Key Features & Evolution of Grippers - Automation Insights
Hello, everybody. Welcome to our session. This session will be live. If you have any questions during, add them to the Q&A section on the right side of your screen. My name is Darren Greene. I am the Director of Marketing Communications for Destaco, and today's topic for our session will be Key Features of Gripping Solutions, how they've evolved, and what are the most important features you need to understand regarding grippers.
Our panelists today is Jim Gary, Development Engineer for Robohand, Scott Sorensen, Principal at Automation, Inc., and Doug Kammerer, President of Kemmer Sales Company. So guys, thank you for joining us, thank you for taking the time to be part of our session here, and to help educate our attendees on the grippers and some features that they need to be aware of with grippers. So let's kind of just jump in with the first question and get started. So how have grippers changed over time? I mean, the grippers have been around for a long time, and the grippers have been used in so many different ways, but how have they changed over time?
So Darren, one of the things that i've noticed is there are two designs from Robohand line of Destaco that have fundamentally stayed the same with modifications over time, so if you pull-up the first slide, you can see that we have on the bottom of each of those two slides is a wedge a double wedge that was designed back 30-plus years ago with the idea of getting a high grip force out of a small package. That design has carried over into newer models of the wedge series, like you see directly above, that in the Direct Connect series, but yet the fundamentals are the same. We still have a large bearing surface across the bottom, and around the wedge, we encompass the wedge, and so we can get a very high grip force out of a very small package.
So things have changed, but yet some of the designs have really remained the same, so that the wedge comes in a variety of sizes. I think six or seven different sizes that provide high grip force in a small package for a parallel gripper. If you want to go to the next slide that shows the wedge in two different positions, so that as the piston drives that wedge up and down, it forces the jaws. That's one ball with the wedge. The wedge drives the jaw in and out, so then you can see we're encapsulating that wedge, not only within the channel, but also we encapsulate the jaw all the way around. The next slide shows the evolution of the dual v roller bearing design. So on the right hand side of each of those is the RPP Series, which we still manufacture today, but was also an original design from 30 years ago, and it has high repeatability, very low friction.
Also - very high grip force out of a small lightweight package, so that's a rack and pinion design that although provides great repeatability, also at a very high cost of manufacture, so the market demanded a lower cost gripper with low friction - and that's the middle series. The middle picture of both of those slides, which is the RPL Series, using the same roller bearing design the dual v but in a back-to-back piston design and that still is produced today. We have thousands of those in the market; however, we found that customers tended to need more side-to-side support so we developed the DPP Series which is on the left and so that's the same dual v roller bearing design, but a wider bearing base to support heavier loads.
Not only payloads, but also side to side moment loads of the application. Okay – so you mentioned that it looks like we've changed grippers as the needs have changed. How have applications changed to kind of require these changes of our grippers? How have applications changed? Have the requirements changed? Some of them have in-that initially there was no such thing as a robot. A robot was two pneumatic thrusters bolted together for a direct pick-and-place, so you pick one part and place one part today. With the invention of not only robots, but cobots, we're picking up parts and manipulating them with higher moment loads, as well as multiple parts at one time.
So Jim, are you seeing any changes? We're using, one of the things is over the period of time since these grippers were first developed, we really see a lot of people starting to get into automation. Previously doing things manually, and those really grew based upon quantity. You know, volume of production, super high volume, requires automation and one of the things is that these grippers are transferred and translated very easily from the fixed automation world of a pneumatic picking place - directly into the robotics world.
Having all the features and all the benefits that are required for both types of applications, so what are the biggest advancements that happened in grippers in say 30 years? Well, apart from the two main designs Doug pointed out, I would say one of the key things is that Robohand was the first company to put sensors on grippers. Now today, it's ubiquitous. You can't find a gripper that does not have sensors, but way way back that was a novel feature to add to grippers, and the idea here was again to try to help the customer take a little bit of work away from him - that we could do easier and cheaper in a standardized way, that would allow them to focus on other things. Because prior to that, if they needed sensing, they would have to completely set it up themselves, and again that takes time and money and, so by adding the sensors to the product directly with kits, it makes it a lot simpler for him to save time.
