Advanced pneumatic product handling end effector systems from industrial actuation and isolation specialists Air Springs Supply Pty Ltd help eliminate damage, breakage and processing problems in high speed bottling, packaging and palletising.Firestone’s AirPicker® and AirGripper® end-effectors are precision-engineered rubber product handling devices, the bladders of which inflate gently and evenly around or within products to manipulate delicate items and containers.
The system is well suited to high-speed bottling, packaging and palletising, offering a degree of touch or sensitivity lacking in many mechanical or automated systems, says Air Springs Supply National Sales and Marketing Manager Mr James Maslin. AirPickers work by being inserted into products while deflated, then inflated outwardly and evenly to hold onto the product’s interior walls. AirGrippers surround a product with a collar from which a rubber sleeve is inflated inwardly to grip the product’s exterior. The system handles loads from as light as 50g to as heavy as 20kg or more.
“This cushioned transporting system can help eliminate damage, breakage, and other processing problems, with the end effectors being designed and manufactured by Firestone to inflate evenly, producing a wide, shock-absorbing and slip-free contact surface for sure movement,” says Mr Maslin.
The large expansion of the inflating end-effectors allows for multiple part sizes and shapes to be handled with just one size model. The diameter of an AirPicker end effector can grow by as much as 1.86 times the deflated diameter, while an AirGripper end-effector can grip around an object that is only 40 per cent of the deflated diameter.
"By controlling the amount of pressure within the bladder, Firestone end-effectors can handle delicate objects with the soft touch of rubber and air. The holding force is distributed over a greater surface area than a mechanical gripper, resulting in a soft and secure touch, even with heavy loads," says Mr Maslin. "Simply by varying the air pressure in the picker or gripper, the user can conform the end effector to the diameter that is being handled and the force being applied to the workpiece. This is especially critical in applications with sensitive, thin-walled, or fragile objects. The object being picked up does not have to have a circular configuration. Since it has an elastomer bladder construction, it will conform to any shape."
The absence of bearings or moving parts within the air effectors means no lubrication is required for a long durable life. The absence of seals or bearings also results in a more durable gripper in dusty environments. As well, Firestone AirPicker end-effectors typically cost less than comparable mechanical grippers. Firestone offers a wide range of standard configurations and sizes of AirPickers® and AirGrippers™ to meet most industrial applications. Special AirPickers® and AirGrippers™ are also available to meet specific needs of a particular customer.
Recent additions to the AirPicker® and AirGripper® product line made in response to customer needs include thin-walled rubber wear sleeves (replaceable wear component designed to reduce abrasion on AirPickers® and extend life) and nose cones (plastic cones used to guide AirPickers® into workpieces in applications where alignment in inconsistent.) AirPicker and AirGripper engineering manuals give product specifications and selection criteria, including details of an expanded range of more than a dozen pickers and grippers in materials including stainless steel, plated steel and aluminium.