Festo’s flights of imagination benefit factory of the future

Industrial automation company Festo (Esslingen am Neckar, Germany) established the Bionic Learning Network in 2006, a space where Festo engineers, university researchers and private inventors focus on learning from nature to find solutions for the factory of the future. Since its inception, the network has created a number of automated creatures, and Festo brought two of those showpieces to Expoplast in Montreal this week: A bionic ant and eMotion butterflies.

Festo bionic ant
Festo's Jaclyn McCann shows a bionic ant to Expoplast attendees.

Many things happen in nature that also happen on the factory floor, such as gripping, positioning and mixing, noted Jaclyn McCann, Marketing and Communications Supervisor, during the presentation. One of the first applications that the Bionic Learning Network explored came at the behest of a smartphone manufacturer seeking efficiencies in assembly operations. Inspiration came from the gecko, whose sticky feet led Festo to develop a novel method of assembly. Since then, the company has applied the behavior of fish fins to the design of extremely versatile grippers and many more bionic platforms.

On the Expoplast show floor, McCann gave attendees an opportunity to get up close and personal with the not-to-scale bionic ants. But the pièces de resistance were the eMotion butterflies. They are equipped with an indoor GPS system to prevent any inflight mishaps, an innovation that could have applications in guidance and monitoring systems used on the factory floor, says Festo. Unfortunately, attendees were not able to see that for themselves. The bionic butterflies were grounded by the Canadian government, which deemed the free-flying creatures to be a safety hazard on a busy trade show floor. Instead, their German “handlers” paraded them, plastic wings flapping, in the presentation area.

Festo eMotion
Festo's eMotion butterflies.


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