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Configurable Grippers Have a Soft Touch



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Think about Peeps, the marshmallow chicks found in Easter baskets. Did you know that they’re robotically handled? Clearly, the gripper on the robot has to be sufficiently capable of a light touch lest one of those chick’s heads get crushed.

Which brings us to the mGrip gripping system from Soft Robotics Inc. (softroboticsinc.com).

The gripping system uses a novel approach to solve the challenge of picking and placing relatively fragile items at speed without damaging them. How fragile? Soft Robotics cites a customer that makes plastic clips used in car seat assembly that are still hot and slightly soft from the injection mold.

The Soft Robotics system grippers are hollow, rubber-like fingers filled with compressed air. They contract around an object securely but gently, with give, less like a pair of pliers and more like a mother’s hand. The force calculations needed to pick and place without damaging a part are much less complex than with conventional hard tools. And the soft grippers can cycle at 3 – 4 times a second: The seat clip-maker uses the system with an ABB robot to maintain a production rate of a hundred parts per minute.

The customizable mGrip kit is available in two configurations. The circular version has the components needed to build a circular tool with either four or five fingers. It can be configured for geometries with a spacing range of 2.5 to 6.1 inches. The parallel kit enables building a parallel tool with either two, four or six fingers and can handle geometries with a spacing range of 1.5 to 4.7 inches.

While mGrip was designed particularly with collaborative robots in mind, it can work with—and keep up with the speed of—any industrial robot.