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OnRobot Launches Three-Finger Electric Gripper For Handling Of Cylindrical Objects

OnRobot Launches Three-Finger Electric Gripper For Handling Of Cylindrical Objects

OnRobot has released its compact, large-stroke 3FG15 three-finger gripper. The 3FG15 makes previously hard-to-automate precision handling of cylindrical parts easy to program and deploy, and provides flexibility for a wide range of part sizes.

READ: OnRobot Launches Compact Gecko Gripper For Small-Footprint Applications

“Our new 3FG15 three-finger gripper was developed as a response to existing pneumatic three-finger grippers that are bulkier and less flexible,” says CEO of OnRobot, Enrico Krog Iversen. “We have long defined the market for electric parallel grippers with the RG2 and RG6 series, and we look forward to addressing new market segments and applications with a new three-finger gripper that allows users to deploy applications faster even with highly accurate, fixed positioning.”

The 3FG15 gripper has a maximum stroke of 150mm that can easily handle multiple processes. The innovative three-finger design with a 15 kg (33 lb) payload provides a strong, stable grip for both form fit (internal) or friction fit (external) gripping, adding flexibility to any implementation.

READ: Onrobot Eyes Automation Potential In Southeast Asia With New Singapore Office

EoAT Market Gains Traction in Asia

According to Global Market Insights, the global robot EoAT market was worth more than USD 2.5 billion in 2018, with a projected CAGR of 14 per cent from 2019 to 2025. Key factors driving growth include increasing adoption of robots to perform applications such as machine tending, welding and others[1].

The EoAT market in Asia Pacific, excluding Japan, (APEJ) has been growing exponentially as developing countries transform their industrial landscape with new technologies. In 2018, APEJ EoAT sales accounted for over 51 per cent of the global market[2]. This trend is similar in Southeast Asia which is seeing rapid growth of factory automation.[3]

James Taylor, General Manager, APAC at OnRobot, said: “Southeast Asia continues to be an important market for OnRobot as we see growing investment in robotic automation and greater push by governments to encourage adoption. We are expanding our portfolio of products to provide manufacturers a wide range of automation solutions that not only offers flexibility and increased production efficiency, but also easy deployment and a quick return on investment”.

READ: Flexible Gripping Delivers the Future of Automation Today

Ideal for CNC machine tending

The gripper’s design, specifically developed for machine-tending tasks, automatically centers workpieces, resulting in a strong, stable grip and precise placement in machine chucks. With a gripping force from 10 N to 240 N, the 3FG15 competes with much less flexible finger grippers.

The gripper is also ideal for packaging and palletising applications, and is seamlessly compatible with any major collaborative or light industrial robot arm through OnRobot’s new award-winning One System Solution, the platform that provides a unified mechanical and electrical interface between the robot arms and any OnRobot end-of-arm tooling (EoAT).





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OnRobot Launches Compact Gecko Gripper For Small-Footprint Applications

OnRobot Launches Compact Gecko Gripper For Small-Footprint Applications

OnRobot has launched a compact, single-pad version of its innovative Gecko no-mark adhesive gripper. The new Gecko Single Pad (SP) gripper brings the same capability to new automation applications with small footprints and lower payload. The Gecko SP is available in three sizes; SP1, SP3 and SP5 named after the gripper’s payload in kilos, featuring ability to lift a wide range of flat, smooth, shiny or perforated surfaces. Because the technology doesn’t mark even high-shine surfaces, it eliminates the need for a cleaning step in manufacturing processes, saving time and improving output. And like its larger sibling, the Gecko SP can grip even perforated workpieces such as printed circuit boards, aluminium mesh or head gaskets.

READ: Grippers for Collaborative Applications

READ: OnRobot Launches VGC10 Compact—A Highly Customisable Electric Vacuum Gripper

The award-winning Gecko gripper technology uses millions of micro-scaled fibrillar stalks that adhere to a surface using powerful van der Waals forces — the same way that geckos climb. The technology requires no compressed air or external power, saving costs and maintenance, and can be implemented quickly and easily through OnRobot’s One-System Solution platform with little or no programming on any major collaborative or light industrial robot arm for greater production flexibility.

