Compressed Air Grippers

There are a host of companies manufacturing compressed air driven grippers now. Here is information about selecting and using grippers in your manufacturing processes.

Custom built grippers can work well yet their use can have drawbacks. Custom built compressed air grippers are usually large and weigh a lot. For large pick and place applications, a large gripper is fine. For smaller, high speed pick and place, you need a gripper built for that use, low in weight and high in speed.

Heavy Tooling = Grippers Have Less Payload

Of course, the heavier the end tooling is, the less load capability of the pick and place apparatus, and the slower the cycle of the system. If high speed is what you need you will do better buying a gripper that is ready to use and the right size and weight for the application since compressed air equipment manufacturers have risen to the occasion, churning out standard air grippers to suit many applications, grippers that are compact in size, light in weight, lightning fast, and able to handle extraordinary loads for their compact size.

Here are some smaller grippers manufactured by Festo.

Festo Grippers

How Grippers Work

Almost all air grippers contain a double acting air cylinder to impart motion to the gripper gearing and gripper fingers.

The gripper gearing produces movement in the gripper fingers when the piston on the internal cylinder cycles. Air in one port and the fingers open; air in the other, fingers close.

Gripper fingers are designed for tooling attachment. Tooling might be a simple as rubber nubs or some such, to enable the gripper fingers to better clamp and hold a part, or secondary tooling, quite possibly also compressed air operated, to accomplish another task once the gripper fingers have grasped the item.

Tips On Gripper Use

The first thing to be concerned about is if the gripper has the load carrying capacity for what is to be gripped and lifted. If the gripper is to be used to position something on a belt or transfer table, the gripper must be strong enough to move the part as the gripper fingers close to center the part in question.

The strength of the gripper fingers is predicated on the design, that being how big the internal piston, and the maximum air pressure the gripper is designed for . Force equals pressure times area, after all, and the force on the internal cylinder piston is converted to the gripping force of the gripper fingers.

Grippers Are Typically Self-Centering

Grippers will normally self-center the part to be held. All the commercially available grippers move their fingers together or apart at the same time. If moving together, the fingers will tend to move a part to the center point, at which the fingers grip the item.

More On Gripper Tooling

Gripper fingers are made to have tooling attached.

That tooling may be nothing more than rubber bumpers to add better gripping as the fingers close on an item.

Grippers perform work by opening as well as closing the fingers. Putting rubber tips on the outside of the tooling can improve gripping force. In this type of use, the gripper fingers are inserted into an opening in a part, and by having the gripper fingers open, that part is effectively gripped by the force exerted by the gripper fingers.

The types of gripper tooling are virtually unlimited, and the tooling design is predicated on the part that is being gripped and what the gripper is to do once the part has been grasped.

Gripper Designs

Manufacturers of air grippers have standardized on the following gripper styles:
  • Parallel
  • Angled
  • Radial
  • 3 Point

Parallel Grippers

As the name suggests, the parallel gripper's fingers move parallel to the gripper's orientation.

In the graphic below....

  1. Depicts the gripper body
  2. Shows the supply line is charged
  3. The gripper fingers are opened to their widest
  4. The supply line is now opened to exhaust
  5. The fingers have moved in a parallel fashion to their closed position

Parallel Gripper Graphic

Information on pneumatic grippers continues here.