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Taking robotic grippers to the next level thanks to 3D printing


Manufacturing industrial grippers come with their challenges and difficulties. The role of additive manufacturing is growing in the robotics industry, and gripping systems appear to be an interesting part of producing with this technology. This manufacturing technique’s optimization and customization possibilities could help you improve your grippers and your whole process. Let’s see how additive manufacturing can revolutionize gripper manufacturing and learn how to address rapidly changing market trends using this manufacturing technique. Get inspired and set yourself up to be efficient with 3D printing!

3D printing and robotics

Robots have existed for almost 100 years, and the improvement of mechanical movements has never stopped since then. Motion, precision, and control are continually improving, refined to optimize robotic handling. Robotics projects are demanding projects involving hundreds or thousands of parts working together perfectly. 

Additive manufacturing offers the opportunity to produce these unique parts while conforming to the tight tolerances and perfect finishing you’d expect. With various materials to match any project specifications, 3D printing is an ideal solution for robotics projects. Casings, structural components, supports, tooling, and grippers: optimize your parts and performances using 3D printing technology.

The challenges of manufacturing grippers

What is a gripper ?

Grippers are devices enabling robots to pick up and hold objects. Combined with a collaborative and industrial robot arm, these devices allow manufacturers to automate some processes, such as inspection, assembly, pick and place, and machine tending. There are numerous types of grippers developed: vacuum grippers, pneumatic grippers, hydraulic grippers, electric grippers, etc. 

Grippers are the physical interface between a robot arm and the workpiece. Choosing the correct type of gripper is essential since the device comes in direct contact with your product. Manufacturers select grippers based on which handling application they require and the kind of material in use.

Manufacturing grippers: What are the main challenges?

These devices are gripping, rotating, connecting, and have to be adaptable to the machine. Grippers are complex, made of many different parts articulated together. In most cases, grippers have to be light while still robust, reliable, and capable of moving the required loads. 

Lightweight and integration are the significant challenges of gripper manufacturing; these parts have to be efficient and move as quickly as possible. How can your gripping system support faster movements and shorter cycle times while maintaining the same load capacity?

Speed up packaging line, benefit from a high level of adaptability by implementing 3D printing to manufacture your grippers.

Advantages of 3D printing grippers

Choosing the right manufacturing technology could help you overcome the traditional challenges of gripper creations. In a little more detail, let’s see the benefits offered by additive manufacturing for your robotic parts, and more precisely, for your grippers. Designers often stick to some older design rules for injection modeling and don’t understand how a 3D design can be. Sculpteo Studio’s team could help you to create the perfect design for additive manufacturing and access these advantages: 

  • Integration and innovative structure

Thanks to design for additive manufacturing, integrations can reach a whole new level. The freedom offered by DfAM will open new possibilities for your product development when it comes to grippers. 3D printing makes it possible to manufacture grippers in just one piece; this way, you save time and money on assembly times. It also implies the possibility to integrate safety elements or exciting features required for your process.

    • Lightweight parts 

    Getting lighter parts is always a challenge when manufacturing industrial parts, and grippers are not an exception. Thanks to designing freedom, it is possible to develop innovative structures and lightweight devices. Moreover, by creating functional integration and manufacturing the devices in just one piece, structures might be lighter. 

    • Customization 

    Create the gripper you need without worrying about the limitations of traditional manufacturing. 3D printing enables the creation of robotic devices perfectly adapted to your product—no need to produce a mold and waste precious weeks. As you only need a 3D file to create a 3D printed part, customization becomes relatively easy, and lead times are vastly improved! You can create as many parts and customized components as you need.

    For example, this inflatable gripper has been specially designed to remove bottle caps on a production line:

    When air inflates the grippers, the hole gets smaller and the system is able to grip bottle caps.

    Going further with virtual engineering and simulation

    Simulation can become a real asset for all your technical projects and is especially relevant for robotic projects. What is the role of simulation, or virtual engineering, for the development of your gripper?

    Simulation means you try to predict what is going to happen with the part. The advantage of simulation is that you don’t need any part in your hands; it’s enough to have it on the computer. Virtual engineering covers all the things you need to know, all-around 3D printing, from processing to using the part, from doing better designs to simulate tests. The simulation team can help the designer optimize the design using optimization technologies such as topology optimization. For inflatable grippers, it makes it easier to simulate the possible material distortion and predict how the part will move. 

    Simulation should play an early role in the design process; this way, it is possible to prevent errors and optimize the part. On an inflatable gripper like this one, there is a moving part, able to grip. Thanks to simulation, you can go into details, find out what can be improved, make it lighter, reduce stress, and determine if the gripper has enough pressure to hold parts. For inflatable grippers, it makes it easier to simulate the possible material distortion and predict how the part will move. Simulation is not well-known in the industry; you can really anticipate issues, save time, and money by using it early on. 

    Do you need a more precise idea of what additive manufacturing can offer you in terms of advanced materials? Get your sample kit specially created for robotic projects!

    If you already have a 3D model, get your instant free quote on our 3D printing service, or contact us if you need any more information.

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