READ: Onrobot Eyes Automation Potential In Southeast Asia With New Singapore Office

READ: Flexible Gripping Delivers the Future of Automation Today

“Our unique Gecko technology automates processes that no other gripper can accomplish, and now it’s available in a compact, flexible format that offers our customers even more options,” said Enrico Krog Iversen, CEO of OnRobot. “This is a true plug-and-play gripper that fulfills our promise of a full range of easy, cost-effective, flexible robotic tooling that lets customers focus on their application rather than the robot.”


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Artificial Intelligence In Bending

Artificial Intelligence In Bending

Manufacturers are now adopting artificial intelligence (AI) to further create value for the customers. But how would AI be applied to sheet metal bending? In this article, Melvin Tham, Regional Technology Expert – Bending, for TRUMPF, explains.

Using conventional press brakes to achieve high accuracy for sheet metal is challenging due mainly to the property of the material, where its elasticity varies according to its composition and grain direction. Therefore, the process would usually take a longer time as it requires more knowledge and skill in order to achieve higher accuracy.

In today’s industrial environment, machines are loaded with functions to ensure that the manufactured parts are precise and consistent with minimal human/operator intervention, and manufacturers are now adopting artificial intelligence (AI) to further create value for the customers. But how would AI be applied to sheet metal bending?

Automatic Set Up

Given the current high-mix, low-volume market demand, the system must be easily set up within minutes to cater for a job change over. Therefore, a self-centring tooling system would be most ideal. With an automatic tool changer, there is no longer a need for alignment as the tools are automatically placed in position and integrated into the machine. It has three to four times more storage capacity than the machine’s bending length, all just to ensure a quick changeover and without the hassle of tool shortage.

Positioning and Angle Accuracy of Part

Since the bending process is now automatic, the quality of the parts has to be checked automatically as well. Such system would require high dynamic functions such as the backgauge. The backgauge with an axis tolerance of ±0.02 mm and the angle sensor tool with tolerance at ±0.5 deg are required to ensure that the part is placed accurately in position and angle tolerance is achieved by an angle checking device.

Sensors of the backagauge are necessary for the identification of the part in position. Without this, the part would not be able to achieve its desired flange length.

An automatic detection of the angle needs to be equipped to determine the correct angle to be achieved for each bend. With Automatic Controlled Bending (ACB), the total completion time to bend, calculate and adjust will take less than a second!

Identification of Parts and Positioning Compensation

The system must be able to detect the correct part to pick up and automatically determine the datum point to compensate positioning error. It is important to define the datum point so that all bending sequence and positioning accuracy can be referenced.

Although a structured stand that pre-fixed the part datum point can be achieved, the best possible solution will be with a high-resolution and precise camera profile detection that is flexible and automatic. This camera device could detect the sheet stack, height and fine profile of the part for single sheet without the need to specifically prepare sheet in a fixed position. With such function, a lot of time is saved from the preparation for defining, picking and loading of parts.

Gripper Technology

The grippers picking up the parts are of critical importance as well. Our grippers are designed with the concept of holding the parts as firmly as a human hand would. The gripper can be used for multiple parts and the suction cups can be pneumatically turned on or off to cater to different profiles and gripping area.

CAM-assisted Offline Programming

Software plays a very important role in automation. It should be able to strategically control all movement offline with intuitive graphical teaching.

In the past, robot movements are codings that are entered line by line in order to perfect a smooth travel path. With advanced software like TruTops Bend Automation, not only are we are able to graphically teach the movement from one point to another, we can also teach the robot to flip, load and unload the part. The software enables us to run a simulation prior to the actual process.

Robotic Movement and Payload

There are many robotic equipment in the market, with some having more than eight axis of movement and payload of more than 1,000 kg! So how do we know which is suitable?

In bending, it is always the working area within the press brake and robotic system. The bigger the working capacity means there is a better flexibility on the type of profile that can be bent.

The longer the trackway of the robot arm, the more parts can be prepared for loading and unloading. This is to ensure that the machine is always filled with part for continuous production and not idling or waiting for parts. There are also possibilities that the finish part can be stacked in cage or drop box.

