Within industrial manufacturing most processing steps are accompanied by transporting and positioning of workpieces. The active interfaces between handling system and workpiece are industrial grippers, which often are driven by pneumatics, especially in small scale areas. On the way to higher energy efficiency and digital factories, companies are looking for new actuation technologies with more sensor integration and better efficiencies.
Commonly used actuators like solenoids and electric engines are in many cases too heavy and large for direct integration into the gripping system. Due to their high energy density shape memory alloys (SMA) are suited to overcome those drawbacks of conventional actuators. Additionally, they feature self-sensing abilities that lead to sensor-less monitoring and control of the actuation system. Another drawback of conventional grippers is their design, which is based on moving parts with linear guides and bearings. These parts are prone to wear, especially in abrasive environments. This can be overcome by a compliant gripper design that is based on flexure hinges and thus dispenses with joints, bearings and guides.
In the presented work, the development process of a functional prototype for a compliant gripper driven by a bistable SMA actuation unit for industrial applications is outlined. The focus lies on the development of the SMA actuator, while the first design approach for the compliant gripper mechanism with solid state joints is proposed. The result is a working gripper-prototype which is mainly made of 3D-printed parts. First results of validation experiments are discussed.