Engineers have taken advantage of 3-D printing for rapid prototyping of tools and parts in recent years. Technicians at the German firm Festo AG & Co. are taking the technology to the next level to mass produce end-of-arm robotic attachments.

The Esslingen, Germany-based supplier of drives and other automation components refers to the tool as a “bionic handling gripper.” Instead of metal, the gripper is fabricated with a lightweight composite. Borrowing from the biomechanics of a fish fin, engineers applied a fin ray pattern to the three gripper fingers, giving them both strength and flexibility. The fingers adapt to the shape of the object being picked, an advantage when foods susceptible to damage are the target. According to Festo Spokesman Christopher Haug, the bionic gripper can handle a payload of up to 200 grams, or seven oz.

The first application involved a sortation machine for tulip bulbs built by the Dutch OEM Total Systems. (Haug suggests chocolate eggs and fruit susceptible to bruising are other likely applications.) A pneumatic actuator controls two flexible bands that join at the end to form a triangle, with stays connected by articulated joints, allowing the bands to flex when pressure is applied to the target object.

Festo’s 3-D printing process also is referred to as selective laser sintering. Layers of polyamide powder measuring 0.1mm in thickness are layered until the desired band thickness is achieved. 


For more information:

Christopher Haug, Festo AG & Co., 49 711 347-4032,