Why You Should 3D Print Your End-Of-Arm Tools

End of arm tools are a staple for industrial equipment companies. The industrial automation segment – despite COVID19 – is expected to reach USD 296.70 billion by 2026. Regardless of what product an automated piece of equipment is helping produce, creating an effective gripper or tool is essential.

Having spoken with dozens of industrial equipment companies, I am always baffled with how resistant they can be to 3D printing. Like any other manufacturing method, 3D printing is the right tool for the job for creating some particular components. Building an end-of-arm tool is absolutely one of those components.

  • It would not be wise to mill a component that could be built more quickly on a lathe.
  • Nobody would intelligently choose to injection mold a part that could be manufactured easier with a simple extrusion die.
  • It would not make any sense to 3D print a component that could be built faster out of folded sheet metal.

Assembling dozens of milled aluminum components and stock hardware to build an end-of-arm tool seems equally silly when armed with the knowledge of how 3D printing really excels in this area.

Lighter End-Of-Arm Tools

Aluminum is one of the most popular manufacturing materials. It is inexpensive, easy to machine and lightweight by metal standards.

Compared to plastics? Not a chance. ULTEM (trademarked name for PEI plastic) has less than half the density of Aluminum.

On top of that, 3D prints do not need to be printed in solid plastic. Typically for an end-of-arm tool, the best practice (if possible) is to print a thick outer shell, and leave the interior of the part at 40-60% density. This saves print time, material cost, and the weight of the end-use part.

Material Density Source
Aluminum 2.7g/cm³ Elmhurst.edu
PEI (ULTEM) 1.27 g/cm³ SigmaAldrich

Faster Operations

Hand-in-hand with creating lightweight tools is faster operations. A robotic arm can move faster carrying the same payload because a 3D printed end-of-arm tool can be built lighter than a traditionally manufactured one.

In the right situation, faster robot = more daily production = happy production managers. Do I need to go further?

Lower Robot Arm Cost

Every time I have spoken to a company that has invested in robotic automation equipment, they are proud of the investment they’ve made. They’ll throw around anecdotes like “This robot cost $50K. I really had to work to convince my boss of that one!”.

The barrier to entry for robotic arms is daunting. Typically for an industrial solution, a company can expect to spent $10K at a bare minimum. Often there are software or implementation charges on top of the hardware expense.

The size of the invoice for your robotic arm is linked directly to two things:

  1. How much weight does it need to move?
  2. How far does it need to be able to reach?

Planning from the beginning to 3D print end-of-arm tools can directly impact the overall weight that the robot needs to move. If you have to account for a 5lb tool instead of a 20lb tool, you can spec out a much smaller robotic arm and easily cut 5 figures from your invoice.

Consolidate Assemblies

Traditionally built end-of-arm tools are blocky. They can have a BOM of dozens of parts that need to be sourced. They require intricate assembly of all the parts.

3D printed tools are able to change how a tool will be built from the beginning – the design stage. Without worrying about the design considerations of a 3-axis mill, how would you design differently?

Below you can see a great example of how Genesis was able to re-design their end-of-arm tool to consolidate their assembly. The result is a much more effective tool with integrated vacuum lines.

traditional vs 3d printed end of arm tool eoat

To operate as effectively as possible, manufacturers need to choose the best tool for the job depending on the requirements of the part they are trying to make.

Too often 3D printing is touted as a “magic bullet” for making anything and everything you can imagine. There are many situations where traditional manufacturing excels, but end-of-arm tools is one area where 3D printing is often overlooked.

Click here to download the full case study from Genesis and learn the details of how they were able to save 17 days of manufacturing time by re-thinking how they would build their end-of-arm tool.