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Grasping leather plies by Bernoulli grippers

G. Dini (1)*, G. Fantoni, F. Failli
Department of Mechanical, Nuclear and Production Engineering, University of Pisa, Italy
1. Introduction
A fully automated handling of leather plies represents one of
the primary goals in leather industry for reducing production costs.
Nevertheless, up to now, the use of automated facilities and
devices has been mainly limited to conveyors or stackers placed at
the end of the production lines. Other important handling
operations, such as loading of processing machines, are still
manually performed.
Such backwardness is due both to the heavy weight of
traditions in the leather industry and to the actual difficulties in
the automation of leather handling. Leather is a natural material,
affected by some critical aspects which make difficult the grasping
by industrial manipulators: irregular shape, low stiffness, very
delicate surface, etc.
Leather plies are usually stored in stacks, therefore the most
intuitive way to grasp them is probably by imitation of human
behavior, grasping the edge of the ply by a mechanical two-finger
gripper. This way of grasping presents many difficulties such as the
detection of leather edges or the separation of plies.
Another possible, and more reliable, approach consists in acting
directly on the surface of the leather. In this way, the problems
described above are overcome: the grasping action can be made on
a central portion of the entire surface, sufficiently far from the
borders, allowing a correct ply separation and a secure handling.
Unfortunately other problems arise: the borders fall down due to
the gravity creating problems in releasing, the surface can be
damaged by the grasping device, the leather porosity can reduce
the grasping force, etc.
In literature, some attempts to face these problems have been
made. A first approach is based on the use of vacuum systems, as
demonstrated by the authors in [1]. Another device has been
proposed in [2], where limp materials, such as textiles and leather
plies are grasped by a new gripping principle based on the Coanda
effect. Other possibilities to approach the previous problems are
given by the use of other grasping principles such as cryogenic or
electrostatic grippers. The former is based on the Peltier cooling
effect: simply freezing water, previously micro-sprayed, it gen-
erates a micro-ice block that ‘‘glues’’ the object to the gripper body,
and can be quickly melted when it has to be released. The latter is
based on the well known electrostatic induction effect and the first
attempt of using it for grasping leather parts is described in [3].
Theprevious approaches areveryeffectiveandshowgoodresults
inleather grasping. Nevertheless, ingraspingverydelicatematerials,
they whatever produce unacceptable imprints in the leather surface
owing to the direct contact with the grasping device. Taking into
account this consideration, the present paper proposes a contactless
grasping by using the so-called ‘‘Bernoulli gripper’’ whose grasping
action is based on the well known Bernoulli principle.
2. Bernoulli gripper
The blasting of an air jet close to a nozzle producing suction
instead of a repulsion force may appear as an aerodynamic
paradox. Nevertheless, a Bernoulli gripper exploits the under-
pressure created by an air jet that flows radially in the small gap
between the gripper and the object. The basic design is very simple
and the main components are (Fig. 1):
a nozzle, needed to create the air jet;
a deflector (visible in Fig. 2), which can be present or not, used to
deflect the air jet out of the nozzle;
a plate, which represents the surface of the gripper faced to the
object.
If the plate is positioned at a certain distance from the object,
the repulsion force, approximately proportional to the square of
the air flow speed, is prevalent and the object is thrown out, but if
the distance is progressively decreased, the suction effect increases
till obtaining the lifting of the object without any contact with the
plate of the gripper (i.e. contactless grasping).
Up to now, Bernoulli grippers have been used in early
experiments for the prehension and separation of very delicate
CIRP Annals - Manufacturing Technology 58 (2009) 21–24
A R T I C L E I N F O
Keywords:
Automation
Handling
Bernoulli gripper
A B S T R A C T
The automated grasping of leather products presents many critical aspects mainly due to their very low
stiffness and to the possibility of producing imprints on their delicate surfaces. To overcome such
problems, this paper proposes the use of contactless grippers instead of more traditional vacuum cups or
fingered grippers. In particular, the main objective of this investigation is the measurement of the
performance of different gripper configurations whose lifting force is generated by a high-speed air flow
passing between the gripper and the leather ply.
ß 2009 CIRP.
* Corresponding author.
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
CIRP Annals - Manufacturing Technology
journal homepage: http://ees.elsevier.com/cirp/default.asp
0007-8506/$ – see front matter ß 2009 CIRP.
doi:10.1016/j.cirp.2009.03.076
materials such as semi-conductor wafers [4], in the handling of
non-rigid and porous materials such as cartons or fabrics [5,6]
and in the food industry for grasping sliced fruits and vegetables
[7].