The higher the payload means a bigger robot arm would be required. When the arm gets too big, there is a minimum distance of limitation due to the kinetic movement, therefore small parts cannot be picked up. Hence, it is important to define the size of the product before the selection of the automatic bending cell. This will make it easier to select the type of press brake and robotic arm for the job.

With all the necessary functions that are in place to ensure the output quality of the parts, the production is all ready for artificial intelligence bending!


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Flexible Gripping Delivers The Future Of Automation Today

Flexible Gripping Delivers the Future of Automation Today

In this article, James Taylor, General Manager, APAC at OnRobot, provides his insights on breakthrough gripper technologies that are bringing collaborative automation to a broader audience.

People, cars, our homes, almost everything is more connected than ever before, and that is also true of industrial automation. This age of unparalleled connectivity spurs expectations for faster and more scalable production, but for businesses it is no longer just about automation itself. Instead, the focus has shifted to collaborative automation, wherein multiple tasks of differing magnitude and difficulty can be automated to achieve greater productivity and cost effectiveness than was previously possible.

The market for collaborative automation is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 60 percent, reaching US$12 billion in less than ten years1. Similarly, collaborative robots (cobots), robots designed to work alongside people, have seen increased demand. The International Federation of Robotics reports that annual installations of cobots surged by 23 percent from 2017 to 20182.

Here in Southeast Asia, the industrial automation and process control market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8.1 percent to reach US$4.4 billion by 20233, signalling the great potential of the industry.

Collaborative applications typically involve humans, robots, robot accessories and objects interacting on varying levels to automate various tasks. These characteristics make collaborative applications easily deployable, reducing costs. The objects or raw materials which come in a variety of forms, shapes and sizes, are a particularly important component in this workflow, which means that modern industrial automation must be able to accurately sense, identify and manipulate them.

End effectors, or End-of-Arm Tooling (EOAT), are the physical interfaces between the robot and collaborative application. These smart and versatile robotic tools empower robots to perform adaptive, higher precision and more intelligent applications that in the past were too complex to automate.

More importantly, these advanced tools enable collaborative applications, bringing employees and robots together, working safely side by side with to the user-friendly nature, intuitive programming and safety features of EOAT-fitted robots.

Since these applications demand that objects be handled in extremely flexible and autonomous ways, poorly selected EOAT incapable of meeting those demands can severely limit an application’s collaborative potential, leading to process delays and harm to the production line.

Modern grippers, however, are up to the challenge. They are designed with state-of-the-art gripping techniques and able to have each step of a gripping task programmed well in advance. Importantly, this means the grippers know the correct angle, precision and force to apply while handling an object before the task even begins. Applications such as pick and place, weld, deburr, apply material, load and unload can all be done with this EOAT.

Asia is expected to purchase 67 percent of all grippers. This demand will support the gripper industry to double its sales by 20234.

Breakthrough Gripper Technologies

Force-based gripping technique, which is useful in applications such as packaging and palletising, machine tending and assembly, enables flexible production with minimal downtime. In-built force/torque sensors have integrated force control software and proximity sensors with optical technology that help grippers detect an object’s location, even when it is not precisely positioned. This technology is well-suited to collaborative applications since the gripper can “see” and “feel” the objects using its built-in force/torque sensing. This is true for OnRobot’s RG2-FT Gripper, the world’s first intelligent gripper. The touch-sensitive two-fingered hand can quickly and efficiently pick and package small, delicate products such as food or agriculture produce without squashing or breaking them.

OnRobot grippers are designed to seamlessly integrate with collaborative applications and are built for easy “plug-and-produce” automation. At Rosborg Food Holding, Denmark’s largest producer of herbs and mini plants, an OnRobot RG6 gripper seamlessly packs cut herbs. The automated packaging solution is so intuitive that staff without robot experience can easily switch the solution to packing other types of products by simply changing settings on the robotic arm’s touch screen. The RG6 robot gripper’s software is installed in the robotic arm similar to how an app is installed on a smartphone5.

These grippers can be attached to any robot, and end users can control the gripper using the software panel’s embedded programming. This is advantageous for both large businesses, as well as for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) seeking agility and cost-efficiency as their low-volume, high-mix production needs change.

