At the beginning of the 1980s, Heinz-Dieter Schunk, the managing partner of SCHUNK, had an idea. Inspired by the starting boom in industrial robotics, he noticed how bulky grippers were. Due to their pneumatic lines, the grippers often had extreme interfering contours. For Schunk, it was clear: To make robots and other handling systems more successful, a new generation of smaller, lighter, more precise and more cost-efficient grippers would be needed.

In 1983, SCHUNK introduced the world’s first standardized industrial gripper. Known then as the “industrial hand,” it was comparatively light and had integrated air channels. Graduated sizes enabled engineers to design particularly efficient systems. SCHUNK has been setting new standards for grippers ever since.

Our multitooth guidance system for gripper fingers, which we introduced in 2000, is still considered a benchmark in the technology. Instead of the traditional T-slot, the base of each finger runs along multiple prismatic channels arranged in parallel. This spreads the force and moment loads across many shoulders. As a result, engineers can use longer fingers without increasing the size of the gripper body or overloading the guidance system. The extra guiding area reduces surface pressure, which minimizes wear. It also ensures minimal guidance play throughout the gripper’s service life. Finally, the large space between the channels allows for a particularly strong diagonal pull. This ensures that the force of the oval piston is exerted to the fullest extent, while limiting wear and damage.

In 2006, SCHUNK introduced a program for mobile gripping systems. In addition to mechatronic rotary units and efficient lightweight arms, the program included the SDH dexterous hand, a sensitive three-finger hand for applications in service robotics. The latest development of this business unit is a five-finger hand. It’s amazing how it resembles a human hand in size, shape and mobility.

The latest generation of grippers does away with pneumatics in favor of mechatronics. In 2008, we introduced the modular, lightweight LEG electric long-stroke gripper. In 2011, we introduced an entire line of electrically actuated modules, including the EGP small parts gripper, the adaptable EGA long-stroke gripper, and the intelligent and sensitive WSG parallel gripper.

Our latest generation of grippers further capitalizes on the mechatronics trend. With a single servo-driven gripper, multiple gripping scenarios can be implemented. These powerful and sensitive devices can handle varying components one after the other, without any setup time. With every grip, the finger position and gripping force are individually adjusted to the workpiece. Sensors, controls and regulation technology—as well as a Web browser for communicating with higher-ranking system components—are integrated in the gripper. Via intuitively operable programming interfaces, the grippers can be easily integrated, controlled and maintained. No additional software is needed.

When we compare modern SCHUNK grippers with the “Industrial Hand” of 1983, the enormous development in gripping technology over the past 30 years is obvious. Simple, mechanical components have evolved into intelligent, powerful and highly efficient high-tech modules that allow engineers to design flexible and closely integrated handling processes. Today, SCHUNK offers more than 10,000 automation components, including grippers, rotary actuators, linear actuators, pick-and-place units, mobile gripping systems, and compact robot accessories.

What do you think? What adjunct technologies have made the biggest difference in the adoption of industrial robotics? What will grippers and end-effectors of the future look like? Share your thoughts.