A common perception of collaborative robots is that they are not precise enough for commercial operations. However, cobot and gripper makers are addressing that challenge. Last week, Soft Robotics Inc. announced its Mini Finger product, which it said is suitable for pick-and-place operations in tight spaces.
“Soft Robotics is focused on meeting the needs of our global customer base, and we are proud to launch a product that truly goes where no robotic gripper has gone before,” said Carl Vause, CEO of Soft Robotics. “No task is too space constrained or food item too delicate for the Mini Fingers to handle.”
Soft Robotics replied to the following questions from The Robot Report about the development of its new product:
How does the Mini Finger add to Soft Robotics’ product line?
Soft Robotics is dedicated to solving customers’ problems in packaging and processing products that vary in size, shape, and weight. These SKU [stock-keeping unit] variations show up in the highest-growth robotics sectors: food and beverage, consumer goods and medical device manufacturing, and e-commerce and retail.
The mGrip system provides flexibility to build a gripper quickly that meets the needs of your application — ensuring you get ROI [return on investment] on your system faster than ever. It also gives customers the ability to automate what has never before been successfully automated.
We’re proud to add the Soft Robotics Mini Finger to the mGrip ecosystem. With a 50% thinner design from the other Soft Robotics Fingers, the Soft Robotics Mini Finger successfully picks and places in tight, compact spaces.
Any of our Soft Robotics grippers can be designed using the Soft Robotics Mini Finger to successfully solve for our customer’s toughest and tightest packaging applications.
Was it developed in response to customer requests?
Yes. Many of our customers have small, delicate products that are tightly packed. The thinner Mini Finger enables a robotic system to reach into packaging, between products without damaging the product or disturbing the surrounding environment.
This is critical for applications like baked goods, confections, or small consumer goods packaging like cosmetics.
You recently moved to new headquarters near Boston — how does this help with development of new products?
We moved our offices to Bedford, Mass., as our team was growing exponentially, and we needed a larger lab space to accommodate our growing suite of products. Boston is truly a hub for robotics, there are more robotic startups in Boston than in any other city in the country. The talent and experience is unparalleled, and we are fortunate to have a team of industry experts and innovators.
What is the Mini Finger’s price point?
The Mini Finger is part of the larger mGrip ecosystem. Kits that include everything you need to get up and running with an mGrip system start as low as $4,995.
What are some example use cases? Is it in use already at some customer sites?
We have a customer today successfully using these Mini Fingers to pick and place hamburger buns that are in close proximity to each other.
Where has Soft Robotics seen the most demand for its grippers?
When we first launched, we saw the most demand for our grippers in food due to the increased demand for items like fresh produce and the declining labor pool in food manufacturing environments. The variable and delicate nature of food make it a perfect fit for Soft Robotics. Our food-safe grippers can adeptly and safely handle food at high speeds without compromising the integrity of the product.
The same driving factors that made our grippers popular in the food industry — increased demand/declining labor pool — can be seen in e-commerce and retail, where we seeing more demand for our SuperPick order-fulfillment system. The ever-changing SKUs among these customers require a gripper that can pick items and fulfill orders without downtime or reprogramming.
SuperPick combines the power of Soft Robotics gripping technology with artificial intelligence to automate highly unstructured tasks like bin picking, sorting, and goods-to-robot fulfillment.
Does Soft Robotics have any partnerships or big customers in the works?
We just had great success retroftting a line for a food producer in the bakery industry. Our customer was previously operating with a vacuum system that was sucking up food particles in the air system, causing the entire system to regularly be shut down for maintenance and cleaning, all while not meeting its desired rate, resulting in significant waste.
With mGrip, we were able to help the customer realize a much improved pick success rate, reducing waste, improving throughput and eliminating problems with having to remove food debris from the filtration system. We are thrilled that it is finding success.
The Robot Report is launching the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, which will be on Dec. 9-10 in Santa Clara, Calif. The conference and expo will focus on improving the design, development, and manufacture of next-generation healthcare robots. Learn more about the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, and registration is now open.