Automated Robot Hand Changer (1980/ 83)
The goals and objectives were to create an Automated Robot Hand Changer that could automatically reconnect different robot hands mechanically, electronically (for communicating with end-of-arm sensors) and pneumatically (for operating the gripper, or additional functions, such as sucking).
The analytical / engineering challenge was to design a simple, fast and low cost solution that was easy to program and integrate with any industrial robot.
The method/ model was validated by designing/ implementing and testing a variety of solutions, using Unimation, and other robots at Trent as well as in industry.
The practical, industrial use and spinoffs included a novel head design for the Plessey robot cell for testing transducers.
Major lessons learned: This was probably one of the very first robot hand changers in the world that could automatically reconnect a new hand mechanically, electronically and pneumatically. It worked very well and was safe, but as a concept it was several years ahead of its time, when professionals in industry didn't want to risk using hand changers to increase flexibility... they rather bought more robots and dedicated each of them to perform limited tasks...
The photographs below illustrate various stages of this R&D project.
The image below was taken in the Trent Robotics and Manufacturing Systems Laboratory. Note, that this was a combined laboratory and classroom arrangement that I have designed and many of us used for classes, labs and research. Due to the excellent technician support it was safe and popular with students and faculty.
Two close-up images below of the Automated Robot Hand Changer illustrate the moment just before picking up a new gripper from the tool magazine. The reconnecting electrical and pneumatic terminals are clearly visible. Also note, that the solution was accurate and rigid enough to support drills and small machining tools for electronic printed circuit board drilling and assembly.