Accelerating e-commerce demand and workforce challenges in food handling are driving innovation and adoption of automated materials handling. One challenge is the need for flexible end-of-arm tooling to handle varied objects. The Gripper Company today emerged from “stealth mode” with an electronic store and its first product, a soft gripper that founder Preben Hjørnet said would be “accessible, applicable, and affordable for all industries.”
“We carefully compiled all the experience and knowledge we collectively have accumulated, conducted series of concept rounds, and finally boiled everything into the design we have intensively tested and industrialized for your convenience and success,” stated Hjørnet.
The global market for robotic grippers will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.5%, growing from $5.6 billion in 2020 to $10 billion by 2026, predicts QY Research.
Industry demands guide The Gripper Company
“The hottest topics in robotics are food and agriculture, small parts handling, and logistics and e-commerce,” Hjørnet told The Robot Report. “A video of a refurbished robot with a new gripper and additional controls for transplanting went viral, with 65,000 views. It’s a super-relevant topic to a lot of people right now.”
“We went though extensive product platforming analytics, computer FEM [finite element method] simulation, experimental validations, materials science, user feedback, field testing, etc.,” he explained. “Handling non-regular, non-uniform, non-rigid, slippery, highly fragile workpieces [while] operating in dusty, humid, and unstructured surroundings will be in your reach.”
The Aalborg, Denmark-based startup ultimately designed a modular, four-finger soft gripper that can be customized through its e-store. Optional attachments include “fingernails” to better grasp certain objects and a fine tool for picking up small objects. “The extensible gripper can pick up agricultural cuttings, probe sticks for COVID-19 testing, or even a needle,” Hjørnet said.
The soft gripper has an “Any Mount” to be interoperable with robot arms from all the major vendors, including Omron Adept, ABB, and Rethink Robotics, he said. A Robot Tool Flange Adaptor (RTFA) brick can slide into the top of a four-bladed mounting rig.
“We have chosen minimal control of the gripper with an air cylinder, and a solenoid that does the same thing is coming in September, as is a stepper controller actuator,” said Hjørnet. “Some customers will benefit from that, since air-driven grippers are not great for mobile robots.”
Hjørnet previously founded collaborative robot maker Blue Workforce A/S and consultancy Open Robotica. Blue Workforce filed for bankruptcy last year, and OnRobot A/S picked up its employees and assets.
Manufactured for affordability, easy maintenance
Another feature that makes The Gripper Co.’s gripper suitable for agricultural or food-handling use is that it can be easily disassembled for cleaning and reassembled without tools, Hjørnet noted.
“In those industries, operators are focused on throughput and packaging; they don’t have time to call a tech for changing over,” he said. “It’s designed to be resistant to cleaning agents — it’s not thermoplastic but polyurethane.”
To keep its prices competitive, the company worked closely with suppliers and contract manufacturers, said Hjørnet. “Without outside funding, we had to roll the snowball very slowly, but our shop and distribution center are ready,” he said.
Robot gripper available worldwide
The Gripper Co.’s configurable gripper is now available through the company’s Web site. “It’s available worldwide, and we can deliver within two to 10 days,” Hjørnet said. “I’ve been working in this space for more than 15 years, and customers now have the trust to buy online.”
In addition to e-commerce order fulfillment, mobile manipulation, and food processing, the end effector could eventually be paired with a high-speed robot for tasks such as recycling, he said.