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New trends in robotic automation

31 January 2024

Steve Sands, Technical Consultant at Festo GB, explores how robotic automation is responding to new application challenges.

The impacts of global events and rising climatic temperatures are being felt in our factories and shops. In the engineering automation sector, we are seeing an acceleration in the pace of innovation, to meet the diverse challenges that many businesses are facing. These include labour shortages in fields and factories, rising energy costs, and the need for higher flexibility and productivity. For engineering designers and machine builders, the result is increasing opportunities for automation and robotics

Grasping new concepts
Among the robotic development projects at Festo are ultra-lightweight handling systems, which reduce moving masses and make it safer for automated assistance devices to work alongside humans. Our experiments with the use of controlled pneumatics have already resulted in a concept with some very interesting features, which are now being evaluated for industrial applications. 

Traditionally, we have used vacuum generated by pumps or venturi nozzles, with contact through flexible cups or porous plates for most pick-and-place applications, or specialist Bernoulli non-contact grippers suitable for very delicate substrates.

The alternative has been mechanical grippers, usually two- or three-fingered, and moving in either a parallel or angled motion with the fingers. These grippers mechanically squeeze or engage with the profile of the component to be moved.

Developments in grippers have driven the technology in two directions. Design reviews have removed material, not only reducing cost but also reducing moving mass. Higher technology grippers are also offering more flexible control over position and force using fieldbus protocols. 

An interesting new development in robotic end-effectors is in the field of soft grippers or fingers.

Read the full article in DPA's February issue

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