Types of End-Effectors: Everything You Need to Know

October 4, 2023
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Exploring the various end-effector types

End-effectors typically fall into three main categories: grippers, process tools, and sensors. They can be as simple as two-fingered grippers for pick-and-place tasks or as complex as sensor systems for robotic inspection.


Robotic grippers are the most popular type of robot end-effector as they're incredibly versatile and can handle a wide range of tasks. Grippers act as the robot's "hands".

These end-effectors can grab and manipulate objects, making them the go-to for automated tasks like pick-and-place, material handling, and assembly.

As for their design, many robotic arm grippers have "fingers" that can individually grasp and release objects. Although, there are more specialized grippers that use needles, suction cups, magnets, and more.

  • Mechanical grippers: These are a set of mechanical fingers or gripper jaws. A mechanical gripper is used to grasp objects precisely and can include hooks, forks, or complex fingers.
  • Magnetic grippers: As the name suggests, these grippers use magnetic forces to hold onto objects, especially those made of iron.
  • Pneumatic grippers: Known for their strength and compact size, these grippers use air pressure to function.
  • Vacuum grippers: This gripper uses air power to hold objects with suction cups, like when you use a regular vacuum cleaner.
  • Electric grippers: These grippers have fingers powered by motors, providing precise control over their position and speed. Unlike magnetic, vacuum, and pneumatic grippers, electric grippers have more finesse, making them ideal for handling delicate objects.

Process tools

Robot process tools are essentially grippers but with advanced functionality. While grippers handle and move objects, process tools get hands-on and physically change them.

One example of robot process tools is to think of anything you'd want the robot to do that involves hands-on work. If it's painting, the end-effector can be equipped with brushes; for welding, it will carry cutting components.

These process tools collaborate with the robotic arm, adding extra functions to the robotic system. They can range from simple tools like screwdrivers to advanced setups that resemble an entire robot.

Some of the most common process tool end-effectors include:

  • Welding tools: Welding end-effectors are most commonly seen in the automotive industry, where they're used for precise and consistent welding.
  • Grinding and sanding tools: These do the job of smoothing and finishing surfaces on workpieces. They attach to the robotic arm as end-effectors and can be programmed to move over the workpiece's surface to get that perfect finish.
  • Cutting tools: These end-effectors come with cutting tools like blades. You'll often find them in CNC machines for tasks like material removal and shaping.
  • Painting tools: These end-effector tools are used for applying a consistent layer of paint while also helping reduce the chances of contamination.
  • Dispensers: Dispensing end-effectors are used for the precise application of liquids, adhesives, or sealants onto workpieces. They might have nozzles, valves, or syringe-like mechanisms.


Robotic sensors are like the robot's eyes and ears, helping it move in the right direction and understand what's happening around it. They send signals to a controller, which tells the robot what to do next.

These sensors wear many hats, like recognizing objects, guiding the robot on the best path, or avoiding obstacles.

Sensors fall into two categories: internal and external. Internal sensors give the robot information about its own parts, like how its joints move and where it's facing. On the other hand, external sensors focus on the world outside of the robot, helping it navigate and recognize objects.

Whether you're dealing with robotic arms or industrial robots, adding sensors to the end-effectors is a must. This is especially important in places where humans and robots work side by side.

Some of the most common sensors include:

  • Ultrasonic sensors: These sensors send out sound waves, and by listening to the echoes, they can detect objects and measure distances.
  • Proximity sensors: These tell the robot if something's nearby or not without actually touching it. They can find all sorts of things, like metal, plastic, or liquids.
  • Torque or force sensors: Torque sensors measure the push and pull forces happening at the robot's wrists and joints. They're often used in grippers to figure out how hard they're holding something or in robot arms to see how tough it is to move an object.
  • Light sensors: These let the robot measure how bright things are. They can be used in tasks like spotting objects on an assembly line or adjusting to differing lighting conditions.

Cameras: Naturally, cameras are the robot's eyes. They help the robot see where it is and recognize things. They're great for precision tasks, tracking objects, and avoiding obstacles.

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Understanding the role of an end-effector in robotics

In the world of robotics, an end-effector takes on the role of the robot's hand, allowing it to interact effectively with its surroundings. It's a part that allows the robot to perform various tasks like gripping, sensing, and manipulating objects.

