Sub-Sahara Mining & Industrial Journal
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NSK in joint development of highly customisable robotic hand

NSK and the German Aerospace Centre are developing a robotic hand system that will help
automate manual tasks, particularly in the service industry. The concept centres on a
customisable robot hand comprising individually configurable finger modules, thought to be
an industry-first. Through a combination of versatility and affordability, this innovative new
product will contribute to the automation of manual work that involves grasping a broad
variety of objects.

Many countries around the world, including several in Europe, are facing serious labour
shortages across a number of important industries. Robots that can take on manual work
represent a good way to overcome this increasingly prevalent situation. However, the
introduction of robots has not progressed sufficiently in the retail, restaurant and some
manufacturing sectors for tasks that require a high degree of dexterity. A significant factor
here is price. While the price of robot hands that can grasp only a single type or size of
object is low, robot hands that can grasp a diverse range of objects are extremely
expensive.

Against this backdrop, NSK and the German Aerospace Centre are working in tandem to
develop a robotic hand system with finger modules that offer easy reconfiguration according
to each use case. The individual finger modules enable the construction of robot hands with
the minimum configuration required to meet customer needs: it is easy to create a robot
hand that grips only standard products or a robot hand that grips a variety of objects.
Notably, by limiting production to individual finger modules, NSK aims to achieve a low unit
cost through mass production. This should prove highly appealing to companies with target
applications that require smooth finger movement, easy layout changes and optimised
finger module placement.

The smooth motion and gentle gripping of diverse objects arrives through the wire drive
technology of the German Aerospace Centre, while NSK’s proprietary detachable magnetic
mechanism makes it quick and easy to alter the layout of finger modules simply by pulling a
lever to attach or detach accordingly. In terms of finger module placement, NSK’s digital
twin technology led to the development of an algorithm that optimises this task according to
object size and shape.

To contribute to mechanisation and automation in a wide range of industries, including food
service, retail, manufacturing, logistics and agriculture, NSK is now in the process of
making solution proposals to robotic system integrators and customers with existing robot equipment. Field tests will commence imminently.

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