This way, he knows that it's going to work. Any thoughts on advancements that you guys are seeing in the in grippers today, and how they're used, and the requirements that are needed? I think one of the things is size. Everyone needs to have their size probably smaller based upon weight payload of the application, so that becomes an issue, and I think we'll talk later about electric versus pneumatic - and that's a whole other area that's changed in the marketplace based upon requirements and laboratories versus industrial applications. I would add to that we've gotten smaller, but we've also gotten larger, so there are very large applications that are perhaps in nasty environments or even dangerous environments where operators really are at risk.
Putting a robot in there with a very large gripper for picking up castings, for example, in a casting application - die cast wheels and other applications like that. We've developed grippers that we never dreamed we would be able to pick up the type of payloads that we can pick up. What about, you know, with new robots coming on board, and being used like cobots, how have we seen the gripper, the needs for our grippers, change with cobots versus the normal industrial robots that are out there? Majority of applications, I would say yes. And the reason why is that the cobot market is a completely different market than the industrial robotics market. I liken it almost to a consumer level. The product has to be extremely simple to utilize, to integrate, and you know - simple to choose.
And have it so that the customer can say, “hey this is the robot that i have. what grippers are good for that robot,” as opposed to putting them through “well, you need to go to a configurator somewhere” or “you need to do calculations” - that sort of thing. You want to make it so that you can just, you know, do something where you choose your robot and say “this is the family of grippers that's designed to go onto that robot.” One of the things that will help in that area is the Direct Connect products that all have the same mounting pattern, so that allows customers to select the Direct Connect product and the mounting or the robot. They just have a single adapter that connects it, and there's no design required. You can buy it right, both pieces, right off the shelf. The kits come with the screws and the tools and it's essentially to the level of, you know, Ikea. You'll be able to take these off-the-shelf components and just mount them up.
There'll be no design. Anything custom, you don't have to make anything custom. Everything is right off the shelf, so that's the big direction in robots. So I'd like to remind everybody who's joining us on this session, any of the questions you may have that you'd like our panelists to answer during our conversation in the Q&A area, and we'll go ahead and get to those questions when we can. Either during the conversation or at the end of the conversation, but go ahead and send in your questions. So guys, let's talk about the needs for these different types of grippers that are being used. I mean, workforces and the automation and the need for speed is very important in today's manufacturing. I mean, getting things out to people, the the idea of needing things, you know ASAP, versus waiting for things has kind of changed the mind of not just the consumer but also the manufacturer.
Can you guys talk about how the need for automation has increased the requirements and needs? I can tell you from first-hand experience what we have found is manufacturers, here in the Midwest, who back 10-15 years ago, decided that China was the manufacturing mecca. They took everything offshore with the hopes of saving money on manufacturing only to find out that in-particular, in a pandemic, supply chain slowed down - if not stopped, and they can't get their product. It might be on a boat out in the harbor in California right now, and they can't get to it, and so they have made the commitment to manufacture here in the Midwest. And in-order to do that effectively, cost effectively, they need to automate the process of assembly.
Typically, that's been real life examples. Yeah, and one of the other things too is having standard product that a customer can get quickly is very important for a number of reasons. Design times have come down/ The amount of time it takes to actually design and build a system is a lot less than it used to be years ago, so having access to the product locally, having it in-stock at distributors or at the plant can help reduce the amount of time that you've got to carry that part. I remember many, many years ago we would buy things very early in the project build to make sure that we had them, but now you can wait right to the end and order them right at the last minute, so that's key. The other thing is, again, with a lot of the re-shoring, we're having a new group of people learning about these products.
The old timers are gone in a lot of these machine builders, and a lot of the things that are being reassured, as Doug was saying, this is a whole new group of engineers that are starting to deal with these products. That's a big, big change as well, so if we talk about standard products versus custom products, or I mean - majority of the products that you guys are seeing, are they standard or are they kind of custom or special for a special application? Well, we've done specials for almost 30 years, and the nice thing about a special is a customer can get precisely what they need, and there are lots of cases where customers can't get something exactly that they need right out of the catalog.