Grippers Boost Machine Utilisation

Computer numerical control (CNC) machines are expensive, priced as high as US$1.1 million. Hence, manufacturers are constantly looking at ways to get the most out of these machines. A single gripper is often used in CNC machine tending tasks. This method means the machine is left idle for a long time, having huge cost implications for the business. Instead, manufacturers can use dual grippers to maximise production.

OnRobot’s RG2 or RG6 dual grippers boost machine utilisation. While one gripper removes a processed part from the machine, the second picks the next raw part to be loaded into the machine, reducing cycle time, improving efficiency and increasing output. Danish gear manufacturing company, Osvald Jensen cut its production cycle time by 12 seconds or almost half the time using OnRobot’s dual grippers6.

Advanced Intelligence in Modern Tools

The collaborative application determines the EOAT type, and in turn, the intelligent features in the EOAT arbitrate the automation quality.

For example, if a robot is tasked with picking up a plastic sheet, its grippers will be equipped with pneumatics or vacuum cups. For applications that need a two-finger gripper, the wise choice would be a gripper that is easy to install and programme, and also, cost-effective. However, if the product mix changes are frequent, a gripper with an adjustable stroke and gripping force would be best.

Advanced EOATs will be able to satisfy these disparate needs and adhere to the end-user’s long-term interests. Average intelligence in robot accessories is no longer sufficient—to create the agile, hyper-connected and collaborative environments envisioned by Industry 4.0, these accessories must have elevated intellect.

A New Era of Automation

The new direction in industrial automation is about adding intelligence to end-effectors so that the robot can become smarter. Adopting advanced EOATs with intelligent sensors and inbuilt software will help producers to be more agile, connected and collaborative. They will also open doors to new automation possibilities, bringing robotics to a broader audience, to new industries and to SMEs that would have in the past considered it out of reach. Southeast Asia has the potential to capture productivity gains worth US$216 billion to US$627 billion with the adoption of these Industry 4.0 technologies7.

The days of large, centralised productions are over, and automated processes are too costly to be rebuilt with every modification or design change. Today, businesses need flexible, highly adaptive automation solutions. Therefore, intelligent tools that make automation more collaborative, cost-efficient, scalable and connected should be prioritised. This new curated range of advanced EOATs is finally helping to deliver the promise of remote-controlled automation to industry players in the region.





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OnRobot Launches VGC10 Compact—A Highly Customisable Electric Vacuum Gripper

OnRobot Launches VGC10 Compact—A Highly Customisable Electric Vacuum Gripper

OnRobot has launched the VGC10 compact electric vacuum gripper that addresses customer demand for a small but powerful and highly configurable gripper for nearly any application.

Based on the design of the award-winning OnRobot VG10 electric vacuum gripper, the compact VGC10 is smaller and lighter than its larger cousin, so is ideal for constrained environments and smaller robot arms, but offers the same impressive payload of 15 kg (35 lb). The VGC10 provides fast out-of-the-box deployment but also offers unlimited customisation, with easily changeable suction cup options and the ability to add or replace arms to fit highly specific application needs. With this configurability, the VGC10 can grip and move a wide array of small, multi-dimensional, and heavy objects even with a lighter payload robot arm.

The VGC10 features two independently controlled air channels that allow it to act as a dual gripper with pick-up and release in the same action, further increasing efficiency and reducing cycle time. The gripper can also be used with a single air channel for higher gripping performance. With no compressor or air supply needed—eliminating the cost, noise, space, and maintenance of producing compressed air—this compact electrical gripper is easy to implement and move. Fully integrated software through OnRobot’s new One System Solution platform makes it quick to deploy and redeploy on any major collaborative or light industrial robot arm for greater production flexibility.

“We heard from customers that they loved the features of the VC10 gripper but sometimes needed a more configurable, compact version, so we delivered,” said Enrico Krog Iversen, CEO of OnRobot. “The VGC10 is another great example of OnRobot’s mission to be the one-stop-shop for innovative, collaborative end-of-arm tooling that lets manufacturers focus on their application rather than the complexities of the robot.”