Typically attached to the robot's arm, the end-effector is specifically designed to carry out certain jobs. This makes robots more versatile across different industries, from manufacturing and healthcare to logistics.

The design of a robot's end-effector depends on the specific task and application. As mentioned earlier, you have specialized tools, grippers, and sensors. The choice of end-effector design considers factors like the type of objects it will handle, how much precision and force it needs, and even the surface characteristics of those objects.

For example, for precision work in industrial automation, you'd use end-effectors with laser-like accuracy. For tough jobs like welding, you'd want something that can handle high temperatures and grip objects securely.

Just like the type of end-effector, the placement of the end-effector on the robot is also important for achieving the desired task. Mounting the end-effector on the robot's wrist allows it to grab, hold, and work with objects from all angles.

The multifunctionality of robotic end-effectors

The multi-functionality and versatility of robot end-effectors are thanks to a combination of factors, namely:

  1. Tool compatibility: End-effectors can easily switch between different communication protocols and tools so that robots can perform a wide set of tasks. Whether it's assembly, painting, or packaging work, you can use a custom end-effector that fits the job perfectly.
  2. Precise control and motion planning: Thanks to sophisticated control systems, end-effectors can have precise control and movements. This allows them to complete complex tasks accurately and consistently.
  3. Sensor integration: By using sensors, robots can gather real-time data about the task at hand.
  4. Collaborative capabilities: End-effectors are becoming more versatile than ever with the rise of collaborative robots (or cobots). Cobots effectively and safely work and collaborate with humans.
  5. Safety features: Lastly, end-effectors feature sensors and safety mechanisms to detect and avoid accidents with objects or humans in their workspace.

Unveiling the tasks performed by robot end-effectors

Robots have a wide range of uses, from tasks like picking and placing to grinding, welding, and painting. But how well a robot performs its job depends on several factors, including choosing the right end-effector.

Pick and place

Pick-and-place tasks involve precisely lifting and relocating objects. Oftentimes, these tasks demand precision and safe handling.

Gripper end-effectors are often used for pick-and-place applications. For example, force or torque sensors mimic human sensitivity while electric vacuum grippers can handle various object shapes and sizes.

Packaging and palletizing

These processes require high speed, precision, and a gentle touch, especially for fragile items. Automation simplifies these processes, sparing workers from heavy lifting, and allowing for delicate and accurate packaging assembly, pallet formation, and product loading.

Machine tending

Machine tending involves overseeing machines and equipment, including tasks that involve loading and unloading, sorting, packaging, part inspection, and even washing.

Assembly tasks

In assembly, products are built together step by step, often with varied object sizes and shapes. Robots and robotic arms with end-effectors can adapt to handle wood, plastic, or metal to deliver high-quality products.

Quality testing and inspection

During post-production, products undergo testing that requires consistent force application and precision. Unlike humans, robots with the right end-effectors can perform these repetitive tasks and intricate product tests flawlessly and with care.

Surface finishing

Surface finishing, often a messy job, benefits from the flexibility of robotics. Tasks like sanding, buffing, and polishing on various materials can be automated. Robots can adapt to every surface, ensuring an even finish, no matter the variations.


How does the robot end-effector work with the robot arm?

The end-effector works, or rather interfaces, with the robot arm through a mechanical and electrical connection. This connection allows the robot arm to control the end-effector's movements. It also enables data from sensors on the end-effector to be communicated back to the robot's control system.

What are Robotic Force Compliance end-effectors?

Robotic Force Compliance End-Effectors (RFCEEs) are specialized devices designed to enhance a robot's ability to adapt to its environment. They help robots sense and respond to external forces in tasks like grinding or sanding and part alignment.


The end-effector is a vital part of robotic systems, acting as the robot's "hand" for interacting with its environment and performing various tasks like gripping, manipulating, and sensing objects.

It's quite fascinating to see how end-effectors have evolved with technology, becoming more precise and efficient. They're handy across multiple industries, from performing key tasks in the manufacturing industry to helping in the entertainment industry.

Next steps

Interested in stepping into the Collaborative robot arm world? RO1 by Standard Bots is the #1 for small-scale startups and established industrial giants

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Talk to our solutions team now to set up a free, 30-day onsite trial and receive specialized advice on everything you need to deploy RO1.

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