So that's something that we've always done, and one of the things about it is it's given us a lot of introduction, in many cases, to industries that we've never been involved with before. And a lot of specials end-up reformed into new products, eventually, or some of the features that people ask for specials get built into new products. That way, they can hopefully use them as standards off the shelf. Yeah, that's what we've seen is a customer requests a modification of an existing product that ends up becoming a feature in the next generation of that product. That leads to the discussion of the Direct Connect series, so when customers started requesting alternate mounting patterns or on different mounting surfaces, along with purge ports and scavenge ports, which at one time in our history were custom are now standard features in almost every one of our Direct Connect series grippers.
So we have a question that came in while we were talking here, and the question is about technical differences between our products and our competitive products. Are there are there large technical advantages that we have within the single product versus our competitors’? Who wants to field that one? I can take it. Yeah, there are big differences. The main difference is the precision level that our products are manufactured. We hold extremely tight tolerances on the product, and that's not just all of the importance of it. The other importance is that we can hold that precision over the life of the gripper, and that's key. You want to be able to set up a machine on day one and have the same repeatability.
On the five million through the ten millionth part, that you put off that line, so the durability of our products is crucial. But the other thing that is, as I said, it's the precision, and that really makes a big difference between us and almost all of our competitors. There's only a one or two competitors that are at the same level that we are at. Well Jim, it's not just the repeatability of that gripper but the next gripper that comes in behind it to go back into place. Right, so yes, with our machining technology, and the doweling of the bodies of the grippers, it allows for replacement of a gripper that's going to go right back into the same spot and repeat. Correct, yeah absolutely. Let's talk about grippers and the environments that they're in.
Can you guys talk about the different types of environments, clean room and industrial environments, and which gripper best works for each of those environments? Yeah so i'll kind of give you an overview. Originally, most grippers were designed for the general industrial environment, and as medical industry came up, we started getting customers asking for cleanroom products or products that are FDA approved to work with food. These are things that developed over time. Again, based on customer requests and, so one of the things that really makes them different is the addition of purge and scavenge ports, which I think Doug mentioned earlier. And that allows a customer to either put compressed air into the system and blow it out to keep particles from coming in, and you use that that's purge air that's used in a dirty environment.
You don't want the dirt getting into the gripper, but in the clean environment it's the opposite. You're pulling a vacuum on the gripper's mechanism, and what happens is that's going to draw the air from the environment into the gripper, and that way nothing from the gripper's internal mechanism can leak out. Things like debris, or mainly grease, and those sorts of things, so having that is a big thing. Some of the other things that have evolved, you know, the materials that we use - there's a definite difference in the types of materials. They're all non-corrosive. Now everything we use on the exteriors are non-corrosive, and so those are the sorts of things that have developed over the years for those types of environments. Scott or Doug, you guys have any thoughts on different application different environments and how what grippers work and which ones?
One of the areas that we deal with in the Minneapolis marketplace in Midwest is smaller grippers for the semi-con market for the medical markets. They might have to be a different material, if you will, to be in that environment, so size becomes very critical. And then you have to look at the grip force, the finger length, and the application. So you start to whittle down the opportunity and align that with the gripper family that is offered by Destaco, which is quite extensive. If you have an application that is fairly delicate, as far as grip force, you have to look at the right gripper family too for that, so it really comes back to the application which really lends itself well to the family, because it's a quite an extensive family of solutions.
We had a question come in about, “do we have a classification or is there some information that we can provide, regarding the levels of clean room standards that our products meet?” Yeah - in our catalog we now list that for the products. We also have information about the IP ratings. Ingress protection ratings and those are for dirty environments. Those are for wet environments so those numbers are available and we give them both in the ISO class format and in the old American class format class 10 100 000, and that sort of thing for the ISO, it's class you know, three four five - that sort of thing. But yeah, so we do. I have that in the catalog, and if customers have any questions or if they need to find a specific one, they can call our tech assistants - and we will be able to guide you to the exact gripper for the exact clean room that you have.