2.1. Working principle
The working principle is based on the underpressure distribu-
tion generated in the gap between the plate and the object by the
radial air flow directed from the nozzle to the external environ-
ment at the atmospheric pressure. The phenomenon is very
complex due to the presence of a turbulent air flow, supersonic
regions, generation of shock waves, etc. but, generally speaking, it
can be basically observed that the underpressure is generated by
the increasing of the air flow speed downstream the nozzle. As the
distance from the nozzle increases, the speed gradually decreases,
due to the increment of the flow section along the radial direction.
The underpressure finally reaches the atmospheric pressure at the
edge of the plate.
Considering the symbols in Fig. 1, and simplifying the problem
with the assumptions that (i) the air is incompressible, (ii) the flow
is laminar and (iii) the flow speed is subsonic, the underpressure p
can be analytically evaluated by applying the Bernoulli’s equation
and the law of conservation of volumetric flow rate between
sections 1 and 2. Therefore, the underpressure in function of the
generic radius r is given by:
pðrÞ ¼
1
2
r
Q
2
4p
2
h
2
1
r
2
À
1
r
2
ext

(1)
where Q is the volumetric flow rate and r is the air density.
The total grasping force F
g
can be evaluated through the
following expression:
F
g
¼ F
l
ÀF
r
with
F
l
¼
1
2
r
Q
2
2ph
2
ln
r
ext
r
int
À
1
2
r
2
ext
Àr
2
int
r
2
ext
! " #
; F
r
¼ r
Q
2
pr
2
int
(2)
where F
l
is the lifting force obtained by integrating the expression
(1) all over the plate and F
r
is the repulsion force generated by the
collision of the air jet to the object surface.
Considering constant the flow rate, the grasping force depends
on the value of the gap h. As demonstrated by the expression (2),
the grasping force increases by reducing the distance between the
gripper and the object. In the reality, if the gap is reduced further,
the grasping force does not hyperbolically increase but, mainly due
to the compressibility of air and therefore to the reduction of the
flow rate, the force reaches a maximum value and then gradually
decreases.
2.2. Proposals of Bernoulli grippers for grasping leather plies
Different variants of Bernoulli grippers have been proposed and
tested in this research (Table 1). The design rationale was to
increase the radial flowversus the vertical flowin order to decrease
F
r
. For this reason, a deflector has been introduced (with 2 different
angles: a = 608, a = 308) even if its presence obviously reduces the
working area of the Bernoulli effect and therefore the lifting force
(increasing of r
int
).
The innovation of these proposals concerns the presence of 16
radial grooves in the grippers G3.1 and G3.2. As illustrated in Fig. 2,
each groove has been shaped as a Venturi channel with 3 different
sectors: a convergent sector, a constant sector and a divergent
sector. The expected result of this proposal should be a further
Fig. 2. Bernoulli grippers with the deflector. The details show the front and lateral
views of a Venturi channel adopted in G3.1 and G3.2.
Fig. 1. Bernoulli gripper.
Table 1
Gripper configurations used in the experiments.
Gripper
Internal radius r
int
4 mm 16 mm 16 mm 16 mm 16 mm
External radius r
ext
45 mm 45 mm 45 mm 45 mm 45 mm
Deflector angle a Without deflector 608 308 608 308
Plate surface Flat Flat Flat Grooved Grooved
G. Dini et al. / CIRP Annals - Manufacturing Technology 58 (2009) 21–24 22
contribution to the lifting action exerted by the gripper, exploiting
the vacuum created in the central part of each Venturi channel.
3. Experiments
The aim of the experiments is to compare the performance of
each proposed gripper by measuring the grasping force F
g
for
different leather plies, varying the gap and keeping constant the
volumetric flow rate Q at the value of 4.8 Â 10
À3
m
3
/s.
3.1. Experimental plan and facilities
Table 2 shows the main characteristics of the leathers used
in these experiments. Two sides for each leather have been
considered for grasping:
external side, which represents the external skin of the animal
and characterized by a smooth and delicate surface, very
appreciated in leather goods;
internal side, which represents the internal skin of the animal
(also named ‘‘flesh side’’) and characterized by a rough and very
irregular surface (see pictures in Table 2).
The same tests have been also repeated for a rigid and non-porous
specimen made of polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) with a thickness
of 10 mm.
