Design and development of a novel lightweight long-reach composite robotic arm
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Metallic robotic arms, or manipulators, currently dominate automated industrial operations, but due to their intrinsic weight, have limited usefulness for large-scale applications in terms of precision, speed, and repeatability. This thesis focuses on exploring the feasibility of using polymeric composite materials for the construction of long-reach robotic arms. Different manipulator layouts were investigated and an ideal design was selected for a robotic arm that has a 5 [m] reach, 50 [kg] payload, and is intended to operate on large objects with complex curvature. The cross-sectional geometry of the links of the arm were analyzed for optimal stiffness- and strength-to-weight ratios that are capable of preserving high precision and repeatability under time-dependent external excitations. The results lead to a novel multi-segment link design and method of production. A proof-of-concept prototype of a two degrees-of-freedom (2-DOF) robotic arm with a reach of 1.75 [m] was developed. Both static and repeatability testing were performed for verification. The results indicated that the prototype robot main-arm constructed of carbon fiber-epoxy composite material provides good stiffness-to-weight and strength-to-weight ratios. Finite element analysis (FEA) was performed on a 3-D computer model of the arm. Successful verification led to the use of the 3-D model to define the dimensions of an industrial-sized robotic arm. The results obtained indicate high stiffness and minimal deflection while achieving a significant weight reduction when compared to commercial arms of the same size and capability.