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Festo is preparing to launch its latest bionic concept project at this year’s Hannover Fair.

Bionic concepts are not saleable products but proof of research ideas and demonstrations of design concepts, intended to stimulate dialogue with customers, suppliers and partners.

Known as the Bionic Handling Assistant, the latest concept offers a flexible, safe means of moving objects from one position to another.

According to the company, it could open up a range of new application areas involving direct, non-hazardous contact between humans and robots.

These include equipment for use in hospitals, rehabilitation and care homes for the elderly, agricultural machinery and even domestic appliances – anything that requires risk-free mechanical assistance.

The Bionic Handling Assistant is the latest development to come from Festo’s Bionic Learning Network, which is an alliance of educational establishments and specialist companies tasked with exploring bionic solutions for future automation applications.

The inspiration for the Bionic Handling Assistant comes from elephants’ trunks, which are muscular, flexible extensions to their upper lip and nose, with finger-like growths known as proboscides that enable them to grasp food and other small objects.

Festo’s Bionic Handling Assistant employs biomechatronics technology and introduces a concept whereby direct contact between machines and their human operators – whether accidental or intentional – is no longer hazardous.

In the event of a collision with a human, the Bionic Handling Assistant yields immediately, without modifying its desired overall dynamic behaviour, and then resumes its operation.

The company claims that, unlike heavy industrial robots, the Bionic Handling Assistant is characterised by an excellent mass-payload ratio, provides smooth operating motion with more degrees of freedom and makes efficient use of resources.

The Bionic Handling Assistant consists of three basic elements for spatial movement, together with a hand axis with a ball joint and a gripper with adaptive fingers.

Each basic element comprises three circularly arranged pneumatic actuators tapering at an angle of 3deg; each actuator is supplied with compressed air at the interfaces of the basic elements.

Opposing movements are effected by the loop-like design of the actuators, which act like a spring when the compressed air is exhausted.

Their extension is measured by position sensors, which control the system’s spatial movement.

In the hand axis, three further actuators are arranged around a ball joint; their activation displaces the gripper by an angle of up to 30deg.

Festo SMAT safety position sensors register the travel and ensure precise alignment, while the company’s VPWP proportional valves are used for pneumatic control.

The overall result is a flexible system that can transmit high forces despite its lightweight design.

The Bionic Handling Assistant is manufactured using additive rapid manufacturing technologies, which facilitate the production of individual moveable system components from polyamide.

This is applied in thin layers onto a base platform, with each new layer being fused into place by means of a laser beam, hardening the layers only where it is programmed.

This is a form of 3D printing that now makes it possible to cost-effectively produce intricate, complex products in small batch sizes.

About Festo

Festo manufactures pneumatic and electrical components and systems to support customers with factory and process automation. The company has an annual turnover in excess of 1.7 billion Euro, employs 12,800 people around the world and has facilities in 176 countries around the world. Festo operates an aggressive R&D programme investing 7.5% of sales annually, holds over 2,800 worldwide patents, introduces about 100 innovative new products to the market every year and has a product range of over 30,000. For more information about the company’s products and services, please visit our website.  

About Festo Didactic

Festo Didactic, the training and consultancy division of Festo, supports organisations seeking to develop competencies in sales & service, leadership, employee engagement, change management, team-working, coaching, business planning, production processes and automation technology. The division has particular expertise in working with manufacturing and engineering businesses. It has a full time workforce of over 200 and operates in 70 countries worldwide. Each year, it manages more than 230 consultancy projects and runs more than 2,900 open courses in 26 languages, involving some 42,000 participants. For more information about Festo Didactic, please visit the Festo website and follow the link.

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