Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and other product components come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and packaging configurations. During the manufacture of such products, a key challenge for automation is to effectively handle and manipulate such diverse products during production or logistical processes. Users planning to automate their production lines typically have to take into consideration the use of either multiple grippers for different product types, or incorporate an automated tool changer with added complexity and cost.
To address this challenge, a Singapore start-up has developed a universal soft robotic gripper designed to manipulate a wider range of product sizes by incorporating a resizeable gripper base. Gripper adjustment is automatically carried out via an integrated computer vision system thus minimizing the need for human intervention during pick-and-place processes. The gripper's soft fingers also minimize damage to products during the gripping process.
Vacuum Suction Gripper
Incorporating extendable linkages in the gripper arms for resizeability, the gripping workspace remains adaptable to handle products of various sizes. The gripper arms may either take the form of fingers or suction cups configuration. With 5 vacuum cups embedded, the gripper is ideal to handle pouched products or carton boxes of various sizes.
Computer Vision System
An integrated computer vision system provides the gripper with the ability to recognize the type, location, and orientation of the product to be picked, and commands the gripper to adjust the gripping space and pose to pick the product from the correct location. This process is fully automated without requiring human intervention. For increased utility, the computer vision system may also be configured to perform quality inspections of products being handled.
The market value for FMCG robotic packing in the APAC market is estimated to be at USD 1.1 billion and the global market value is worth USD 7.8 billion.
The reconfigurability of this gripper provides high adaptability to many applications, compared to conventional grippers with fixed gripper bases offering limited gripping ability for products of diverse shapes and sizes. Benchmarking tests have been conducted to compare the grippers with other commercially available grippers. The results showed that this universal gripper is able to provide a 22% increase in gripping efficiency. Moreover, compared to using multiple grippers and tool changers to handle different products, this one-fits-all gripper has the potential to help users save on operating costs by up to 36%.