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‘First’ collaborative robot gripper brings safety to end-effectors

07 July, 2016

At the recent Automatica show in Germany, Schunk unveiled what it claims is the first robotic gripper capable of interacting and communicating directly with humans, and designed to be used safely with collaborative robots. The JL1 Co-act gripper can detect if it comes into contact with a human, avoid injuries if it senses a human between its jaws, and ensure that it never loses grip of the object that it is holding.

Gripper systems, which are often supplied by different manufacturers to the robotic arms on which they are mounted, can be a weak point in ensuring the safety of collaborative robots.

The new Schunk gripper has a flexible outer skin with curved edges. A safe drive provides functional safety and offers a wide range of gripping forces. If a process is interrupted – by an emergency stop, for example – the workpiece continues to be held reliably.

The gripper monitors various factors in its environment continuously and processes the data using built-in software. If it comes into contact with humans, it limits its gripping force automatically. Using specially designed gripping techniques and force-measuring jaws, the gripper adjusts its behaviour in real time, depending on whether it is gripping a workpiece or a human hand.

The gripper also provides communications between controllers and operators. LED lights and a colour-coded display inform the user when the gripper is holding the correct workpiece and when the automated system is ready for operation.

Schunk’s JL1 Co-act gripper has a soft shell and an intelligent core

The gripper complies with the DIN EN ISO 10218 safety standard for industrial robots. It also takes into account the requirements of the planned DIN EN ISO 20218 safety standard for robotic end-effectors.

Schunk plans to develop the technology further. In the future, the Co-act gripper will support complex relationships between various sensors and safety mechanisms. Force-measuring jaws and visual monitoring will be incorporated as well as skins made of tactile and capacitive sensors, or current-based force control.

The gripper will be capable of collecting information from several sensors, giving it the most accurate possible picture of reality. OPC UA interfaces will enable the gripper to communicate both with robots and with plant controls.

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