Published On: March 24, 2023Tags:

Should Your Next Industrial Manipulator be Portable?

Part of our business is helping clients select the best industrial manipulator for their application needs.

“Best” can mean various things, but how it fits into your manufacturing process, budget and future plans are all major factors to consider when choosing the right machinery.

Clients often ask which is suitable for their facility: a portable industrial manipulator, vacuum lifter or material handling machine. Our answer? It depends on your requirements. Let’s compare stationary and portable manipulators as well as their merits and limitations.

Stationary vs. Portable

Both types assist with the burdens associated with manual material handling. They help production and manufacturing workers by:

  • Lifting
  • Raising items to heights not easily reached by a person
  • Moving items across a large area
  • Reducing the risk of injury due to incorrect material handling or repetitive motion
  • Reducing employee fatigue due to strenuous manual movement of materials
  • Improving production line efficiency
  • Reducing the risk of accidents in the workplace

Standard manipulators are installed as a fixed part of the work area and/or production line. They’re usually column-mounted. This means the machinery is affixed to the ground by a column using a mounting flange. It’s designed specifically for floors or is mounted overhead with a column leading up to a flange to mount overhead.

They are sturdy, well-built and can be designed for large loads and wide ranges of motion, even outside their central mass area.

But, once this manipulator is set in a fixed position, it can only be used at that single, static location. Depending on your production needs, this can be a deterrent. A stationary manipulator is inflexible and typically a single-purpose piece of equipment difficult to convert to other tasks.

A portable industrial manipulator, though, is more versatile. Let’s look at your options:

Forklift and Pallet: To make your manipulator portable, a straightforward solution is to mount the ground-facing column of the manipulator to steel slabs. This acts as a counterweight to the manipulator and overall load. A forklift will make your unit portable if you attach fork pockets to the steel slab.

You can see the fork pockets at the bottom of the machine, where a forklift can pick up the manipulator and move it throughout the facility.

Another method of moving the manipulator involves installing the machine on an elevated steel platform. This platform will allow you to use a pallet truck to move the device.

Trolley System: Another option to make your lifting equipment portable is to install a trolley system. If you mount the overhead column to a trolley and a track system, the new overhead unit can move along this track. The photo below is of a trolley mounted within the system. The manipulator flange would mount where that center hole is on the trolley.

An overhead track system works well when using one or two manipulators along a production line where you need to move a part in and out of production as it advances. Overhead trolley systems also allow for movement across large production floor plum of obstacles.

Floor Track: A final option is to install a floor track system, which requires creating a trench in the floor or installing a track throughout your facility. Both are cumbersome, costly and create tripping hazards, so this is only an ideal method if floor-mounted manipulators would significantly boost the efficiency of your production line.

If a portable machine fills a clear production need, then these specialized manipulators might be the right fit for your facility. And looking from a cost-savings perspective, being able to move a machine from one station to another instead of purchasing multiple manipulators makes sense.

It’s generally best to design portable units with mobility in mind initially instead of attempting to modify a stationary design. Either way, factors that need to be considered for portable manipulators are:

Weight: Since it will be moved often, it’s essential to consider the manipulator’s weight.

Size: The more compact it is, the easier it will be to transfer to other work areas and get into areas where a larger, stationary manipulator may not fit.

Power Needs: Since it’s portable, its power source must also be portable since hard wiring isn’t likely an option.

Portable manipulators provide the same solutions as their fixed counterparts: a safe, effective way to move and position loads too heavy, unwieldy or unsafe for manual manipulation by human beings. But instead of being limited to assisting workers in a fixed location, portable units can be moved to wherever the work or load is on the production floor, making them readily available for multiple uses.

Because of their dual advantage of mobility and dexterity, they are an excellent option for many warehouses, construction and production lines. The mobile platform affords the manipulator an extended workspace anywhere it can be moved and still function properly.

This flexibility means the manipulator can be used for more than just one task; users have more choices and options regarding its use. Portable manipulators can be a cost-effective solution when covering large areas. Instead of several units spread out over the production floor, one (or more) manipulator can move to where it’s needed.

Limitations to Portable Manipulators 

While having a portable manipulator may have some key benefits, this approach also has several limitations: safety considerations, lower lifting capacity, limited range of motion, more frequent maintenance needs and how they fit into your operation’s future plans.

Failing to consider your workers’ safety will negate any potential benefits of portability. For example, if installed without proper oversight and planning, a floor track system presents serious safety concerns (tripping, falling, etc.).

Portable manipulators generally have a lower lifting capacity than their stationary counterparts. The installation that enables them to lift heavy loads is less substantial and thus unable to support larger loads. Too much weight can cause failure and damage materials or worker injury.

While being more flexible regarding their placement along the production line, portable units have a limited range of motion compared to stationary manipulators. Much like the load limitations mentioned above, this is a matter of physics. A more comprehensive range of motion requires more support than many portable setups cannot accommodate.

If your facility eventually requires multiple machines, you’ll likely have some sunk costs due to the additional work that went into making these manipulators portable, which may no longer be needed once you’ve brought in additional manipulators.

Further, if you anticipate ever needing to use the machine in two spots simultaneously, you will need more than portability.

Which One is Right for You?

Both stationary and portable manipulators can increase your organization’s productivity; choosing what type is best for your applications is vital.

When adjusting current machinery or commissioning a new industrial manipulator, it’s important to consider both your long-term needs and the physical layout of your facility. If you have reason to believe you’ll be investing in multiple industrial manipulators to perform the same function down the road, modifying your current manipulator is likely not worth the effort. Adding a portable unit would be beneficial, particularly in the interim period when maximum flexibility is ideal.

If you see a real benefit to making a manipulator portable, choose a method that will work best within your facility. Whether via a forklift, trolley or floor track system, you can work with your industrial manipulator manufacturer to determine the best fit for your environment. Contact Dalmec today to begin building the right machine for your needs.

Related posts

  • Published On: April 17, 2024
    The Impact of Lean Manufacturing Principles on Efficiency
  • Published On: April 17, 2024
    Supply Chain Resilience: Lessons from Recent Challenges
  • Published On: March 22, 2024
    Why Proper Ergonomics Are Essential in Manufacturing Workplaces