting to product or process changes can be a bit challenging –  and potentially costly.

Standalone pick and place machines

You’ll frequently see these in electronics manufacturing. They’re precision-oriented, and designed to handle the delicate assembly required in electronics production

These systems shine in placing tiny components onto circuit boards, an absolutely critical process in making smartphones, computers, and other electronic gadgets. 

The precision of these machines protects sensitive parts from damage and can be adjusted for various components, making them somewhat flexible within their specialized field. 

Nevertheless, their focus on electronics manufacturing limits their application elsewhere, and the significant investment needed for these machines may not be a right fit for all operations. 

Robotics pick and place systems 

These are by far the most versatile, using robotic arms that can be programmed for diverse tasks across many industries. 

Whether it’s electronics, automotive, food packaging, or general manufacturing, these robots can easily adapt to different shapes, sizes, and materials, integrating with vision systems for enhanced accuracy. 

Their biggest advantage? Their flexibility; you can reprogram these robots for different products, allowing for a broader application range. 

The trade-off comes with the initial complexity and investment required to set up and program these advanced systems, which might be higher than fixed automation but justified by their adaptability and broad utility.

Note: The best modern robotic Pick and Place systems are actually very easy to set up, requiring no programming knowledge whatsoever. 

Standard Bots routine editor

Advantages of robotic pick and place mechanisms 

It’s extremely important to understand that the leading-edge robotic Pick and Place systems today are equipped with intuitive interfaces and smart technologies that significantly reduce setup time. 

Unlike traditional models, these modern machines have user-friendly programming capabilities, enabling operators to customize tasks without needing deep technical expertise. 

This democratization of technology essentially allows even the most non-technical users to fully harness the power of advanced robotics, opening up new possibilities for efficiency and innovation on the production floor.

Incorporating AI and machine learning, the latest systems can autonomously learn from their operations, optimizing their movements and decisions over time to enhance productivity and reduce waste. 

This adaptability is a huge benefit in industries facing rapid product changes or needing to accommodate a variety of part sizes and shapes within the same production line.

Finally, the collaborative nature of some robotic Pick and Place systems – often referred to as "Cobots" – allows them to work alongside human operators with high safety levels 

Cobots are designed with safety in mind, equipped with sensors and software that enable them to detect and avoid unexpected obstacles, including people, further reducing the risk of workplace accidents.

What else affects a pick and place mechanism?

When you’re shopping around for a Pick and Place mechanism, there are several factors to keep in mind; things like the end-effector, programming options, and environmental conditions can affect how well a mechanism functions.

Let’s take a closer look: 

  • What end-effectors do you need? The end-effector is basically the Pick and Place robot's hand; it’s what grabs and releases the items. 

    There are various types, like vacuum, magnetic, and mechanical grippers, each designed for specific tasks.

    For instance, vacuum grippers are great for picking up light items but might struggle with heavy or awkwardly shaped parts. It's important to choose an end-effector that matches the nature of the items you're working with – otherwise, they may cause accidents or issues. 
  • What type of programming and control will you need? Think about the complexity of programming you'll need; some Pick and Place systems do the same task over and over with little room for change, perfect for straightforward, repetitive jobs. 

    Meanwhile, robotic systems give you a lot more freedom
    , allowing you to reprogram them for different tasks, adapt to various parts, and even tweak their operation as your environment or needs change.

    Point is: Your choice should align with the level of flexibility and control your operation requires.
  • In what environment will you deploy the mechanism? The setting where your Pick and Place system will work is very important. 

    For a machine operating in a cleanroom, you'll need special grippers and seals that meet those strict standards. If it's going to be used in a hot area, then heat-resistant parts are a must.

    Give due consideration to all aspects of your environment, like temperature, humidity, and air pressure. The system needs to be robust enough to handle these conditions to guarantee a smooth operation.

How to choose the right pick and place mechanism

There are even more factors to consider when choosing a Pick and Place mechanism; the most important being the size, weight and material of the objects you need to manipulate.

Check them out: 

  • For small, lightweight components like microchips, integrated circuits, or other electronic parts, a vacuum Pick and Place system is ideal. 

    These use suction cups to latch onto components and place them precisely on circuit boards or other targets. Vacuum systems are fast, accurate, and will play nice with fragile parts. 

    However, they can only handle components up to a few ounces in weight.
  • Meanwhile, for medium to heavy components up to 50 pounds or more, a mechanical gripper system is a better choice. These grippers use actual mechanical fingers or claws to grasp and move components. 

    They can handle a wide range of shapes, sizes and weights
    . However, they may require custom end-effectors for unusual part geometries and typically can’t achieve the high speeds and close tolerances of vacuum systems.
  • Finally, in applications where both heavy and delicate parts must be handled, or where close tolerances and high speeds are required for some components, a hybrid Pick and Place cell using multiple mechanisms may be what the doctor ordered. 

    For instance, a system could use vacuum picks for IC chips, grippers for connectors and larger parts, and a robot arm to transfer components between the different Pick and Place stations.

Summing up

Now you have the absolute lowdown on the main types of Pick and Place mechanisms. 

Now, it’s up to you to choose: From traditional fixed automation to advanced robotics, there are options aplenty. 

But remember; first, you need to assess your specific application and production goals, and then, armed with this overview, you can dive deeper into the leading Pick and Place technologies. 

Next steps

Ready to enhance your Part-Picking processes? RO1 by Standard Bots stands out as a top selection for entities of all sizes, from agile startups to expansive industrial giants.

  • Affordable greatness: RO1 sets itself apart by offering unmatched performance at half the cost of its competitors, providing significant savings – but not at the expense of quality.
  • Power and precision: With an industry-leading payload of 18 kg, RO1 exceeds in speed and accuracy, ideally suited for the demands of part-picking.
  • Reliability and safety: Featuring comprehensive safety features like advanced sensors and collision prevention, RO1 ensures a secure environment for your part-picking tasks.

Connect with our solutions team for a no-commitment, 30-day trial at your facility, including expert advice on integrating RO1 seamlessly into your shop floor.

Standard Bots equipment manager
Standard Bots camera vision
Press contacts