OnRobot’s Electric Vacuum Gripper Helps Automate Palletizing Porous Materials

April 08, 2021 by Robin Mitchell

OnRobot announced its latest development in electric vacuum gripper technology, the VGP20.

Building a robotic arm or gantry is a simple task, and using computer-controlled systems has been around for decades. However, one of the biggest challenges faced by such mechanical systems is how best to pick objects up from one place and then place them back down.


What are Vacuum Grippers?

One solution is to use robotic grippers, but determining how hard a gripper should operate can be difficult. The human hand is excellent at these tasks thanks to the nerve endings as well as the soft nature of skin, allowing for fine detection. Robotic grippers, however, are notoriously difficult to operate correctly and can apply the incorrect force when moving objects.


Video used courtesy of OnRobot


Another method, called vacuum grippers, provides an alternative. A vacuum gripper is a pneumatic system that uses octopus-like suckers that pull air through the sucker. When the sucker contacts an object, the object is “sucked” to the gripper, and the system can pick up the item.

Vacuum grippers still face the same issues faced by mechanical grippers; they can suck too hard or not enough. Further, pneumatic-driven suckers require pneumatic systems, which can be complex and expensive to set up. 


OnRobot Introduces the VGP20

The packing industry is changing, and so are the materials. Cardboard is becoming more expensive, and alternative cardboard packing solutions are being formed using thinner materials more akin to paper.

While these materials provide a cheaper packing solution, their porous nature makes it difficult for vacuum grippers to hold onto such items. Items commonly found using such packing methods including heavy bags of food and loose materials (in excess of 20 kg).

OnRobot VGP20 palletizing boxes

VGP20 palletizing boxes. Image used courtesy of OnRobot


Recognizing a need for a solution, OnRobot announced the development of a new vacuum gripper system, the VGP20. Unlike a traditional gripper, this system is entirely electric and requires no external pneumatic system. The gripper integrates all the pumps and pneumatics internally to grip items, and the device only requires a power connection to operate.

The VGP20 supports up to 16 vacuum cups, has a minimum vacuum of 5% and a maximum of 60%. The sucker system utilizes a 24V DC power supply with a maximum current consumption of 4500mA. 

The maximum payload capacity of the VGP20 is 20 kg with a typical payload of 10 kg, and the time for grip is 0.25 s. The vacuum pump used in the VGP20 is a brushless DC motor, meaning there are no mechanical brushes to replace, increasing the life expectancy.

According to OnRobot, the VGP20 is the “world’s most powerful electric vacuum gripper” for palletizing cardboard boxes and items in unstructured packaging. Using the VGP20 can provide systems with a 90% cost saving compared to traditional pneumatic operated vacuum systems. 


Electric Vacuum Gripper Applications

The first application for the VGP20 is automated warehouses that need to transfer items from a conveyor to pallets. The lack of a need for a pneumatic system reduces the overall size of the vacuum gripper installation and the cost. 

The use of an all-electric system utilizing brushless technology helps reduce system maintenance. As such, the VGP20 can be used for industrial systems where reliability is critical (such as high volume, low-profit items). 


OnRobot VGP20 packing items

VGP20 packing items. Image used courtesy of OnRobot


Working with porous materials also makes the VGP20 suitable for low-cost, environmentally friendly packaging lines using alternative packing methods. With the need to recycle materials more often and make those materials go further, the VGP20 can work with both ridged and unstructured packaging.