Flexible Lightweight Grippers for the Energy-Efficient Operation of Industrial Robots


With Additive Manufacturing, Topology Optimization and Automated Design to Sustainable Vehicle Production

  3D print Copyright: © WZL Vision Picture

Sustainable production has been on everybody's lips at least since the announcement of the German Climate Protection Act and the associated demand for annually decreasing emission quantities in the industrial sector. The increase in efficiency for resource-saving production in the future represents one of the greatest challenges.

The steadily increasing use of industrial robots in production is also increasing their importance as energy consumers and sources of CO2 emissions. The end effector used, such as grippers, has a significant influence on the energy consumption of a robot. Concepts for lightweight construction and for making grippers more flexible are intended not only to save energy but also to improve the economic efficiency of a system. The topic of lightweight construction can thus serve as an innovation driver for a sustainable and resource-saving economy. In application, this should result in energy savings and a reduction in emissions, while the expansion of functionality is also being researched.

How can the use of flexible lightweight grippers drive the energy-efficient operation of robots in production?

This question is to be answered as part of the research project "addFlex - Additive Manufacturing for the Lightweight Construction of Flexible Grippers". Together in a consortium with five partners from industry, the Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering WZL at RWTH is looking at the use of additive manufacturing, topology optimization, and gripper simulation in a digital and automated process chain. Based on various real-use cases from the automotive industry, circular handling technologies are being developed with the goal of climate-neutral production. A digital platform will be created as an enabler for automated gripper design.

“The path to digitized and sustainable manufacturing begins even before the actual product creation process: with the flexible and at the same time resource-saving provision of the required operating resources. For this reason, the development of recyclable, additively manufactured grippers for use in modern, automated production systems is the focus of the "addFlex" research project”,

says Prof. Dr. Günther Schuh, Chair of Production Engineering at the Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering WZL at RWTH Aachen University.

The kick-off for the project start at the WZL took place in mid-July 2022. Together with the partners, initial workshops were held on the topics of requirements analysis of the use cases and CO2 savings potential. In addition to the consortium partners getting to know each other, the kick-off was rounded off by guided tours of the WZL's test areas, the start-up factory and the M.A.R.S. Lab. The project is funded by the Technology Transfer Program Lightweight Construction of the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK).

Partners in the "addFlex" project

  • Zimmer GmbH
  • Plan Software GmbH
  • TWT GmbH
  • Feinwerktechnik Otto Harrandt GmbH
  • Laser Bearbeitungs- und Beratungszentrum NRW GmbH
  • Chair of Production Engineering and Chair of Production Metrology and Quality Management at the Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering (WZL) of RWTH Aachen University