Radhika Dhuru November 13, 2015
If you want to visualize the supermarket of the future, you need the tools of the future. At the EXPO MILANO 2015, the Future Food District featured all kinds of new technologies working on different areas of the food chain. Among them, we saw ABB’s exhibit YuMi, originally designed to automate small parts assembly in the consumer electronics industry. And Materialise’s 3D-printed grippers are giving YuMi a hand. (For a deeper look into how we designed the grippers, check out our case study!) ABB, the Switzerland-based power and automation technology group, says YuMi – which stands for “You and Me” – is the world’s first truly collaborative dual-arm industrial robot. YuMi needs no more space than a standard work-station meant for humans, which means that the robot can work alongside people without the need for any infrastructural changes to the workspace. Although YuMi’s originally intended career path lay in the consumer electronics industry, due to its flexibility, the robot has several more applications. Watch YuMi deftly sort fruit in this video, juggling apples and paper cartons all at once, at EXPO MILANO 2015 – Future Food District:
Watching YuMi in action highlights the dexterity, grip, and sensitivity of its pneumatic grippers. As the video shows, the 3D-printed grippers are able to handle fragile objects, or those with uneven surfaces, or complex shapes, with equal ease and care. Materialise’s grippers, which Philippe Schiettecatte – Manager Engineering Services – calls a “real engineering team effort”, were born in their first avatar about two years ago. Unlike most gripper designs of the time, which featured hinges, these grippers are hinge-free and operated by air pressure and vacuum, making them virtually maintenance-free. (To read more on how the engineering team developed this design, read the case study here!) In keeping with the key hallmark of 3D Printing – complete customizability – Philippe points out that you can configure the position and number of the fingers to be optimal for your application. Need one longer finger to grip a product from underneath for added security? This design allows for that, or even fingers which interlock, like those on a pair of human hands. Thanks to ingenuity of the configuration, the same grippers which can pick up an apple are also sensitive enough to handle cookies (which, as anybody who has accidentally crumbled a macaron would know, are delicate things).
3D-printed automation gripper
Materialise’s automation gripper
So have the engineering and design team at Materialise achieved their goals with these grippers? Always striving for further improvement, Philippe says the engineering team’s next experiments will explore different materials and wall thicknesses, to make the grippers even more performant. And that performance is already a formidable one, proving that light-weight and low-maintenance can still be high-performance. Too good to believe? Get a grip!

Read the full case study on how the Materialise engineering team designed these grippers.