Gripper Market to Grow Substantially Across Asia

A study by Future Market Insights predicts that the global robotic gripper market will experience substantial growth over the next 10 years, driven by the use of innovative solutions, the rise in applications as well as the growth in end-use industries. The market, valued at USD 1 billion in 2018, is projected to increase at a CAGR of 10 percent between 2019 and 2029.

The growth is expected to be dominant in the automotive, electronics and semiconductor industries and in Asia, specifically East Asia and Southeast Asia, owing to the rapid growth of factory automation.[1]

James Taylor, General Manager, APAC at OnRobot, said: “The roll-out of VGC10 is timely as Southeast Asian countries are embracing robotic automation at an impressive pace. Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia are ranked among the 30 largest industrial robot markets in 2018 with 87,100 operational robots[2]. The VGC10 continues our commitment to help local manufacturers embrace automation easily and enjoy quicker returns through its flexible and compact nature, speedy deployment process and increased power”.

VGC10 Features

  • Compact, lightweight, and powerful
  • Replaceable, customisable arms
  • Configurable suction cups
  • 15 kg payload, weight .814 kg (1.79 lb)
  • 100mm x 100mm (under 4 ins) footprint
  • 2 independent air channels for dual gripping
  • Built-in electric vacuum
  • No external air supply needed
  • Integrated software
  • IP54 rated for harsh conditions


[2] IFR World Robotics Report 2019


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Grippers For Collaborative Applications

Grippers for Collaborative Applications

Collaborative scenarios for the production of tomorrow will be commonplace, just like PCs are in the workplace today. In this interview, Markus Glück of SCHUNK GmbH & Co. KG, explains where the current challenges and opportunities lie in this collaborative environment.

Prof. Dr. -Ing Markus Glück

According to automation experts, collaborative scenarios for the production of tomorrow will be given, just like PCs are in the workplace today. Besides collaborative robots (or so-called cobots), gripping tools also play a central role in collaborative applications. In an interview, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Markus Glück, Managing Director for Research and Development, and Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) of SCHUNK GmbH & Co. KG, explains where the current challenges and opportunities lie.

Schunk’s Svh and Co-act Egp-C are now certified for human-robot collaboration (HRC) operations. why is certifying individual components so important, when it is actually the entire automated system as a whole that has to be certified for collaborative operations?

Markus Glück (MG): At our current stage, a large number of users are looking into HRC although only a few applications have been implemented into operational environments thus far. The topic is relatively new for all the parties involved, which includes manufacturers of robots or end-of-arm tools and sensors, users, as well as the DGUV. Our experience shows that the path to certification can sometimes be challenging, especially for the first applications that do not have the benefit of experience. This is exactly what we are dealing with: we are supporting users with the interdisciplinary expertise of our SCHUNK Co-act team as well as minimizing the efforts involved in certifying entire systems with the help of our certified components.

Why is the certification process so complicated?

MG: In order for the DGUV to certify an entire automated system for HRC operations, it is first necessary to ensure that operators cannot be injured if contact is made. This is where the protection principles of DIN EN ISO 10218-1/-2 and DIN EN ISO/TS 15066 and the Machine Directive come into play, which stipulate that any hazards posed to humans and any associated risks must always be considered and assessed. That means it is important to make a very precise assessment of factors such as: what work spaces are present; what risks are involved; and where work spaces have to be restricted in order to prevent injuries. This is only possible when each application is considered on an individual level: each component, task, workpiece and security system. That simply takes time and careful attention.

Are there any safety concerns or fears with regard to grippers used in HRC applications?

MG: So far, we have not come across any great fears among users concerning grippers used in collaborative applications. On the contrary, there is actually a much greater sense of curiosity and enthusiasm—especially when it comes to intelligent systems such as the SCHUNK Co-act JL1 gripper. People see their encounter with the system as playful: they intuitively test out what triggers the safety technologies and how the system behaves. They start to gain confidence, which quickly dispels any fear associated with contact.


Where are the challenges?

MG: Many aspects of human-robot collaboration are just as complex as humans themselves. Unlike conventional systems, simply meeting the standards is not enough. Firstly, standards only require that no serious injury or damage can be caused to the machine or the operator. However, that is not enough when it comes to daily use. Imagine if an HRC system were to bump into an operator 100 times a day. Even if this did not violate any standards, the system would have no chance of being accepted. It is much more important to make people, rather than the technical system, the main focus of all the considerations. The worker has to trust the robot. The gripper has to adapt to the human—not the other way around.

