Nov 18, 2015 | By Alec

3D printing is, as you will have doubtlessly noticed, making quite a big splash in the robotics world and we regularly come across one intriguing 3D printed design after another. However, many still clearly seem to struggle to create intricate, flexible and delicate grippers that could be used for anything from 3D printed bionic hands to assembly line robots working with food or other delicate objects. That’s why we just had to share a particularly impressive robot with you called YuMi. Developed by Swiss automation technology group and 3D printed with the help of Belgian 3D printing company Materialise, YuMi was first showcased at the EXPO MILANO 2015 and is the world’s first collaborative dual-arm industrial robot our there – with grippers so precise they can handle eggs, fruit and more.

As the Swiss engineers from ABB explained, YuMi actually stuands for ‘You and Me’ and has been designed to automate small parts assembly in the growing consumer electronics industry – where your iPhones are still assembled by hand by underpaid workers. Featuring two arms, the YuMi has therefore been designed to take up exactly as much space as an ordinary worker on one of those assembly lines and could theoretically be imported to those factories tomorrow.

However, the hands necessary for those small electronics are also delicate enough to handle fruit and other types of food, which they showcased in laboratory experiments and at the Future Food District in Milan (see the videos below). This illustrates a fantastic dexterity and grip, while the pneumatic grippers are so sensitive that fragile or uneven objects are no problem whatsoever. And that’s particularly impressive, as most basic bionic hand designs tend to crush anything soft, while even glasses are known to crack under the pressure. That’s why Materialise’s Manager Engineering Services Philippe Schiettecatte calls them a ‘real engineering team effort’ that took quite a lot of effort to realize and 3D print over a two year period.

So how are they made? Well, as the engineering experts explain, they decided to drop the typical hinge designs completely, instead relying on air pressure and vacuum to control the grip. Not only does this make them virtually maintenance free, it also makes the hands very customizable – even five-fingered human hands with interlocking fingers can be realized with this approach. The inner wall of the ‘fingers’ are very sensitive, and increased pressure causes them to curve inwards towards the pressure point, or away from it with the help of vacuum. This enables them to grab any object, regardless of size or shape.

But of course, that’s not something easily 3D printed. Initially made in polyamide (PA12), which works great for a wide range of applications including the grippers’ base, the engineers were unhappy with the finger results. While flexible, they wore out quickly over time, losing their applicability. After several iterations, they instead stumbled on TPU 92A-1, a unique rubber-like, flexible material that can used on SLS 3D printers. Not only very flexible, it is also very strong and is highly resistant to wear and tear – making it a perfect fit.

Now 3D printed separately from the rest of the robot, these fingers can be configured for any product that is to be handled – or instance longer fingers can be 3D printed to grip products from underneath for additional security, while human-like hands with interlocking fingers are also easily made. With the help of 3D printing, the right hand for the right job is always available. They are also lightweight, need little maintenance and are easily replaced, suggesting that functional robotic hands are now finally becoming a viable production too. Could this be the 3D printing breakthrough the industry is waiting for?



Posted in 3D Printing Application



Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive