Getting to Grips with Grippers

In many automated assembly applications, a well-thought-out custom gripper design is essential. In this article I’ll talk about the process and iterations needed to accomplish the Meca 500 Diode Load sequence in RoboFiesta’s Mecademic Meca 500 Diode Loading Demo on YouTube.

Some of the things you’ll need to consider are:

  • What’s being gripped / picked. Dimensions, fragility, prestage setup
  • Speed required for the application
  • Precision / repeatability required for the application
  • Incoming material variability
  • Placement location with regards to EOAT orientation
EOAT will change depending on material being handled, and pick/place location considerations

For a part in a given location / orientation- a diode mounted on a breadboard, for instance- the gripper design would need to change depending on which direction the gripper fingers extend from the gripper mechanism.

It’s a good idea to do some dry runs with mock material to determine the requirements. For the diode handling, we could have picked with the gripper fingers extending in either X or Z from the mechanical gripper body mounted on the robot flange:

Which directions the gripper fingers extend also affects the toolpath you will program. In our diode sequence, the gripper fingers extend down in X from gripper body.

It took several iterations of grippers to develop a design that would firmly grasp the slightly tapered diode body without slipping. The final design featured a small relief or notch feature to accommodate a small lip on the bottom of the diode body.

Gripper with relief feature for diode lip

Finally, having a capable 3D printer like the Flashforge Creator Pro is invaluable for on-the-fly iterations for functionality and changes in setup orientation of your grippers. I’m currently using 1.75mm ABS Transparent filament, it’s a great material for general purpose applications.

Watch a timelapse of a gripper print here.

There are other factors to take into consideration depending on the situation, but those are the basics I start with when making new gripper designs.

Robot Valentine

View the video on Youtube

two hearts (with convenient easy-grip handles)

Ned has a new friend! The HiWonder Xarm is a fun little educational robot which you can buy assembled or in a kit. We thought it would be fun to see if the Xarm is repeatable enough to perform in a video alongside our Niryo Ned. It did very well for the price; at one stage, I needed to reteach some points that “wandered” for some reason but other than that it’s a great little robot. Note, the Xarm is really more of a 5-axis than 6-axis robot; the 6th axis is the gripper jaws, which does limit some of the positioning but Ned was able to work around this.

For props, I designed a simple heart shape with a grip and printed it on our FlashForge Creator Pro. Resized for the smaller heart, repeat. Slicing done on Simplify3d.

In any setup where pre-stage is the locating method, it’s important to know where your robots & parts are. I used a couple of plastic grids which are inexpensive and reusable; they’re sold as quilting accessories.

Using a grid for repeatable prestaging

We repeated the exchanging-of-valentines action over two dozen times; occasionally it didn’t work out (there was some variability where Ned put down the small heart, and occasionally the pencil stuck in his gripper jaws), but overall I was really happy with the sequence. The video featured on RoboFiesta’s Youtube channel was shot on a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, which has awesome media production capabilities. Edited on Adobe’s Premier Pro.

Will you be my robot valentine?