What is a pick and place robot?

Will Allen Last Updated: November 19th, 2019

Pick and place robots are commonly used in modern manufacturing environments. Pick and place automation speeds up the process of picking up parts or items and placing them in other locations. Automating this process helps to increase production rates. Pick and place robots handle repetitive tasks while freeing up human workers to focus on more complex work.

How pick and place robots work

Typically mounted on a stable stand, pick and place robots are positioned to reach different areas to perform work. They use advanced vision systems to identify, grasp and move objects from one place to another. With a variety of design options available, pick and place robots can be configured with various end-of-arm tooling options for use in different applications, such as assembly, packaging or bin picking. For example, pick and place robots may be used to pick up items for an order and place them in a box for packaging, or they may be used to pick up parts needed for assembly and move them to the next location.

Types of pick and place robots

There are several types of pick and place robots, including:

  • Robotic arm Robotic arms are the most common type of pick and place robots. A 5-axis robotic arm robot can be used for standard pick and place applications where objects are picked up and moved to other locations in a single plane. A 6-axis robotic arm robot is used for more complex applications, such as when objects must be twisted or re-oriented before being placed in another location.
  • Cartesian – Like a 6-axis robotic arm, Cartesian robots work in multiple planes. These robots move in three orthogonal axes (X, Y and Z) using Cartesian coordinates. They can be constructed with any type of linear actuator and several types of drive mechanisms such as belt, ball or lead screw mechanisms. They typically have better positioning accuracy compared to 6-axis robotic arms.
  • Delta – Often used in applications where robots pick items in groups and place them in assembly patterns or containers, Delta robots have advanced vision technologies that enable them to distinguish various sizes, shapes and colors. There are several configurations of Delta robots, but most have three arms that operate on four axes. They have heavy motors affixed to a frame, with lightweight arms connected to linking rods with joints at either end of each arm (typically ball joints) to allow movement.
  • Fast pickFast pick robots are ideal for use in medium- and high-volume applications with high-velocity SKUs. Fast pick robots fully automate the picking process, freeing up the human workforce to focus on higher-impact activities. They’re ideal for fast-moving “top-off” items, such as promotional items added to orders or batteries. These robots can pick up to 300 SKUs per hour from a pool of up to 8 SKUs.
  • CollaborativeCollaborative robots augment the work of humans by leading associates to pick locations and guiding associates through each task. By optimizing routes in real-time and keeping associates on task, collaborative robots help associates work more efficiently.

Types of pick and place robots

Applications for pick and place robots

Pick and place robots are often used in manufacturing but are also used in applications such as packaging, bin picking and inspection. Here’s a look at a few of the most common applications for pick and place robots and how they’re used.

  • Assembly – Pick and place robots used in assembly applications grab incoming parts from one location, such as a conveyor, and place or affix the part on another piece of the item. The two joined parts are then transported to the next assembly area.
  • Packaging – Pick and place robots used in the packaging process grab items from an incoming source or designated area and place the items in a packaging container.
  • Bin picking – Pick and place robots used in bin picking applications grab parts or items from bins. These pick and place robots typically have advanced vision systems allowing them to distinguish color, shape and size to pick the right items even from bins containing randomly mixed items. These parts or items are then sent to another location for assembly or packaging.
  • Inspection – Pick and place robots used for inspection applications are equipped with advanced vision systems to pick up objects, detect anomalies and remove defective parts or items by placing them in a designated location.

Benefits of pick and place robots

The primary benefits of pick and place robots are speed and consistency. Robots can be customized to meet specific production requirements, and they’re easily programmable so they can be used for multiple applications. While designs vary, pick and place robots are often small in size and lightweight, making them ideal for use in applications where space is limited.

Pick and place robots help to increase output, aiding with the picking and packaging processes in warehouse settings. They also provide good ROI to manufacturers. In both settings, pick and place robots relieve associates and operators of monotonous, repetitive work, which boosts productivity while alleviating the physical strain on human workers that commonly results from performing these types of tasks.

Learn more about Fast Lane by 6 River Systems, a fully automated picking solution for high-velocity SKUs.