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An Italian Research Institute has developed a manipulation device that allows the gripping by vacuum of micro-components and integrates a novel, vacuum-assisted system to support their release. The manipulation of micro components is very challenging, and this system can be helpful for companies that manufacture, integrate or use manipulation devices and looking for innovative micromanipulation methods and tools, by means of licence, research or technical cooperation agreement.
The Institute of Research from Italy is skilled in industrial technologies and automation, with in-depth expertise and know-how on applied robotics and micro-robotics.
A group of research from the Institute has conceived an innovative manipulation device of millimetric and sub-millimetric components, here called micro-gripper.
The manipulation of millimetric and sub-millimetric components is very challenging due to the predominance of the superficial adhesion forces over the gravitational one and the release phase becomes particularly critical, uncertain, and unreliable.
In fact, the manipulation of millimetric and sub-millimetric components presents several issues, often negligible at the macro-scale. Indeed, at the micro-scale, the high surface-to-volume ratio leads to the predominance of the superficial forces (e.g. electrostatic, van der Waals and capillary forces) over the gravitational force; therefore, the manipulation of micro-parts is very challenging. The release is particularly a critical phase of the manipulation operation. In fact, the components often stick to the gripper and, since the gravitational force does not overcome the adhesion force, their release becomes uncertain and unreliable.
Such needs are present in different application fields, as electronics (for instance in manufacturing and re-manufacturing applications), micro-mechanics, packaging, telecommunication, automotive, medicine, biomedical devices, jewelry etc.
Starting from the prior art problems depicted above, the researchers invented an innovative method for manipulating (grasping and releasing) micro-components, of different shape and dimension, by using vacuum forces; also they set up a new vacuum micro-gripping device adopting said method, realising an innovative micro-gripper able to cope with the micro-parts release issues.
Vacuum grippers are simple, cheap and allow the manipulation of a large variety of components as long as their surface is smooth and not porous. Due to the superficial forces, the release can be an issue (sticking), reducing therefore their possible range of applications. Many solutions have been implemented so far to improve the release phase, such as the use of a soft blow or additional tools, but their drawbacks make them unsuitable in several applications.
This new vacuum manipulation device (micro-gripper) uses the same actuating system (a vacuum pump) for grasping the parts and controlling an innovative mechanical system to assist the release. The mechanical system is inside the gripper body and can move between two main positions, one of which allows the grasping of the component by vacuum and the other forces and improves its release as soon as the pump is turned off. It allows to manipulate micro-parts of diﬀerent shape and material.
They are looking for industrial partners interested in exploiting the technology by means of a license agreement or research and technical cooperation agreements.
The micro-gripper conceived is effective, simple, low-cost, low-weight, easy to use, and to integrate inside a manipulation system.
The device allows the precise, reliable and safe manipulation of micro-parts, also of different shapes and materials, avoiding any considerable increase in weight nor excessive complication of the system. Moreover, it can be easily mounted on a robot or integrated on a manual or tele-operated manipulation system.
The presented micro-gripper can be fruitfully applied in several industrial fields, such as electronics (e.g. (re-)manufacturing applications), micro-mechanics, packaging, telecommunication, automotive, medicine, biomedical devices, jewellery etc.
A prototype has been fabricated and is currently used in the Laboratory of Micro-robotics of the Research Institute.
Several experimental tests proved its ability to grasp and release micro-components of different shape and dimension. The prototype has shown very good potentialities in terms of reliability, precision and ease of integration.
A gripper design procedure, based on numerical model and finite element fluid dynamics analysis has been developed, in order to choose the gripper geometry and the working parameters compliant with the micro-manipulation specifications (e.g. the object mass and the sticking forces).
The patent has been granted both in Italy and in Europe; the European patent has been validated in France, Germany, United Kingdom and Switzerland.
The expected partners are companies working in fields such as electronics (e.g. (re-)manufacturing applications), micro-mechanics, packaging, telecommunication, automotive, medicine, biomedical devices, jewellery, etc., that manufacture, integrate or use manipulation devices and looking for innovative micromanipulation methods and tools. They should be interested in exploiting the technology by means of a license agreement. Further developments of the technology may be performed throughout application driven research and innovation actions.
The expected partners are SMEs and MNEs, manufacturers or system integrators of small products, such as in the field of electronics (e.g. (re-)manufacturing applications), micro-mechanics, packaging, telecommunication, automotive, medicine, biomedical devices, jewellery. They should be interested in exploiting the technology by means of a research and technical cooperation agreement.
The manipulation method and the device have been presented in peer-reviewed scientific papers (available on request). In particular, they report a subset of the preliminary experimental tests and their applicability in different industrial contexts.