So you mentioned about selecting the right gripper, or you know, picking the one for the environment. Let's talk about selecting the right gripper. What kind of information does a customer need to provide or give you guys or what kind of information to be helpful when you guys are trying to figure out? So this list that I can start with, and the other gentleman will add to it, can sound quite daunting - but with the online configurators, with access to the channel that is in your individual area, we're here to help. And we're here to select things for you and guide you through them, but right away - it comes to what's the size of the product you're picking, the weight, the configuration, and are we going to do an ID grip or an OD grip. Are there features on the part that we can lock into when we do the movement? Is the movement on a robot that is very fast? So we have to look at shear force versus just pick.
And then the environment, and that was touched on earlier, is it clean room? Where's that clean room sniffer placed at, so we can understand what the right selection could be for the gripper family? So that list goes on and on and it sounds like it's really daunting, but it's really not that bad. And the whole group is here to help you select that. So Jim, do we have any two, I mean I know Destaco has a couple tools available to help people go through some of those. Yeah, so we've got a tool called Robo-sizer that's on the website. What it does is it takes those key pieces of information that Scott just mentioned, and again, a couple of things are finger length, the grip force required, the way that you're holding the part, your air pressure. That gives you sort of the basis of what you need, however; Robo-sizer has some more things in it you can filter out with some other features that you might be looking for.
Because there may be many grippers that are suitable to your specific application, but you can narrow it down even further with some of the filters that we have on Robo-sizer. Yes, certainly a part range, for example. If you're picking up one size part, or a family of parts, that will determine oftentimes the stroke you need out of the gripper. We have quite a range of stroke lengths and different designs that accommodate longer finger lengths, so finger length is a big one that Jim touched on, but also finger material that that the customer is going to design with. Are they using aluminum fingers? Are they using steel fingers? Are they short and too close to the body or are they long? In which case, you may get the flexion the farther away from the gripper you get, so we have some real clever designs there to accommodate those different requirements. I think that's actually a really good point. Finger design is the most difficult part of working with a gripper, and customers can rely on their local reps or call our tech services department, and we can help you design fingers and give you the information that you need to try to hold that part the best way possible. So let's talk about the different types of grippers available. What I mean by that is the different types of electric pneumatic you guys talk about. You know, the differences between electric and pneumatic and kind of where one is best used. I can start us off. Part of it is, do they have pneumatic air available to start with right? There's certain labs that don't have that, so if you come in with your portfolio of solutions and you start talking about, “hey, this is a really great pneumatic gripper” you're really missing that.
So first, we have to understand from the customer's perspective what do they have available for power, electric or pneumatic, and even the air pressure of pneumatic in that given area. When you look at electric grippers, at times, the weight ratio and grip force isn't the same as a pneumatic product, so you have to take that into consideration. But again, we we're here to help, and help size as well, so those are things that we can assist with. We'll stop there. Okay yeah - I would agree. One of the things too is that, at-least for us, we've focused on simple electric solutions. There's certainly other electric solutions that are extremely expensive, and extremely difficult to program and use, but we focused on what we call “light switch operation” - which is the simple opening and closing of the gripper which is as simple to use as a valve that you already use to run if you had a pneumatic gripper.
So that's always been our philosophy for electric products, and we will be developing a lot more electric products, particularly for the cobot market in the coming months. Is there a cost difference between electric and pneumatic? Yeah, definitely. If you take a look at some of our grippers, here's the simple way to explain, that with uh pneumatic gripper - you have a piston that drives the mechanism. In the electric gripper, you now have a motor and a control board that's driving that, and if you compare the cost of a piston to the cost of the motor control board - it's there.
And then when you get into heavy duty, crazy things - the programming is then another hurdle that you run into. So the last thing I’d like to talk about is the different types of applications that could be used with our grippers can be used in. Are there any kind of unique applications that you guys have seen grippers used in that you kind of would like to talk about? I've got a favorite. We had a customer who was handling hand grenades and they didn't want to drop them, and so we designed up a product, a special gripper, for them that would have the ability to do that and make sure that they can guarantee that it's not going to drop the part. So those kinds of things happen, but that's always been my favorite over the years.
