In the business of designing and manufacturing specialty-type material handling equipment, we work with many customers doing a lot of interesting things. We are flexible and receptive to the requirements and desires of our customers and we never want to say “no”. It is a great benefit and service we offer that we are willing and able to accommodate unique design requirements and modify our products or design completely customized products for our customers and so we enjoy saying “yes we can” the majority of the time!
Over the course of 50 years doing this, we have learned a great many valuable lessons. We have found a lot of things that work, and quite a few that don’t work! One lesson that stands out is a special case of manipulator and gripper devices. A multi-axis manipulator with gripper is a unique device suited for applications where small parts need to be maneuvered easily and articulated into various positions. The manipulator itself can have up to 3-axes of motion: pitch, roll, and yaw. Utilizing only two of these axes is usually sufficient to achieve the positioning necessary and reduce cost, but it always depends on the particular application.
The gripper is the end effector that holds the part. It can take the form of a jaw gripper like what might typically come to mind when you picture “robotic gripper”, but it can also be a flat gripper with parallel jaws or an expanding coil ram gripper, a vacuum cup suction cup gripper, or a number of other possibilities. What we have found is that a complex design of a gripper such as these is actually cumbersome, over-complicated, and more often than not, completely unnecessary!
Nevertheless, many customers specifically ask for a gripper! The more and more we experience this, the more we realize that it is a psychological issue that creates this misconception. Didn’t see that coming? Stay with me here! We are all human, at least most of us, and we are born with these two hands and ten fingers and these are the tools we use to interact with the world. With this in mind, it actually makes perfect sense that when humans think about how they want to handle some parts or some heavy load, they tend to visualize it with their hands and how their fingers might grip and how their wrist and elbows might articulate it. I know, cognitive biases are crazy!
Armed with this knowledge (no pun intended), we can attempt to break this mind-set. We have such a diverse line of products to perform necessary operations in multiple ways. In most cases, a gripper is not actually the best way to accomplish these tasks. We are creative and resourceful and we can generally suggest more simple, economical, and safer methods for these handling or positioning operations. Now all we have to do is break that psychological barrier!!