Published On: December 1, 2016Tags:

What is an Industrial Manipulator?

We frequently hear from first-time customers who are so confused by the many names used to describe “industrial manipulators” that they aren’t sure what product to be looking for when they need to add or upgrade equipment in their work environments.

We can’t blame them for their confusion: pneumatic manipulators, lift assists, ergonomic manipulators, material handling equipment, jib cranes, vacuum lifts and hydraulic arms are just a few of the many ways people have come to describe machines that execute similar actions.

If you’re on the hunt for one of these products, it’s important to have a clear understanding of how each machine works and how well it will integrate into your current workflows. Here’s what you need to know.

(Want a handy reference for commonly used terms? Download our free Industrial Manipulators Glossary here.)

What does an industrial manipulator do?

Industrial Manipulator by Dalmec

An example of an industrial manipulator

First things first: an industrial manipulator is a machine with a rigid steel manipulator arm that allow complex pneumatic tilts and rotations — even when the product being moved is handled outside it’s center of mass.

A human operator controls the machine, allowing for easy and precise movement of the manipulator to lift, lower and otherwise transport a product.

Industrial manipulators are frequently used when: 

  • A product is too heavy for a person to move manually
  • A product must be moved to a location that is not easily or quickly accessible for a person to reach, like a very tall shelf
  • A person will be put at risk for injury if they move a product manually
  • A person will quickly fatigue from moving products manually
  • A high volume of product must be moved in a timely fashion

The ability for the manipulator to move products outside of its center of mass becomes increasingly important as you start working with heavier loads or products that are awkwardly shaped, as other types of machines (including industrial balancers with cables) don’t play as nicely with products that aren’t relatively light or standard in shape.

How does an industrial manipulator differ from a cable balancer?

An example of a cable balancer

A cable balancer

As touched on above, cable balancers, also called rigid arm manipulators, are best for moving lighter objects that are in standard shapes.

Instead of relying solely on a rigid arm like machines without cables do, cable balancers use steel or nylon cables to move products up or down.

On most balancers built by Dalmec, cables wrap around pulleys on pneumatic cylinders. As those cylinders open or close, the cables move up or down. Some of these cable systems may be on horizontal arms to allow movement around a center point, but all the lifting is done through the cables. Some small manipulation of product can happen through the tooling if the manipulation has a small center of mass.

Who uses manipulators and cable balancers?

Manipulators and cable balancers are used in a wide range of industries across the globe to help companies move with efficiency and safety. Some of the many industries that rely on these machines include:

  • Building
  • Packaging and packaging lines
  • Textiles
  • Chemistry
  • Food
  • Mechanics
  • Electromechanics
  • Foundry
  • Automotive
  • Wood

Which type of manipulator should you use in your work environment?

If you aren’t sure if a rigid arm with cables (a balancer) or a rigid arm without cables (a manipulator) would be right for your work environment, consider the following:

  • The weight of the product you need to move
  • The size and shape of the product you need to move
  • The trajectory of the movement you need the machine to perform

Lighter weight products (usually those less than 200 lbs) and standard shapes that only need to be moved up and down are good candidates for an arm with cables.

Heavier products (up to 2,000 lbs), products with odd shapes and products that need to be moved and repositioned both horizontally and vertically are best suited for industrial manipulators.

To help buyers stay on top of the many different terms and options in the market, we created a glossary with all of the definitions you need to know.


How can we help?

If you think an industrial manipulator or cable balancer would help make your work environment safer and more efficient, we can help.

Fill out the form on this page and we’ll help you select a machine that will work for you for years.


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