Smart Grippers Encourage SMEs to Embrace Automation
Robots have obvious benefits for small and medium-sized manufacturers, but the cost can often be too high for
many of them to start. With Robotiq’s new solution, automation is finally within grasp.
by John Hitch
When it comes to robotics, carmak- ers are not bashful about invest- ing time and resources to ramp
up a production cycle. As Robotiq CTO Jean-Philippe Jobin explains, they design lines for
seven-year loops, drawing from the combined
intelligence and manhours of a hundred or
more engineers, installing brand new infrastructure to run pneumatics, hydraulic, and
electrical power. Whatever it takes to get the
job done, they do it.
That’s just not feasible for smaller companies working on higher volumes of components that can change on a year-to-year (or
more likely month-to-month) basis—a machine
shop or electronics assembler, for example.
For them, everything matters and must be
“Many manufacturers really struggle to
put robots in their factory because it’s too
costly and too complicated,” says Jobin, who
co-founded the Quebec-based Robotiq a decade ago this July.
If you’re a small or medium-sized enter-
prise (SME) who fgured a way around this,
that’s great and another example of fortune
favoring the bold. It’s still a sobering reminder
that the little guys and gals who support all
the big companies really need robotics to stay
ahead can’t always do so. Furthermore, get-
ting enough human workers for your assembly
line or pick-and-place operation has been a
recurring struggle. That’s exactly why Robotiq
was created, and why the company launched
a new electric parallel gripper in late June,
called the Hand-E.
The compact 50-mm stroke grippers are
the strongest you’ll fnd in their size and power
class, with a grip force of 60 to 130 newtons
and 5 kg form-ft grip payload. They are plug-and-play, with a set-up time under 10 minutes,
and they easily attach to Robotiq’s FT 300
force torque sensor for machine tending on
CNC machines, or a wrist camera for precise
pick-and-place of small electronics. With no
sharp edges or pinch points, they are perfect
for collaborative robots.
In fact, it was designed to work seamlessly
with Universal Robots’ new e-Series cobots,
also announced at the Automatica 2018 in
Munich. The e-series takes an hour to unpack
and program and can be plugged into a conventional electrical socket.
Two larger previous models in the Adaptive
Gripper line, the 2F-85 and 2F-140, also will
work with the e-Series.
“The big difference with the Hand-E is that
we upgraded the software and you have [the
Universal Robots] inter-
face in which you enter
the dimensions and all
the rest is done behind
the scenes,” Jobin says.
As with the latest crop
of intuitive software, an
operator just taps stylus
to tablet a few times and
the robot and gripper do
the rest. No longer does a
manufacturer need to rely
on a team of engineers
and technical specialists.
“This opens up for less
workers to get the same
results,” Jobin says.
The force, speed, and
position are all confgu-
rable, with the grippers
excelling at part detection
and part validation
The IP67-rated grippers
are so precise, Jobin says,
that in a pick-and-place experiment, the
Hand-E could easily sort 47 and 48-mm PCBs
into two distinct piles. In another test, the
Hand-E was able to thread a tiny wire through
a hole, only possible with its increased force
If the gripper senses the part is bad, you
can program the robot to place the part in
a reject bin. Getting the dimensions right
is vital when collaborating with machine
tool. If the metal block were to slip and be
incorrectly placed on the workholding, a jam
could occur, slowing production.
“The goal of Robotiq is to simply help
[manufacturers] install robots and help them
start their production faster,” Jobin says. “If
you are able to start one month earlier, it will
make a big difference.”
Jobin should know. After he and CEO Sam-
uel Bouchard graduated from Laval University,
they traveled the world to understand the needs
robots would solve. Then, they lugged suitcases
full of end-effector prototypes to U.S. busi-
nesses to get their startup off the ground.
Since then, Robotiq has become an infu-
ential voice in the robotics community, with
Jobin joining the board of the ISO committee
for robot safety, and Bouchard authoring
“Lean Robotics”—a book to help manufac-
turers systematically and intelligently deploy
an automated workforce.
The book is obviously just an extension
of the company’s mission statement, while the
Hand-E is the latest execution.
The most visible improvement is space reduction in the work cell, as there’s no need for
pneumatic air, compressors, or airline. Installation time and costs, along with eliminating
maintenance on regulators and valves, and
fnding air leaks, are also gone. The tradeoff
is that electric grippers are less powerful than
hydraulic and pneumatic counterparts, so they
won’t work for every application.
They do come with three fngertip starter kits,
so the number of applications is quite broad.
“That’s a big customization the end user
will want to do,” Jobin says. “Probably 50%
will design their own. They can machine from
the kit, creating the groove or slot for the
part they want to grip. And we provide digital
fle on website of all our grippers and do any
modifcations they need.”
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ROBOTIQ HAND-E ELECTRIC PARALLEL GRIPPER