Researchers at the University of Kassel have collaborated with a local college spin-off to develop a so-called "poly grasper", which can help make specific sequences more efficient in automated plants.
The "poly grasper" can be mounted on robot arms to grasp or carry workpieces and materials. Its centrepiece is a two-layer board consisting of an aluminium sheet with special polymer coating. The material reacts to heat and cold. When the board is heated, the polymer changes its shape, wrapping itself in a matter of seconds around tiny irregularities in the surface that occur even in smooth materials like glass and metal. After the board has cooled down, the workpiece sticks to it and can be moved. When the board is heated up again, the workpiece is released.
The thermoplastic polymer was discovered by researchers in plastic engineering at the University of Kassel. This technically advanced aluminium-polymer compound was developed by their department for separating and joining manufacturing processes. The product will be made fit for serial production by eta opt, a startup initiated by a University of Kassel graduate. The poly grasper developers received 327,000 euros of funding from the federal state of Hesse, as part of the LOEWE initiative.
The poly grasper can be used with workpieces made from almost any material, even if they only have a very small surface for grasping. Previous industrial grasping methods, using compressed air or icing, didn't have this flexibility. Since no changeover times are required, the grasping system could be used for industrial production lines that produce different products simultaneously. This system can reduce energy consumption by up to 70 percent compared to compressed air processes. Prototypes of the poly grasper are already available. Eta opt have plans to release the product in less than a year's time.