Materials that command the Robotics Industry

By Protolabs

When you hear the word “robot”, you probably imagine a humanoid machine from the future or a tin can-looking machine on wheels, but the word robot covers various machines and software. For example, robotic arms that grip and grab off conveyor belts, pre-programmed hoovers that can clean your house, avoiding anything in their path, software robots that exist in the digital world or even the recently introduced soft robots, robots made from rubber materials.

As you can imagine, when it comes to building a robot, metals are the go-to material; aluminium, steel and titanium are frequently used. However, that’s not to discount some plastics, which are great for lightweighting and housings, or even elastomers used in the new soft robotics. That’s before we even start on innovative materials such as cellulose, chitosan and polycaprolactone.

This blog will discuss a few of those materials, their benefits and their applications.


Steel material for manufacturing robotics

Stainless Steel – Steel is one of the most commonly used materials in Robotics due to its high strength and toughness, making it suitable for components that must survive harsh conditions and repeatable processes. Other valuable benefits include corrosion resistance and temperature resistance, and it also has the added benefit of being hardened easily and having excellent machinability. Typical robotic applications include frames, gears, end effectors, motor components etc.

Aluminium tool milling for robotics

Aluminium – Aluminium is popular in most industries due to its incredible lightweighting capabilities. It has good weldability and high heat resistance; certain alloys also display corrosion resistance, which are key characteristics for robotics-related parts. Aluminium also offers post-processing options that can improve specific characteristics. For example, anodisation can be considered for alloys that lack corrosion resistance; there are also great surface finishes that can work well for a component’s cosmetic appearance and produce low-friction parts that may be required for sliding tasks. It has the added benefit of being very machinable, even more so than steel, though aluminium is more expensive than steel. Common robotic applications using aluminium include frames (highly polished exteriors), customised components such as enclosures, end-of-arm tooling, wheels, bearings etc.

Plastic resin for robotics manufacturing

Acetal/ POM – a frequently chosen plastic material. Plastics are great for lightweighting. Acetal has the added bonus of boasting excellent dimensional stability and low friction, both key characteristics in robotics for parts that may be required to repeat actions or for sliding. Relatively inexpensive compared to other robotics materials, it is commonly used in frames, housings, casings, etc.

Elastomeric material for manufacturing robotics

Elastomeric Materials – increasingly popular in robotics due to the introduction of soft robotics (useful for robots that need to complete more delicate tasks). The first fully autonomous soft robot was designed as recently as 2016. Whilst elastomeric materials have been commonly used for internal components in robots, such as semiconductors and casings where flex is needed, they are now starting to be used for frames too.

Unique/ Innovative materials – I am sure robotics is at the forefront of your mind when you think of technological advancements. This is true not only in what is being created but also in what is being used to create components. Self-healing materials are used and considered in robotic parts to prolong part life, and smart materials are being used that can change shape in response to several stimuli. Materials such as collagen, cellulose and polycaprolactone (PCL) are no strangers to the robotics industry.

Regarding robotics and materials, there are many choices. Still, some will inevitably be better than others, depending on the task your robot needs to complete or the conditions it needs to survive. When it comes to material science, the robotics industry is one of the front-runners; expect to see more new and exciting materials in use in the not-too-distant future, along with the more traditional commonplace ones.