Tribologically Optimized Filament Delivers Maintenance-Free 3D-Printed Robot Grippers

A Germany-based cosmetics company saved 85 percent in the cost of its robot grippers by switching from aluminum to 3D-printed polymer.

As manufacturers seek to transition between products more rapidly and to produce small batches more economically, process changes affect not just the product itself, but the packaging process as well. Carecos Kosmetic, a Germany-based manufacturer of high-quality cosmetic products, recently solved a problem in its packaging process using 3D-printed robot grippers manufactured from tribologically optimized material.

Carecos Kosmetic had previously used an elaborate aluminum gripper in its packaging process. That gripper cost more than $11,500 per part and required six weeks to execute a change-over. Changing to a 3D-printed polymer gripper would allow the company to save time and money in manufacturing the grippers, making product changes easier to accommodate. 

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Almost every element of a gripper is flexible and glides on shafts and pins, so that the individual parts are exposed to constant wear. Metallic parts must often be fitted with separate bearings or lubricated in the application. When Carecos Kosmetic initially tried 3D print grippers with standard plastics such as ABS and PLA, the printing processes did not provide satisfactory results.

To create 3D-printed grippers capable of standing up to the required wear, the company turned to Igus and its iGlide I150 material. The tribologically optimized filament for fused deposition modeling (FDM) is made from a self-lubricating plastic and is optimized for friction and wear. The filament is said to be easy to process and offers food contact compliance with EU Regulation 10/2011, making it suitable for contact with food, beverages and cosmetics.

Compared to the previously used aluminum robot grippers, the iGlide I150 3D-printed grippers were 85 percent cheaper and could be produced 70 percent faster, requiring between 10 and 12 hours to print. The 3D-printed grippers are also seven times lighter than the metal originals.

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