Almost every industrial robot falls into one of three types: Delta, Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm (SCARA), and Cartesian or gantry robots. Between these three types, almost every harvesting and positioning task can be accomplished. Regardless of which type of industrial robot you or your company use, however, there are some common innovative improvements that can make your robot faster, longer-lasting, and more efficient.


1) 3D-print parts for reduced weight and increased efficiency

When 3D printers first hit the market, the company RepRap realized that customers could 3D print almost any of the machine’s parts. They embraced this capability and made the part files open source and license-free. With the ubiquity of 3D printers and affordable CAD programs, this same solution is now available to the DIY roboticist. Obviously, you can’t print motors, load-bearing parts, or parts exposed to extreme temperatures. But wire clips, mounting brackets, adapters, and similar static components can be easily printed as a cost-effective alternative to expensive, proprietary replacements.

You don’t have to wait for a part to break to make use of 3D printing, however. Boost the efficiency of your industrial robot by 3D printing parts before they even need to be replaced. Print replacement parts right now to reap the benefits of lighter-weight and more efficient components. 3D printed parts can reduce motor wear and power demand.


2) Make your own motor heat sinks

Thermal resistivity is a problem, especially in heavy-duty industrial motors. Not only can it drop the voltage across your motor and decrease its power output, but it can shorten the motor’s life-span. However, there is a simple solution that can save you the headache of having to frequently pull smoked motors: custom-make your own heat sinks. With heat sinks, there’s no more need for fans or solutions that rob from your power bank. Heat sinks are passive, customizable and can easily be created with a mill, slotting saw or a die. There’s even a super simple way to make a heat sink using PCB board and screws!


3) Test in CAD

It’s not exactly innovative, but it certainly is a lesson worth repeating. Having a fully functioning CAD model of your robot lets you perform all kinds of design changes and analyze your robot’s range of motion. You can even place your design under virtual operating conditions and measure compression, torsional and tension forces. Data like this saves you time, money, and can help you engineer effective solutions. You don’t even have to shell out big bucks like you used to to get SolidWorks or AutoCAD. Free, browser-based programs like OnShape are just as powerful and allow you to collaborate in real-time with other users. Best of all, since your files are stored in the cloud you can work on them anywhere, even their mobile app.


4) Upgrade to advanced, modern robot controllers

Just a few years ago, you had to have a Ph.D. and a deep knowledge of kinematics, matrix theory, and linear algebra in order to embark on a project in robotics. With advance controllers and CPUs, more amateurs are taking part in the DIY robotics field.

Take, for instance, the Arduino family of controllers. This technology works with servomotors and drives to allow users to build robots without having to program all of the low-level details and kinematics.

VEX and National Instruments have also opened up their powerful controllers and CPUs to home enthusiasts. Resources, calculators and power charts or provided from experts and professionals to help you select the perfect parts for your industrial project. The more you look, the more you can find on the market for the amateur roboticist.


5) Intertial wheels (flywheels) and counter-weights

Talk about low-tech! Use the mechanical advantage of a counterweight or a spinning disk to reduce the current draw to a motor and yield maximum output. Let’s say you’re driving a conveyor. Every time an item is dropped on that belt, your motor has to kick it up a notch to get back up to speed. Sure, you can add encoders and PID controls into the programming, but there is a simpler solution. Add a disk with significant mass to the end of the drive motor shaft. When the belt slows down from the newly added weight, the massive spinning wheel keeps the belt moving at a nearly constant speed. If you have ever ridden a fixed-gear bike, you know this feeling well. If you try to put any resistance on the pedals while the bike is in motion, you get flung forward over the handlebars. The conservation of angular momentum resists maintains nearly constant velocity, all without the cost of more current and power from the battery.


Written by: B.A. Durham