Small is getting big at Festo. The company’s International Media Day, held yesterday in Germany, highlighted the increasingly large role that miniaturization technologies will play in pneumatic and electric automation systems.
Take Festo’s HGPPI gripper for example. This servopneumatic proportional gripper features a pair of parallel slide-mounted jaws that operate independently–both in terms of position and force. Three air chambers, each with its own pressure sensor, pneumatically drive the slides.
And to control the air flow into those chambers, the gripper system relies on a set of six 5-mm-wide, 3-2 piezo valves developed by Festo Micro Technology AG in Switzerland. The valves contain a bending piezo actuator whose micrometer-scale deflections open and close the valve ports.
A true mechatronic system, the gripper also integrates all the electronics and sensors needed to control position to +/-0.1 mm and force to +/-2.5 N. Overall, gripper covers a gripping force range from 5 to 60 N per jaw. It integrates into a variety of applications easily, requiring just one Profibus connection, one 24 V connection and one compressed air connection.
Introduced in Germany last year and just now available in North America, the gripper is Festo’s first commercial product to make use of these piezo valves. According to Sven Zybell, director of Festo’s microtechnology operation, piezo actuators have for years seen use as a way to directly manipulate tiny loads. "But this is the first time that they’ve been used as part of larger servopneumatic system," he explains.
Expect more of microtechnology-based automation technologies in the future. Zybell notes that the combination of mechatronics and microtechnology result in systems that take up less space, use a fraction of the energy and often perform better than classical mechanical systems. "Smaller, smarter, more integrated is the way forward," he says.
Check back later this week for a look at other microtechnology advances.