Schunk „grips“ the digitalization

Digitalization offers tremendous opportunities for assembly automation. To enable plant manufacturers and users to develop and implement their projects efficiently, Schunk, the world market leader for clamping technology and gripping systems, has been digitalizing its electrically controlled gripping system components.

Product lifecycles are becoming ever shorter, and innovations follow each other in quick succession. This translates into very high demands for flexibility and efficiency in machine and plant development, because the shorter the time to market for a new product, the further ahead it is compared to the competition. Highly customized assembly lines developed for very specific products play a key role in meeting these demands.

Schunk GmbH & Co. KG is setting new standards for handling systems. Using electrification, Schunk has introduced completely new, intelligent features to the pneumatics-oriented market of high-performance assembly, which makes setting up mechatronic assembly systems significantly easier. The mechatronic 24-V kit of gripping system components now, for the first time, makes it possible to realize entire assembly systems using 24-V technology, which reduces danger to personnel.

Shorter projects thanks to digital twins

In a further step, Schunk is now focusing on the digitalization of its electronically controlled gripping system components in cooperation with Siemens PLM Software. “Using the corresponding software, the entire kit is simulated virtually in three-dimensional space, and the entire engineering process, from concept to mechanics, electrical system, and software, to virtual commissioning, is mapped out, in parallel whenever possible,” says Ralf Steinmann, head of the gripping systems division at Schunk. He hopes that plant manufacturers and users will benefit from significantly shorter projects, faster commissioning, and a considerable increase in efficiency when building similar plants.

The digital images of the individual components contain their complete mechatronic functionalities: “The digital twin opens the door to integrated engineering and lays the groundwork for connecting all the disciplines involved,” Steinmann emphasizes. In the future, isolated software solutions or even manual procedures will be able to be integrated and mapped in the Mechatronics Concept Designer (MCD) engineering system in a considerably more comprehensive way than has been possible so far.


Digitalization makes engineering more efficient and prevents errors in the planning process. “By bringing together all the information in one system and simulating entire applications, all the individual processes can be coordinated and optimized,” Steinmann says. The system also immediately detects if, for example, individual motions have been forgotten. But that’s not all: “The virtual model is the basis for programming the individual components as well as for traceability and real-time control in ongoing production,” explains the experienced handling specialist.


And expert Martin Schleef, head of the machinery and equipment industry business unit of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart, Germany, confirms the advantages of a digital twin: “Virtual commissioning saves a lot of time and money. One possible use of simulation tools is to test and evaluate manufacturing control systems ahead of time, thus shortening the entire commissioning and ramp-up phase. Disturbances that occur beforehand, for example, faulty parameters, can be eliminated.”

Virtual intelligence

A pilot plant made of Schunk mechatronics components, which Siemens presented at the SPS IPC Drives 2016 trade fair in Nuremberg, shows that all this is already possible with the MCD. In this pilot plant, all Schunk modules were equipped with virtual intelligence in the form of a kinematic model. In contrast to customary usage, the digital twins receive data not only on the outer contour but also on weight and stroke, as well as information on moving parts and their acceleration, speed, and arrival at the end position. All aspects of the real machine behavior can thus be simulated and optimized in the virtual model.

All this happens in parallel in the engineering software. “Even though today it is not yet possible to transfer the virtually generated process as is to the real plant, about 70% to 80% of the sequential programming is already contained in it,” Steinmann estimates. In addition to the process sequence, the software displays all phases and dependencies. It is now possible to determine which motions are necessary or possible as early as the planning phase. Steinmann says: “We see it as our mission to lead the way here with our mechatronic kit and to actively drive the process of digitalization. In this process, it will be critical to design the digital twin in such a way that it fulfills its function for the design engineer in an optimal manner. Siemens PLM Software is a reliable and expert partner for us in this initiative.”


Picture credits: Siemens AG / Schunk GmbH & Co. KG

The company was founded in 1945 as a machine shop and today is a global technology and market leader for clamping technology and gripping systems. Headquartered in Lauffen am Neckar, Germany, Schunk has more than 2,700 employees in eight plants and 30 subsidiaries, as well as sales partners in more than 50 countries to ensure an extensive market presence. With 11,000 standard components, Schunk offers the largest range of products in clamping technology and gripping systems worldwide, and with 2,550 Schunk grippers, the most comprehensive standard gripping component portfolio on the market. The company’s customers include a who’s who of machine and plant manufacturing, robotics, automation, and assembly handling, as well as all major automotive brands and their suppliers.

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