Strong robots learn soft gripping

The company Weiss Robotics from Ludwigsburg produces sensitive grippers for powerful industrial robots. The grippers are electrically controlled and can therefore move particularly fragile objects. This is unique in the industry.

© Weiss Robotics +2
© Weiss Robotics
© Weiss Robotics

Little robots work behind a glass wall. The robots grab, lift and place various objects with the greatest precision. One person takes four filled glasses at the same time and places them in a container one meter away. Then the robot turns and grabs four more glasses. Another places very small screws from one plate to another. Almost nothing can be heard about any of this. The hard-working robots hum to themselves at a pleasant volume in the entrance hall of Weiss Robotics. To date, industrial robots have mainly used compressed air. Instead, the grippers from Weiss Robotics are electrically controlled - a significant added value for industrial companies.

Electric grippers with feeling

Weiss Robotics GmbH & Co. KG from Ludwigsburg produces grippers for industrial robots and cobots. Cobots are robots that work together with people and, compared to industrial robots, carry out even smaller tasks automatically. For example, in a bakery you can remove rolls from the oven and sort them onto a sales shelf. The electric grippers from Weiss Robotics make it possible to sensitively move sensitive objects such as young lettuce plants, raw eggs and fragile glasses from A to B - quickly and precisely without damaging them. “We understand gripping as a sensitive, sensitive handling of objects that are not really stable,” says managing director Dr. Karsten Weiss. Compressed air grippers, which have so far been used primarily in industry, lack the necessary sensitivity.

Evaluate images and transfer data

A lot of data creates this feeling. This includes, among other things, camera images that are viewed, evaluated and transferred to the gripper. With further information about the nature of the material as well as the size and weight of the objects, the grippers understand how much force they have to apply for which object. How far the grippers spread their gripping fingers also depends on the data fed in. Weiss Robotics offers its clever grippers in 16 variants. They all combine machine characteristics with emotional, almost human characteristics – a benefit for the industry and its automation.

Gripper in use in New York

One of the most renowned universities in the world has long since recognized this: Columbia University in New York is conducting research into the automation of tomorrow using special grippers from Weiss Robotics. Scientists at “Columbia” are currently using the grippers for a research project to grip textiles. The aim of the project is to train gripping with materials such as cotton and thus fold T-shirts and trousers automatically. If this succeeds, electric grippers could soon provide support in hospitals or dry cleaners. The fact that the grippers are used in research in New York is an accolade for Managing Director Weiß and his company.

At home in the Stuttgart region

Weiss Robotics has strong roots in the Stuttgart region, as many customers come from the surrounding area: “We are a small company and are strongly focused on the home market. We have a clear location advantage here in the region because we can reach our customers very quickly,” says Weiß. The clever grippers are used in those industries where the topic of automation is very important. These include companies in the automotive, electrical and pharmaceutical industries. Since the grippers can be connected to all well-known manufacturers of industrial robots and cobots, they are in great demand. Managing director Weiß must therefore always weigh up which orders can be implemented by his team.

Heart: development and production

“We are lucky and are in a growth market. Automation and production are becoming more and more important in Germany,” says Managing Director Weiß, who won a lifelong sponsorship with Bosch in a youth competition when he was just 14 years old and was allowed to freely use the supplier’s workbenches and tools for his tinkering. In parallel with his high school diploma, Weiß won the national “Jugend forscht” competition in 1998, and his grippers have been on the market since 2015. Today his team has around 20 employees. Development and production are at the heart of the company. In a small hall, employees are constantly milling, grinding and wiring the special aluminum grippers.

Success in the Future

Because the business situation is good: “The demand for our gripping systems is unbroken. Automation is becoming more demanding, also because the industry’s requirements for highly sensitive materials are becoming higher,” says Weiß. That's why the company wants to expand in the Stuttgart region in the future. The Ludwigsburg company recently recorded double-digit annual growth. Sensitive grippers will also be needed in the future when fuel cells and batteries are assembled and dismantled in rows. Until then, the robots in the entrance area of ​​Weiss Robotics continue to hum and work diligently – screw by screw, glass by glass.

Author: Jannik Hausmann