Automated Assembly / Robotics Assembly

SCHUNK on Automation: The Hidden Potentials of Mechatronic Grippers

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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