Agripper system for automatically handling tiny components, developed in the context of a Eureka project, uses the adhesive properties of ice to pick them up. The gripper first sprays a drop of water onto the object to be handled. It then closes in on the object. As soon as they touch, it freezes the water. The component can then be picked up and manipulated as necessary using the gripping strength of ice. This is around 1N/sq mm which is 20-100 times stronger than that obtained with vacuum grippers, says Mario El-Khoury, manager, industrial control at CSEM, the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology, a partner in the European project. To release the object, the tip of the gripper is simply warmed up to the phase- change temperature of the liquid interface. The prototype version of Microgrip is capable of handling components measuring between 0.1 and 5 mm, with an accuracy of 1 micron, at a rate of 1,000 cycles per hour. The "ice" gripper is now undergoing industrialization by AP Technologies and Sysmelec, two other participants in the project. Meanwhile, El-Khoury's group is developing applications for the "ice" technology. A new Eureka project, in which Siemens and Philips are participants, will use Microgrip to manipulate micro-sized parts during low-distortion welding operations. For more information, call: Dr. Mario El-Khoury, at: +41-32- 720-55-96.
It won't be too much longer and hardware design, as we used to know it, will be remembered alongside the slide rule and the Karnaugh map. You will need to move beyond those familiar bits and bytes into the new world of software centric design.
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