Isn’t a gripper like that pushing the limits of complexity?

MG: Complex systems do not have to seem complicated nowadays. Take the smartphone: starting around secondary school at the latest, interacting with embedded technologies comes completely naturally to children: they write messages, surf the internet, watch films, photograph notes on the blackboard, make videos of experiments, make payments, or use their phone as a calculator, timetable or school agenda. They do all of this without thinking about how the device works. They just try out new apps intuitively, especially if their classmates show them first, and then they are practically already part of their standard app collection. This is exactly the scenario that we are pursuing with the SCHUNK Co-act JL1 gripper technology study: despite, or better yet, because of its complexity both inside and out, its use should be as intuitive as possible.

With the help of capacitive sensors, the SCHUNK Co-act JL1 gripper continuously monitors its surroundings. If a human hand approaches, it automatically switches into safe operating mode.

Can you describe the schunk co-act jl1 gripper’s safety aura in a more detailed way?

MG: The sensor technology installed in the SCHUNK Co-act JL1 gripper detects when humans are approaching and facilitates a reaction independent from the situation, without humans and robots coming into contact. It is divided up into three zones: each finger and the housing make up one zone each and can detect when a human is approaching independently of one another. This makes it possible for instance by successively triggering the sensor system in both fingers to determine the direction the human is approaching from and use this information to determine an evasive movement of the robot immediately. Using the freely programmable controls integrated into the gripper, the corresponding reactions can be pre-processed and sent as a signal to the PLC. For example, it receives the command to reduce the speed by 25, 50 or 75 percent, or to stop. A pre-defined evasion strategy is even possible, as long as the direction of approach is clear. Each reaction mechanism can be defined individually and adapted to the corresponding application.

What type of technology is behind all of this?

MG: Technically speaking, we use several systems in parallel: First, there is a capacitive sensor, that is, an electric field built around the gripper. As soon as something containing a lot of water enters this field, it is detected, for example a human hand. This makes it possible to distinguish between the approach of a component or another gripper and the approach of fingers, hands or arms. In contrast to the established options on the market for work space monitoring, which generally cover a wider area, the capacitive sensor system makes it possible to immediately detect objects within a narrow radius of 20 cm, truly getting closest to the human before ever coming into contact. The second level is the force-moment sensor, which is installed in the flange. This registers the emergence of unexpected force effects. It detects an effective collision and stops the robot. In addition, it allows for additional functions to be realized, for example, we can determine whether a glass is full or empty. If and how workpieces are gripped. Finally, the third level is formed by tactile sensors. Comparable with the human sense of touch, these sense individual contact incidences as well as pressure distributed across a large area in a spatially resolved manner. Using intelligent algorithms for pattern recognition, objects can be identified during gripping and the grip can be adjusted reactively. It is also possible to know if the object is being optimally gripped or if it needs to be corrected because, for example, instead of an object, it is gripping a human hand.

Where are we heading? what will grippers be able to do tomorrow?

MG: Specifically, there are two main aspects: assisting humans and alternating their handling of different kinds of components. With the help of specially developed gripping strategies, the delicate SCHUNK Co-act JL1 gripper adjusts its behavior in real time depending on whether it is gripping a workpiece or a human hand. For this, the gripper uses a decentralized control architecture with diagnosis and safety functions carried out in parallel.

In the long run, we believe that grippers, like human hands, will be able to independently manipulate the position and orientation of the gripped components in six degrees of freedom. This can be referred to as in-hand calibration technology. It will enable the realization of extremely flexible, autonomous gripping scenarios.


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Key Factors To Consider When Selecting The Proper Gripper

Key Factors to Consider When Selecting the Proper Gripper

There are various operational characteristics that must be considered before an educated—and successful—gripper choice can be made. Article by Gary Labadie, Destaco.

