The global marketplace will continue to force companies to innovate in order to remain competitive. Many have turned to automation for the solution, as technology costs have gone down considerably over the years. 

This has consequentially increased the application and adoption of robotics. Startups to Fortune 100 companies and every size in between are using robotics in different ways to improve efficiencies, production throughput, and reduce costs. Traditionally, robots were only found in high volume automotive assembly lines. Today, they come in different shapes and sizes, with more complex capabilities and are used in a variety of applications outside of the industrial world. They can be found on the farm helping to harvest the crops, in the restaurant delivering orders and mixing cocktails.

At the heart of any robot is the mechanism that enables the mechanical motion. Drive train components, specifically gearboxes and gearing are critical parts of the system and must also evolve to continue to support the new functionality in these advance applications. Everything must be lighter, stronger, faster, and smaller. In many of these new robotic applications, the technology is focused on solving real world problems, not R&D testing, and the price points are usually very sensitive.  

Gearbox Trends in Robotics

Two gearbox trends that have really proven to be important in the advancement of robotic applications are customization and integration. 

By utilizing existing technology at competitive prices, manufacturers can effectively, do more with less. And because the technology is proven, the solutions can be deployed quickly.  For example, AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) and mobile robots are being used outside of the warehouse, in a variety of new applications, from automated parking systems to advanced security systems. In order to maximize efficiencies, they are moving quicker and carrying heavier loads, which puts more stress on the drive train components. Without adding space or cost, manufacturers are challenged with somehow increasing the capabilities of the gearbox. By taking a holistic view of customization, gearbox performance and configurations can be improved, while working within existing constraints. For instance, by changing the bearing design, the gearbox can handle more radial or axial load. Or by adding an additional planet gear, the gearbox can handle more torque, without increasing the size.

Having the ability to customize then also opens up the ability to integrate components to enhance the design further. When the design is flexible, it can adapt to the application and mating components. Keeping the mobile robot example in mind, on the gearbox input, rather than a traditional motor mount, machining the input pinion onto the motor shaft allows for an extremely compact solution, essentially creating a gearmotor with the exact specifications. On the output, by customizing the output shaft to match the mating component (adding a spline or specific profile for instance) can allow for direct assembly, eliminating other linkages. This saves space, cost, and provides a more rigid solution. 

Gearbox with spline output shaft and sun gear integrated into motor shaft

Taking that scenario one step further, designing a completely custom gearbox with a housing that integrates directly into the wheel hub allows for an even more compact solution and reduces radial loading requirements on the gearbox. 

Customized gearbox with special input and housing to integrate into wheel hub

These are all examples of customizations and integrations GAM has provided for robot manufacturers to enable their desired performance. Oftentimes, successful customizations and integrations can be improved upon further, and developed into a standard product if the volumes make sense. As robot manufacturers continue to develop new solutions that improve a process or task, customization and integration of gearbox components will continue to be at the heart of innovation.