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Technical Brief

Robotic Arm for Automated Assembly of Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell Stacks

[+] Author and Article Information
Michael Williams, Kenneth Tignor, Luke Sigler, Chitra Rajagopal

Department of Engineering Technology,
Kent State University at Tuscarawas,
330 University Dr., NE,
New Philadelphia, OH 44663

Vladimir Gurau

Department of Engineering Technology,
Kent State University at Tuscarawas,
330 University Dr., NE,
New Philadelphia, OH 44663
email: vgurau@kent.edu

1Corresponding author.

Contributed by the Advanced Energy Systems Division of ASME for publication in the JOURNAL OF FUEL CELL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY. Manuscript received August 13, 2012; final manuscript received March 12, 2014; published online May 2, 2014. Assoc. Editor: Abel Hernandez-Guerrero.

J. Fuel Cell Sci. Technol 11(5), 054501 (May 02, 2014) (5 pages) Paper No: FC-12-1073; doi: 10.1115/1.4027392 History: Received August 13, 2012; Revised March 12, 2014

We present an innovative, inexpensive end-effector, the robot workcell, and the fuel cell components used to demonstrate the automated assembly process of a proton exchange membrane fuel cell stack. The end-effector is capable of handling a variety of fuel cell components including membrane electrode assemblies, bipolar plates and gaskets using vacuum cups mounted on level compensators and connected to a miniature vacuum pump. The end-effector and the fuel cell components are designed with features that allow an accurate component alignment during the assembly process within a tolerance of 0.02 in. and avoiding component overlapping which represents a major cause of overboard gas leaks during the fuel cell operation. The accurate component alignment in the stack is achieved with electrically nonconductive alignment pins permanently mounted on one fuel cell endplate and positioning holes machined on the fuel cell components and on the end-effector. The alignment pins feature a conical tip which eases the engagement between them and the positioning holes. A passive compliance system consisting of two perpendicularly mounted miniature linear blocks and rails allow compensating for the robot's limitations in accuracy and repeatability.

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Figures

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Fig. 1

Fuel cell stack used for the demonstration of the automated assembly process

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Fig. 2

Fuel cell components (only a single cell shown)

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Fig. 3

Bipolar plates with anode serpentine flow field and cathode interdigitated flow field and displaying two positioning holes

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Fig. 4

End-effector prototype holding a bipolar plate

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Fig. 5

Schematic of end-effector prototype; the circular plate (3) not shown in the top view

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Fig. 6

The robot workcell for the demonstration of automated assembly of PEMFC stacks; the picture shows the robot wrist assembly with the end-effector attached and the workbench with an endplate and stacks for bipolar plates, MEAs, and gaskets

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Fig. 7

The end-effector during component pick up and release operations; (a) pick up and (b) release of bipolar plates; (c) pick up and (d) release of MEAs; and (e) pick up and (f) release of gaskets

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