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Achieving collaboration and flexibility in the manufacturing environment

07 June 2015

Festo has added three new subjects to its 'inspired by nature' range: BionicANTS, eMotionButterflies and the FlexShapeGripper - bionic creatures that can be used to demonstrate how the factory of tomorrow might function.


The latest creations from Festo’s Bionic Learning Network play towards the philosophy of Industry 4.0, and this latest approach investigates ways to 'join the network' - to review the role of connectivity in production through advanced forms of communication.

The BionicANTs and eMotionButterflies illustrate how, through a combination of individual systems, a single system of networked communications can be created. In addition, the FlexShapeGripper demonstrates how a flexible and adaptable gripping mechanism, which is based on a reptile’s natural feeding habit, can be used across a wide range of factory floor operations. 

The BionicANTs project focuses on cooperation and looks at how ants autonomously work together towards a common goal.  For the BionicANTs, Festo’s engineers have not just taken the delicate anatomy of the natural ant as a role model; for the first time, the cooperative behaviour of the creatures has also been transferred to the world of technology using complex control algorithms. 

"Like their natural role models, the BionicANTs work together under clear rules," says Festo's Heinrich Frontzek. "They communicate with each other and coordinate both their actions and movements. Each ant makes its decisions autonomously, but in doing so is always secondary to the common objective and thereby plays its part towards solving the complex task at hand." 

The cooperative behaviour of ants provides interesting approaches for the factory of tomorrow. Future production systems will be founded on intelligent components, which adapt flexibly to different production scenarios and thus take on tasks from a higher control level.

Gripping applications have always played a key role in production. In cooperation with University of Oslo, Festo has developed a gripper whose working principle is derived from the tongue of a chameleon. 

The FlexShapeGripper can pick up, gather and put down objects with the widest range of shapes in one procedure, without the need for manual conversion. This ability to adapt to many different shapes is made possible by its water-filled silicone cap, which wraps itself around any item being picked up in a flexible and form-fitting manner. Dr Frontzek again:

“We see the FlexShapeGripper being used in any facility where multiple objects with a range of different shapes are handled at the same time - for example, within the robotics sector, for assembly tasks or when handling small parts.”

Festo’s eMotionButterflies were developed to solve complex issues such as functional integration, ultra-lightweight construction and communication between individual systems that are networked and optimised on a real-time basis. The bionic butterflies show the extent to which the virtual and real world can work together.

Coordination between individual flying objects is possible thanks to a well-networked external guidance and monitoring system. The communication and sensor technology used, which creates an indoor GPS system, enables the butterflies to display collective behaviour without risk of collision. 

A combination of integrated electronics and external camera technology, used in conjunction with a host computer provides intelligent guidance and monitoring, and thus ensures process stability.  This technology opens up possibilities for enhanced safety of applications in the industrial environment.  

Festo’s Bionic Learning Network was conceived to raise awareness of, and attract talent to the company. Exploring the links between nature and technology opens up new areas of innovation and demonstrates complex ideas in a stimulating and enjoyable way. Festo works with an alliance of internal R&D, external educational establishments and specialist companies, to advance the development of bionic methods for future automation applications.

For more information about these activities, click here.

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