Automated Assembly / Robotics Assembly

SCHUNK on Automation: The Hidden Potentials of Mechatronic Grippers

May 9, 2012

Who doesn’t remember the debate over digital cameras when they first became popular some 10 years ago? Despite the obvious advantages of digital imaging, many photographers stubbornly refused to give up film. Today, the concerns, reservations and fears are forgotten. Even young children and technically inexperienced people are using digital devices quite intuitively. Automation experts predict a similar development for mechatronic gripping systems.

More and more engineers, machine builders and system integrators are considering mechatronic grippers because of their numerous advantages. These flexible devices are governed by a control system that monitors gripper position, stroke, closing speed, acceleration and force. Some mechatronic modules can even be remote-controlled via the Internet.

The rapid progress of electrically actuated servo drives has enabled suppliers to offer mechatronic components at more attractive prices. Even though the initial investment is normally higher than that of a pneumatic module, the payback period of mechatronic modules is considerably shorter now. This is particularly true for applications with a high cycle time and many gripping processes, where electrically driven grippers have to use more energy, but are more cost-efficient than comparable pneumatic versions.

Since mechatronic grippers offer so many options, the question arises if, like film cameras, pneumatic grippers will soon be obsolete. SCHUNK considers this unlikely. “Both pneumatic and electrical drives have distinct advantages, depending on their use,” explains Jesse Hayes, automation group manager at SCHUNK. Mechatronic modules are particularly flexible, and even though some of them have a higher initial investment, they are attractive in terms of efficiency. Pneumatic grippers have an attractive price, are robust and can be easily commissioned and maintained. To determine which type of drive will have the greatest economic benefit, engineers should evaluate each application according to the purpose, environment and individual requirements.

To grip pneumatically or mechantronically? That is the question. The following table should help you choose the optimal gripper for your application.




Pneumatic Grippers

Mechatronic Grippers



Grip force capacity











Medium to high

Energy efficiency

Medium, or high with micro valves


Position feedback

Via sensors


Grip force regulation

Possible with servo valves


Operating speed control



Safety management




Easy. On-site only.

Demanding. Remote troubleshooting possible via Internet.

Need of expertise

Low to medium

Medium to high


Purchase price

Low to medium

Medium to high

Operating costs

Medium to high


Implementation effort


Medium to high

Editor’s note: “SCHUNK on Automation” is part of a series of guest spots by industry experts that will appear regularly on ASSEMBLY’s blog page. Check back frequently to read more commentaries from SCHUNK, as well as contributions on product testing, ergonomics, electronics assembly and robotics.For more information about automation components, visit or e-mail

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July 23, 2012
Well it would really be up to the end user and the integrator who is bidding on the project. Understand, you can have much more data if that’s what is desired from the mechatronic gripper, but is it truly more reliable than a pneumatic gripper? I think not. When these types of projects come up these days, much of the determination of the gripper comes down to the cost of the application and the availability of product, and I know first-hand the pneumatic gripper can’t be beat by the mechatronic gripper when it comes to delivery and cost. My company, Applied Robotics, builds both.—Michael Lipscomb, Regional Sales Manager, Applied Robotics, Albany, NY

reliability is key

July 23, 2012
At some point, mechatronic grippers will overtake pneumatic grippers, but not today. The driving forces for this will be the increase in mobile platforms, easier-to-program robots for quick changeover applications, and medical assistance applications. In these applications, the mechatronic gripper will be superior to the pneumatic gripper. In complex applications for robots, mechatronic grippers also outperform pneumatic grippers. As Mr. Lipscomb points out, reliability is the key. Many service calls for robot malfunctions have nothing to do with the robot. It is more often the ancillary equipment, especially the end-of-arm-tooling that fails. Quality matters. Regardless if you buy a pneumatic gripper or a mechatronic gripper, buy quality and put an adequate sensor package on the gripper covering at least fully open, fully closed and closed-on-part. If you use a pneumatic gripper, use a double-solenoid, two-position or better yet three-position valve. I can name many robot service calls costing thousands of dollars due to crashes because someone went cheap on the gripper and sensor package.—Ben Sagan, Appleton, WI

regardless, don't buy on price

July 23, 2012
I often find customers who choose their grippers based on the price of the units only to find out later if they had went with an upgraded gripper, they would have spent much less in the long run. Remember when you’re building an application, you can pay up front for the quality or pay on the back end for the replacements.—Michael Lipscomb, Regional Sales Manager, Applied Robotics, Albany, NY

don't neglect operating costs

July 23, 2012
Don’t neglect the operating costs. Schunk’s table points out that the operating costs of the pneumatic gripper is higher. Depending on the number of cycles, this can make a difference over the operating life. It may not be so significant in a small-part gripper, but it certainly will for larger vacuum platens vs. other mechanical layer grippers.—Erik Nieves, Technology Director, Motoman, San Antonio

depends on the app

July 23, 2012
It all depends on the application. As the push for more flexibility increases on the manufacturing floor, demand for mechatronic grippers demand will increase. There’s a good article on the topic here:—Samuel Bouchard, president, Robotiq, Quebec, Canada

ultimate flexibility

July 23, 2012
We just quoted on a multiline packaging project. Different products, similar sizes, one solution: Robots with mechatronic tooling. An adaptable machine with adaptable tooling—That is flexibility!—Francois, project leader, Polyroboteck, Montreal, Canada



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