Robot Sanders: What Manufacturers Need To Know

Sanding is a vital task for most manufacturing processes - but it can also be one of the most challenging. Carrying out routine sanding jobs is time-consuming and dirty even for skilled professionals. If you’re new to the task, it’s also easy to make mistakes that affect the consistency of surface quality. 

Robot sanders are capable of doing sanding work faster and more consistently. In addition to being more efficient, automated sanding is also more intelligent. Built-in intelligence allows for two-way communication between the control system and the sanding head. By having access to detailed information about the sander's status and the ability to adjust, you are in full control of the sanding process. 

Programming Capabilities Are Extensive

There are various programs available to support all types of robot sanding applications, from sanding and grinding to grit blasting and chemical depainting. Using 3D data, robots are able to respond dynamically to the geometry and position of an object, often without any human involvement. Additionally, the technology helps to automate labor-intensive tasks that could otherwise lead to repetitive strain injuries in people.

  • Depending on the program, base capabilities may include:

  • Intrinsic and extrinsic calibration for 2D and 3D cameras (all automated)

  • Automated tool path generation for both scan paths and process paths.

  • Intelligent surface reconstruction and automated scanning.

  • Processing meshes or point clouds, including filtering, segmentation, and localization.

  • Automatic robot path planning

  • Detecting features and masking, and monitoring processes using machine learning.

  • Various types of industrial controllers are supported, including force-compensated compliance devices.

In this blog, we’ll go over the two main types of robot sanders, which are industrial and collaborative, explain their pros and cons, and show you how to decide which one is the best option for your shop.

Industrial Robot Sanding

Using industrial robots for sanding is a highly flexible solution because they can handle a wider variety of workpiece sizes and shapes. 

Industrial robot sanding can be accomplished in two ways:

  • An industrial robot arm is equipped with a force sensor and sanding attachment (usually an orbital sander). As the robot travels over the surface of the material, it applies a constant force to the workpiece.

  • A robot arm is fitted with a force sensor and a gripper. The robot applies constant force to the workpiece as it is fed into the static sanding machine.

In industrial robot sanding, force control is required, which makes programming quite complex. Furthermore, programming the waypoints for these tasks can take a long time, especially when working with curved surfaces. 

The Pros and Cons of Industrial Robot Sanding

Robotic sanding eliminates some of the inflexibility inherent in automatic sanding machines. However, they have both advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages include:

  • Industrial robots have a large working area.

  • An individual robot that can perform a much wider variety of sanding tasks.

  • As with all robots, they can be reprogrammed to handle a variety of different objects.

Disadvantages include:

  • Large industrial robots occupy a lot of space.

  • They remain a costly option compared to automatic sanders.

  • Due to the safety precautions they require, industrial robots take up even more space on the work floor.

Collaborative Robot Sanding

As the name suggests, this second option involves using a collaborative robot instead of an industrial robot. Like industrial robot sanding, collaborative robots can operate in one of two ways: 

  • Using the specially designed orbital sanding tool.

  • Pushing the workpiece into a sanding machine while holding it.

For sanding tasks, collaborative robots are much easier to program than industrial robots. It only takes a few minutes to program a sanding operation (even on curved surfaces) versus several hours with an industrial robot. With ActiveDrive, hand guiding can even be accomplished, which is especially convenient.

The Pros and Cons of Collaborative Robots Sanding

Collaborative robots put automated sanding at the fingertips of anyone who wants to use it, without the cost, complexity, or size of other options. However, they still have some advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages include:

  • It takes only a few minutes to write programs for them.

  • Collaborative robots are highly flexible. You can move them from one area of the workshop to another in minutes and set them up for a new task.

  • Most of the time, they don't require any extra safety precautions.

Disadvantages include:

  • Dedicated automatic sanding machines are faster.

  • They are more appropriate for low-removal sanding applications, such as finishing.

  • They are not ideal for high-volume, large-scale production.

In the end, the best sanding application will depend on the specific needs of the project. Now that you know about the two main options for robotic sanding, you can make the right choice for your operation or shop.

Sanding Discs for Robot Sanders

To get best results from a robot sander, you need to use the right abrasive for the application. Most robot sanders use standard 5”-6” sanding discs, and Fintech Abrasives sells premium quality discs that not only work with these sanders but also last longer than many competing products. Depending on the material you are working with, your options include:

  • Special waterproof aluminum oxide adhesive stick backed film discs

  • Zirconia pressure-sensitive adhesive backed cloth discs

  • Adhesive back open coat aluminum oxide cloth sanding discs

Fintech Abrasives manufactures abrasives in all the grit range you need to work with all types of robot sanders. Our products are of high quality and provide an excellent return on investment due to their long lifespan. To place an order or speak to one of our abrasive technicians, please fill out our contact form or call (888) 223-8768.