That would be important. We have a variety of customers who, particularly in the automotive industry, where if they drop air when they're gripping the part, they don't want to drop the parts. So we've designed a variety of different solutions, whether it's pneumatic or spring-loaded, to prevent dropping a part - potentially a heavy part that could drop on someone's foot or not only damaged a part, but damage, perhaps cause injury. So with several of our gripper designs, we have a locking mechanism to hold onto the part in the event of an emergency stop, “e-stop”, or loss of power to the machine. Yeah, with more pick and place applications that are going on with cobots, as Jim mentioned earlier, the variety of parts that we pick are quite extensive, from medical vials to automotive parts, so it becomes really what's needed to be done and the solutions are available through Destaco to accomplish that.
Okay - so again, going back to the how can somebody get started. I mean, what I heard from you guys during the conversation is really, “go to our website, check out the different types of grippers that we have, and really reach out to our extensive partner group that we have who have a large amount of knowledge on different types of ways that grippers have been used, which one's best fit.” So, you know, the best way for somebody to get started is really just reach out to a partner of ours or reach out to us and and really start that conversation. With that said guys, I kind of like to go around the room. Any other final thoughts on anything that you guys would like to talk about with grippers? One thing that again I'd like to make sure people understand is that we have many years of experience in this industry.
It's unlikely that you're going to come to us with something we haven't seen already, and we can save you a lot of time and a lot of headache. All you got to do is pick up the phone and either contact your local rep or contact our tech support. We'll be able to walk you right through it. Several of the Destaco channels have stock at their facilities and that advantage is we might not have the exact gripper you're looking for but we have another product that's very comparable to it. So if you're looking at doing something quickly, please reach out to those channels and we can assist in those efforts. Great point. So actually right now guys, we're at our Q&A time. We've had a couple questions come in during the starting session which I think we've worked into the conversation.
But if anybody does have any further questions that they'd like to ask the panel please go ahead and add it to the Q&A and we'll go ahead and get your question queued up for answering. But you know, while we wait guys, I do have a couple of questions that came to mind. We were talking about standard versus custom, how long does it take to really to modify or design a gripper? What's the average time frame if somebody says, “hey you don't have a standard product on the shelf that I want?” It depends. There are simple specials where they just need a different grease or they need a hole in a different location or important different location or mounting. And those can take just a day turn around as far as quoting, and then probably one to two weeks to actually get the product out the door. The far end of it is where a customer wants a completely custom gripper, and in those cases they can take many months.
It really depends on the complexity of that gripper. We do both ends of the spectrum, but there's a lot of things in between as well. Well, a question has come in is, you know, if a customer has another product on their application today from our competitor - how easy is it to change over to a Destaco product? Well, it depends right. We have a number of our products that over the years were actually copied by competitors because of our superior design, so depending on what it is, it's not going to be necessarily a drop in replacement, but it could be with an adapter plate easy enough. Again, as we suggested, best thing to do is reach out to your local channel and take a look. That's what I would say.
One of the challenges can be if they want a direct interchange and that can be difficult because the mounting pattern, as Doug mentioned, the location potentially, but if form and fit are critical - then we have to dive into it more. But again, with the offering that Destaco offers, they'll have a product to be able to cross it. It just depends upon the flexibility of your application and the size of your gripper. That would dictate. Yeah, one other thing to point out and is very important, a lot of times when customers are looking to swap out a gripper - it's because they have a problem with it. You know, a competitive gripper that's not working for them, and if we just do a direct replacement for the same size, and so forth, we may have the same problem because the first gripper might have been misapplied. So whenever people ask for a sort of a direct crossover, we really want to understand the application and define what gripper is going to be the best for that application.
And that will then solve the problem of the customer. Great point, Jim. We got to dig a little deeper and find out what's failing and why is it failing. Is it a delivery issue of the gripper, or is it the fact that it's undersized? Okay, well guys - we've been talking for a little bit over a half hour now, and I don't think we have any questions coming in right now, so i'd like to say thank you guys for being on our panel and providing your expertise on this topic. I'd like to thank the audience for their participation and they're attending our session. If you have any further questions, please navigate over to any of our product pages or our product audio chat rooms or start a one-on-one conversation with any of our Destaco experts. And of-course, check out our website and give us a call or call one of our partners who I know will be able to help you and provide the solution that you're looking for.
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