Smart grippers react flexibly to their environment

Posted at: Oct 12

Smart grippers react flexibly to their environment


Modern production is characterized by volatile markets, short product lifecycles, increasingly diverse ranges and rising price pressure. “The Industry 4.0 trend should be understood as a response to this,” explained SCHUNK Managing Director Dr. Markus Klaiber. “The goal of all Industry 4.0 measures is comprehensive flexibilization of production processes while retaining maximum transparency and economy.”

Very specific demands for everyday use can be derived from this: “Industry 4.0 must make flexible and adaptable components and structures available that enable even small batches to be produced economically.” Automated systems and the components installed in them must in the future be flexible enough so that responses can take place extremely fast based on data acquired during the course of the process and the process can be adapted and optimized accordingly. In terms of his own company, Mr Klaiber goes one step further here: “Our goal is to respond to chance events such as the failure of a component or the overrunning of production with a higher priority order so that production can be continued with just the minimum of delays.” In specific terms this means the system must become aware of the incident, process it and react in interaction with control equipment, MES or ERP systems for instance by changing to another production line or prioritizing another order. The focus here is therefore, like with large series production, on maximum utilization of systems.

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Comprehensive communication as the basis

The basis for the success of Industry 4.0 is, in the view of Dr. Markus Klaiber, end-to-end communication, which goes far beyond communication hierarchies that have been in place in automated production plants since the 1980s. “In Industry 4.0 everything communicates with everything,” stresses Mr Klaiber. A particular task is assigned to gripping modules and other actuators as well as sensor systems installed in them in this relation, for ultimately they act as a direct interface to the workpiece, component or finished product. “The SCHUNK gripper is the module that first has contact with the workpiece following processing. In future it will have the intelligence to detect whether the specifications for tolerance, weight or dimensions have been complied with.” Based on this data it will then be possible either to continue the process as planned, trigger corrective quality control circuits or eject faulty parts.

Industry 4.0 Guidelinesschunk 2

In order to shorten the road ahead to Industry 4.0 for companies, the VDMA recently developed the “Industry 4.0 Guidelines” together with the Data Processing in Design (DiK) department at the University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt and the wbk Institute for Production Technology at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT). This provides medium-sized machine and plant constructors such as SCHUNK with a tool that supports them in the development of their own Industry-4.0 projects and business models. The guideline illustrates specific procedures, as to how companies can further develop their individual strengths and competences and accompanies them step-by-step on the way to their own concepts and solutions. During its development Prof. Dr.-Ing. Reiner Anderl of the DiK and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jürgen Fleischer of the wbk placed great emphasis on its suitability for practice. Four pilots companies including SCHUNK tested the guidelines for their practicality and applied them successfully during initial projects to generate business models for new products and successfully improve production.

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Based on the VDMA Guidelines, SCHUNK created an arithmetical formula that illustrates the path from the current state to the intelligent gripper for Industry 4.0. For this the fact that the requirements profile for intelligent networked systems in smart factories is highly multi-faceted had to be taken into account. It ranges from an awareness of the current situation to its evaluation and an individual response. Breaking this down to the world of SCHUNK grippers results in various gradations, with simple mechatronic grippers the entry-level class. These are followed by intelligent mechatronic grippers additionally equipped with a sensor system. Next come cyber-physical systems, which are also capable of communication. Finally there are smart grippers 4.0, i.e. cyber-physical systems, which are web-capable too. The latter are able to respond independently based on data acquired, communicate via the Internet and even forecast their own functional capability. Application areas for smart grippers are the smart factory, human-robot-cooperation but also ongoing condition monitoring, predictive maintenance, sensitive inspections or inline quality assurance.

Sensor technology as the basis

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In the estimation of SCHUNK, sensor systems in particular will gain significantly in importance for handling and assembly. Even today SCHUNK offers a wide range of standard grippers that are tailored to the required scope of functions. These range from PGN-plus universal grippers with proximity sensors to the simple mechatronic gripper SCHUNK EGP with position and overload control as well as the intelligent SCHUNK EGL with integrated force measurement and control, and the flexible SCHUNK SDH which, due to its three fingers, also enables a high degree of flexibility with gripper operations in addition to integrated force and positional control. To ensure the path to Industry 4.0 is a successful one, narrow interdisciplinary collaboration beyond the limitations of the company is required in the view of Dr. Markus Klaiber. SCHUNK itself sees its strength in the development of intelligent, network capable and flexibly usable gripper system components. “We will actively incorporate this know-how in existing and new projects for Industry 4.0.”