Machine Design

Modular controls for electronics and pneumatics on robots

The tooling on robotic arms , including electric actuators, sensors, pneumatic grippers, and suction cups, are often changed, depending on the job at hand.

Usually, this has meant customized designs costing money and engineering time. To cut those costs, engineers at Festo Corp., Hauppauge, N.Y. (, developed a fluid and energy supply that lets designers choose from a range of components and then tailor the supply to suit most applications.

The unit, which mounts on the robot's third-axis arm, is based on a CPX/MPA valve terminal. In one version, it houses up to four 5/2 or eight 3/2 MPA1 air valves with airflow to 360 lpm. In another version, it holds up to eight 5/2 valves (or 16 double valves) with flows to 360 lpm. The units also accommodate electronic modules for digital and analog I/O, fieldbus and Ethernet nodes, and diagnostics, as well as other modules for distributed control. The device carries up to four vacuum generators mounted close to the suction point. This eliminates pressure-line losses that hamper remote vacuum pumps and improves efficiency. And push-in connectors let technicians quickly attach tubing between the valve island and grippers or suction cups. Low-profile valves make the unit compact. And while the plastic housing reduces weight, the structural parts and manifold blocks are metal for strength and durability.

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