Sponsored By

You may not see this development in a plastics facility too soon, but the possibilities it brings are certainly interesting for processors. A team of engineers from Festo, a manufacturer of factory and process automation, and from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (German acronym Fraunhofer IPA) were awarded the €250,000 that goes with winning the Deutscher Zukunftspreis 2010, presented by the German president, for innovation in technology.

PlasticsToday Staff

December 2, 2010

2 Min Read
Prize-winning robot arm is as flexible as an elephant’s trunk

You may not see this development in a plastics facility too soon, but the possibilities it brings are certainly interesting for processors. A team of engineers from Festo, a manufacturer of factory and process automation, and from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (German acronym Fraunhofer IPA) were awarded the €250,000 that goes with winning the Deutscher Zukunftspreis 2010, presented by the German president, for innovation in technology.

NF_1203_DZP.jpg

From left: Festo's Fischer and Post and Fraunhofer's Grzesiak accepted the prize for a robot arm that moves like an elephant's trunk.

Plastics do play a big part in the success of the new robot arm, which the developers describe as being much like an elephant's trunk—flexible, sensitive and yet very strong. German Federal President Christian Wulff presented the award to Peter Post and Markus Fischer of Festo and Andrzej Grzesiak of Fraunhofer IPA. "The plastic trunk is made of bellows structures arrayed in series, a movable hand axis and a grabber with three fingers," explains Post, who leads the research and development project at Festo. The structural elements are flexible and can be manipulated using compressed air. If air is pumped into the trunk, the bellows structures extend as an accordion would, with the reach ranging from 70 to 110 cm.

Three fingers fitted to the trunk are also designed with a biological model in mind—the tail fin of a trout. The special feature: if you press these "FinGrippers" lightly with a finger, they respond by moving toward the source of pressure.

The individual structural elements of the flexible arm are produced via additive manufacturing, much like rapid prototypes are. Working directly from CAD data, the components of the trunk are built up layer-by-layer using polyamide powder that is then laser sintered. Although it weighs just 1.8 kg, the flexible arm can lift up to 500g. By way of comparison: conventional industrial robots can only move roughly one-tenth of their own weight. Also unlike most industrial robots in use today, the prize-winning system is particularly light and flexible because it is made of plastic instead of metal, and works with compressed air.

The developers hope the robot can be an asset to help factory employees do their work more efficiently and precisely. "At the moment, working near dynamically active machinery is dangerous. Our goal was to create a handling system that is inherently pliable—so that people can work with this system without any risks at any time," explained Fischer, head of corporate design at Festo.  

Sign up for the PlasticsToday NewsFeed newsletter.

You May Also Like