The field of robotics has seen some of the most aggressive growth of any modern industry. With the rise of advanced computing and sensory technology, the capabilities of today’s robots have increased substantially. Automated robotic systems of today are an order of magnitude more capable that the robots of just a decade ago, and the capabilities have allowed them to flourish in the manufacturing environment. Core to the success of many robotic designs is polyurethane, and in this post we’ll explain why.
There is a diverse range of purposes that these systems serve, but most applications involve the robot interacting physically with an object. Depending on the object the robot is interacting with, it will need to have an engineered solution to properly handle the object, and minimize damage to the object.
With the large array of physical properties that polyurethane can achieve, it is no surprise that it has seen heavy use in all areas of robotics. It is indispensable in areas where robots must physically grab, or pick up objects on a manufacturing line. In applications where a robot interacts with abrasive materials, a hard urethane formulation can be used that will resist these heavy wear forces. For applications that involve interacting with delicate parts, or parts that are quite slippery and hard to handle, a softer urethane compound often works quite well. Being able to adjust physical properties of cast urethane allows for the most ideal material to be formulated to best suit an application.
What sets this apart?
As robotic systems have been explored, they have become increasingly robust. While early robots only operated as desired in test laboratory environments, today’s robots are seeing heavy use in the field, in some of the harshest conditions. Polyurethane has seen an increase in use for wearable components. This includes gripping elements, which can pick up items on an assembly line, or capping machines where a urethane element is used to secure caps to the tops of bottles. A softer urethane blend will ensure grip in these cases.
Many robotic forklifts have seen heavy use of polyurethanes for wheel systems and no-marking forks. It has also proven itself indispensable when it comes to sealing elements that need to survive in demanding environments. The broad range of physical properties that can be configured into a urethane blend allows it to excel in surroundings where other polymers do not last.
What’s on the horizon?
As the capabilities of robotic systems continues to increase, the demands placed on materials used in their construction will also become heightened. Stand-alone robotic systems that resemble four-legged animals, and even humanoid robotic systems, are being developed to assist us in a wide range of tasks across industries. Medical field robots being developed to assist doctors, nurses and even soldiers, are only a few years away. Soft gripping elements are being developed to grab onto a patient and assist nurses in moving the elderly or injured safely.
Heavy-duty urethane blends are also being developed for law enforcement and military applications, which allow the robot to go into places where doing so with a person would put their safety at risk. Bomb disposal robots are becoming a standard issue piece of life-saving equipment that agencies have at their disposal.
Automated warehouses are increasingly using urethane in all aspects of their operations, from run-flat wheels, to replaceable skid plates that minimize damage to building infrastructure. Smaller robotic units, which are meant to be customizable, are using urethane in a wide array of specialty applications geared toward smaller scale operations. These industries will continue to find new applications for cast urethane solutions.
Diversity for the modern world
As the scope of capabilities in robotics continues to increase, so will the complex needs of the industry. Urethane manufacturers stand poised to work with robotics companies and find the most innovative solutions to intricate industry needs. The diverse range of properties urethane can achieve have positioned it to be an indispensable part of robotic systems going forward.