A Prototyping Field Day in Burghausen

Image showing Formhand's Gripper, 3D printed by ACEO®

Formhand developed a universal gripper for multi-purpose applications, 3D printed by ACEO® (Photo: FORMHAND)

New technologies demand innovative solutions. Holger Kunz is a founding member of the German Startup Formhand – a spinoff project from the Technical University of Braunschweig. Together with co-founders Kirsten Büchler and Christian Löchte he developed a universal gripper for multi-purpose applications across industries. Their first-hand experience at ACEO®’s Open Print Lab was a defining step towards their prototypes.

Holger, can you describe the products offered by Formhand?

We develop grippers that are used in automation technology. Throughout these automated processes, parts need to be moved by robots. Let me give you an example: the left and right car wing of a car are almost identical components except for the fact that they are mirrored. In manufacturing, these are two different parts that need two different robot hands, or grippers, for the same process step. Basically, each part needs its own gripper.

Our approach is to reduce complexity with a gripper which adapts to different materials or surfaces. This means our customers have a product that is more intelligent and can help optimize their automated processes. Although our startup was founded only a few months ago, we had plenty of time and resources for our research, which started at the Technical University of Braunschweig in 2011. We are very privileged to be able to put years into research and transfer the insights and results directly into the industry with one-of-a-kind product.

How did you get involved with ACEO® for your project?

It started with our product development: the gripper consists of a pillow with a textile surface that contains granulates. This pillow creates a vacuum and adapts to the surface of the part it needs to handle. We needed to explore elastic materials for prototyping.

I remembered a Wacker Chemicals press release announcing their new technology of 3D printing silicones. When I looked it up, I found out that they recently brought this technology to market under the brand ACEO®. The opportunity to do test prints and get expert help with our prototypes convinced me to call and register for a full-day workshop at the Open Print Lab in Burghausen.

Can you describe your day at ACEO®’s Open Print Lab?

First of all, 3D printing is perfect for prototyping where you need to try different forms, geometries and materials. My goal was to optimize product design and to create a prototype we could use for customer demos.

Upon registration, I filled out a questionnaire to describe what I was interested in. The workshop has a theoretical and a hands-on part. You can choose what area you would like to focus on in the training.

When the day started I learned about the endless opportunities of the technology and the material. During the first hardware session, Vera from ACEO® and I 3D printed geometries that were prepared in advance to get an understanding of the process.

The most exiting part for me was the session dedicated to my prototypes. We tested different shores and geometries, and I could see how these parts change their properties when they are printed from another angle. Vera pushed the limits of their design guidelines and we could thus adapt parameters such as wall thickness or radii.

What were the key takeaways of your experience?

If you have a complex geometry, you don’t get around 3D printing. The ACEO® team helped me understand the opportunities of their technology, which in turn led to an optimized product. You can only learn this from first-hand experience.

The day in the Open Print Lab was like an open-heart surgery in development: I could test how the parts behave when parameters are changed and continuously optimize our pillow prototypes in terms of material and geometry. I can definitely recommend it to anyone working with parts made of elastic material and who wants to explore the full bandwidth of the part’s complexity.

Needless to say that the physical takeway were the parts that are now used in our application lab at Formhand, where we demonstrate our technology to customers.