VIDEO: Six-Axis Force Sensing Made Simple
James Anderton posted on December 08, 2017 |

Accuracy and repeatability are vital to the success of industrial automation. For some tasks, such as sorting, pick-and-place or material handling, a robot arm and end effector or a linear motion system are sufficient, but more complex tasks—such as deburring, finishing or handling delicate parts—require a softer touch.

The robots and cobots performing these tasks need to be highly sensitive, and the most essential sense is touch.

In the old days of sensor technology, a load cell required a unit to process the output signal, as well as a power supply and a lot of cabling. This made applying a lot of sensors in a small area complicated and expensive. Strain-gauge-based sensors, popular at the time, were also delicate and had to be handled with extreme care.

With today’s sensors, what used to be an entire system can be packaged into one small device. For example, the axia80 contains strain gauges to measure force and torque in three axes, on-board logic to process that signal to output to etherCAT and threaded holes to mount the sensor. Thanks to a high-volume production output, ATI produces the unit at a much lower cost than antiquated systems ever could.

The principle benefit of having more affordable sensors on the market is that the technology becomes accessible to more engineers and companies, who are constantly finding new applications for force and torque sensing capability. To list just a few examples, force sensing can be used in medical device testing, automated assembly of delicate components and for safety.

“There are many applications where they have always wanted to use force and torque sensors, but the cost was prohibitive,” said Catherine Morris, director of automotive sales at ATI Industrial Automation. “By packaging such a small, accessible product that still delivers the same accuracy and repeatability, it opens up a lot of market opportunities.”

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