In the world of manufacturing, the ability to consistently get—and maintain—a good, reliable grip can be the difference between operational success and failure. However, the engineers who design pick-and-place automation systems used in such diverse industries as automotive, electronics and consumer goods, often give inadequate attention to the most suitable type of gripper to use with their system. There’s a vast array of gripper styles available, and engineers are designing systems that can have thousands of parts. Often, convenience, familiarity or a generalised end-user specification contribute to a less-than-optimal decision.

There are many considerations that should be addressed when choosing a gripper. Among these are the effects that dirt, grit, oil, grease, cutting fluid, temperature variation, cleanliness and the level of human interaction can have on the operation of an automation system. It is not enough to arbitrarily choose a gripper from off the shelf or from the pages of a catalogue.

Know Your Operating Environment

Although there have been some advances made in the design and operation of electric grippers, pneumatic grippers have been the standard for many years and will continue to be the majority for the foreseeable future. In fact, more than 95 percent of the grippers in use in today’s automated manufacturing environment are pneumatically powered.

Pneumatically controlled grippers are generally used for three basic tasks: for gripping and holding a product or component while it is being transferred, for example, from or to a conveyor, workstation, machine; for part orientation, or putting the part or product in the correct position in preparation for the next process; and for gripping a part while work is actually being done. While these tasks would appear to be straightforward, their effective operation is only assured if the correct type of gripper is chosen for the operating conditions.

There are two common classes of operating environments that may require special attention:

Contaminated: Characterised by an environment with high levels of dirt, debris, oil, grease, or higher temperature variations. These environments are common in automotive, foundry, machining and general industrial applications.

Clean: In this type of environment, the focus is on keeping anything on or in the gripper from being released into the work environment and contaminating the part or process. This is common in the medical, pharmaceutical, electronics and food-production industries.

Whether operating in a clean or dirty arena, shielding can be an effective means of increasing reliability. Standard or custom-designed shields can deflect debris away from the internal workings in a dirty environment, or help to keep grease and internal containments contained in a clean one. Gripper materials and coatings such as stainless steel, nickel-plating and hard-coat anodizing can also keep surfaces from corroding or debris from sticking, which can eventually cause binding.

Gripper Design and Environmental Suitability

Basic gripper design and construction can also have an effect on the performance in any given operating environment. A gripper consists of three basic parts: body, jaws and fingers. Generally, the gripper manufacturer only designs and builds the gripper’s body and jaws, with the machine builder or end user supplying the custom fingers to grip or encapsulate the given part. When selecting a gripper, considerations for any application should include appropriate finger length, grip force, stroke, actuation time, and accuracy. The manufacturer normally publishes these specifications for any given gripper model and need to be followed.

Again, specific operating environments will play a significant role in determining which type of gripper design should be considered. The jaw-support mechanism (bearing type) can have an impact on function. The internal design (means of power transmission from piston to jaw) can have an impact, as well. Simply put, various grippers may be the same size and perform the same function, but can have completely different designs, with some being better than others for differing operating environments.

The mode of power transmission, or general design of the gripper mechanism, should also be contemplated. Some examples are double-sided wedge, direct drive, cam driven, and rack-and-pinion drive. There are also numerous finger designs and gripping methods to consider: friction, cradled, and encapsulated.

When considering finger design, safety should always be paramount. In the event of power failure (loss of air pressure), there are other means of preventing a part from accidentally being released from the gripper and potentially causing bodily injury or damage to part or machine. An internal spring may be an option to bias the piston and maintain finger/jaw position on or around the part, but care must be taken to ensure the spring force is adequate. External fail-safe valves can be added to the ports to check air to the gripper in the open or closed position. Some gripper styles allow for rod locks that automatically clamp on the guide rods of the jaws when air pressure is lost.


Designers and engineers who don’t give proper attention to gripper selection may eventually need to be told to ‘get a grip’ when considering their choices. This demand can rise when the performance of an automation system is compromised because the proper grippers were not chosen and unsatisfactory operation ensues.

The performance of any automated manufacturing system is only as strong and reliable as the performance of its weakest link. To ensure that the weak link is not the gripper, strict attention must be paid to the operating environment and a suitable gripper specified based on gripper design and the array of options available, including possible custom solutions the manufacturer may be willing to offer. Only when these areas are optimized will the operator truly know that the best gripper for the application has been selected.



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