The operating positional error of a robot manipulator, which develops inevitably because of manufacturing tolerances and assembly clearances, is preferentially maintained within a certain range in order to achieve an acceptable level of performance and accuracy. Because additional cost is incurred when manufacturing tolerances are tightened, an alternative design strategy maximizes the tolerances (so as to reduce the cost) while minimizing positioning error (to satisfy a performance requirement). In this paper, a new joint clearance model is developed for spatial mechanisms that incorporate revolute joints, which in turn are subjected to specified tolerance or uncertainty in the orientation of their axes. Statistical design parameters related to variations of link length and joint axis orientation are identified from the clearance model. The statistical influence of the design parameters on the robot manipulator’s response is investigated through a general multibody dynamics sensitivity formulation. The method offers substantial improvement in computational efficiency when compared to the Monte Carlo procedure. The uncertainty in orientation of a revolute joint’s axis influences the positioning accuracy of the robot manipulator’s response to a greater degree than does uncertainty in the length of a link.

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