The SCARA acronym stands for Selective Compliant Assembly Robot Arm and is one that is hard to remember. It's also sometimes referred to as: Selective Compliant Articulated Robot Arm.
In general, traditional SCARA’s are 4-axis robot arms, i.e., they can move to any X-Y-Z coordinate within their work envelope. There is a fourth axis of motion which is the wrist rotate (Theta-Z). The ‘X’, ‘Y’ and the ‘Theta-Z’ movements are obtained with three parallel-axis rotary joints. The vertical motion is usually an independent linear axis at the wrist or in the base.
By virtue of the SCARA’s parallel-axis joint layout, the arm is slightly compliant in the X-Y direction but rigid in the ‘Z’ direction, hence the term: Selective Compliant. This is advantageous for many types of assembly operations, e.g., inserting a round pin in a round hole without binding.
The second attribute of the SCARA is the jointed two-link arm layout similar to our human arms, hence the often-used term, Articulated. This feature allows the arm to extend into confined areas and then retract or “fold up” out of the way. This is advantageous for transferring parts from one cell to another or for loading/ unloading process stations that are enclosed.
SCARA’s are generally faster and cleaner than comparable Cartesian systems. Their single pedestal mount requires a small footprint and provides an easy, unhindered form of mounting. On the other hand, SCARA's can be more expensive than comparable Cartesian systems and the controlling software requires inverse kinematics for linear interpolated moves. This software typically comes with the SCARA though and is usually transparent to the end-user