How Do Automatic Tool Changers Work?

Most automation engineers have heard of or at least seen robotic tool changers, but few will take the time to find an application to use them. These handy automation units will allow you to change out different tools or automation end effectors without the hassle of manually changing the tooling. How is this done? I am glad you asked. Automatically of course.

The unit is made up of two half’s. A male half and a female half that couples together (see picture below) thru the use of an internal locking device that works like a pneumatic cylinder. When the tooling is lined up by a robot or some other automation pick and place system the output of a four way valve is activated and as long as that pneumatic source is held the tool changer will stay locked while the automation is performed for the given task.

When the tool needs to be removed so another tool can be picked up the robot or other automation places the tool in a nest or cradle and then the pneumatic signal can be reversed to unlock the pneumatic cylinder and then the robot can back away from that device before it picks up another tool from another nest. The picture below shows the female half, circled in red, not connected to either of the tooling, circled in blue, before going to pick up the second tool. One female coupler can be mated to as many male half’s as you need.

These devices come in a wide range of sizes. They are sized by the capacity of the load they can carry. Typically from as light at 1 pound up to 1200 pounds or more.  It is critical to know not only the payload, but also the movements that the tool is going to accomplish as moment of inertia is critical to correctly sizing a robotic tool changer. These devices can have pneumatic, hydraulic or electrical pass thru so any of the tooling beyond the tool changer can be automated. In the picture below you will see two different grippers used to pick up the two different parts in the tooling nests in the foreground of the picture above.

The units used on our pictures are from Destaco. More can be found at the following link:

I hope that this explanation of how a robotic tool changer was valuable to you and you might be more temped to use a set of these next time you find an application where you need multiple tools, but only one robot or set of automation.

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