The main components of the experimental apparatus are:
a 4-axis SCARA robot, used to vertically move the gripper;
a dynamometer, placed on the workbench and used to measure
the grasping force along the movement of the gripper (resolu-
tion: 0.25 N; working range: Æ330 N; acquisition rate: 25 Hz).
Each specimen has been positioned on the dynamometer
through a rigid support of 200 mm 200 mm, glued by small drops
distributed on a grid having a step of 20 mm. This solution allows to
maintain the leather in contact with the rigid substrate, but it does
not significantly alter the porosity and the elasticity of the leather.
A step-by-step movement of the gripper, with a delay time
between each step of 1 s, has been adopted in order to correlate the
force measurement with the distance between the gripper plate
and the specimen surface. Such procedure has been designed to
study the gripper performance in quasi-static conditions; at the
current stage of the research, the variation of the force in dynamic
conditions has not been investigated yet.
3.2. Results
An example of results is reported in Fig. 3. The experiment has
been performed by moving the gripper firstly upward (receding
gripper) and then downward (advancing gripper) from the contact
point with the leather. The grasping force measured by the
dynamometer is not constant within each step. Besides the
expected fluctuations, mainly due to the turbulent air flow,
another interesting behaviour can be noticed. The leather ply,
under the effect of a force, shows a non-linear behaviour within
each step: the ply seems to act as a spring-damper couple. During
the receding motion, at the beginning of each step, the force
increases and the leather is stretched out; during the delay time
the leather relaxes, and the force tends to decrease. Conversely,
when the gripper approaches the leather, the force decreases, the
Table 2
Leather specimens and their characteristics.
Leather specimen L1i: cattle skin (internal side) L1e: cattle skin (external side) L2i: goat skin (internal side) L2e: goat skin (external side)
Front view
Lateral view
Surface quality Rough Smooth Rough Smooth
Thickness 3.5 mm 1.0 mm
Density 24.0 g/dm
2
2.4 g/dm
2
Fig. 3. Example of a result obtained during tests. Fig. 5. Grasping force on a PMMA plate (Q = 4.8 Â 10
À3
m
3
/s).
Fig. 4. Example of a force–gap curve obtained during tests.
G. Dini et al. / CIRP Annals - Manufacturing Technology 58 (2009) 21–24 23
leather reduces its stretch, the gap increases and therefore the
grasping force tends to rise.
For clarity, in all the following graphs, the noise of the signal has
been filtered, the non-linear behaviour has been removed and the
force F
g
has been correlated to the gap distance h. A typical curve is
illustrated in Fig. 4. This curve is very useful to determine the
gripper performance with respect to the weight of the object to be
grasped. For instance, if a weight mg = 17 N is considered, the
following zones can be observed:
a feasible grasping zone, with the gap h ranging between 0 and
2 mm;
unfeasible grasping zone, where the force is not sufficient to
grasp the leather ply (h > 2 mm).
The zone of feasible grasping can be divided in three sectors: (1)
the negative part of the curve, where the gripper is very close to the
leather and F
r
overcomes the lifting effect; (2) the sector of stable
positions of the grasped object; (3) an unstable sector, where the
object, when grasped, is accelerated toward the plate of the gripper.
In Fig. 4, the line of the object weight intersects the curve in 2
equilibrium points P
1
and P
2
.
P
1
is a stable point: when the leather is in P
1
and the gap
increases, the force increases as well and the object is attracted
towards the plate. The opposite happens when the leather is still in
P
1
but the gap decreases. In this case the grasping force is reduced
and the object moves away from the plate coming back towards
the equilibrium point.
P
2
is not a stable point: if the gap is just below 2 mm, the object
accelerates towards the plate andthe gapis reduceduntil it arrives to
P
1
, where it tends to remain; if the gap is just over 2 mm, the force is
lower than the object weight and the grasping is not accomplished.
As a reference for the following tests, the grasping force exerted
by each gripper has been measured using a 200 mm 200 mm
specimen of PMMA. It is clearly evident from Fig. 5 that, in this
case, the gripper without the deflector (G1) gives the best
performance. The grippers with a = 608 (G2.1 and G3.1) show a
very low value of the grasping force. Conversely, the two grippers
with a = 308 show an appreciable lifting force, higher in G3.2
having the Venturi channels.
Fig. 6 synthesizes the results obtained in grasping the different
leather specimens. It is possible to observe that:
the performance of G1 decreases drastically when it acts on
leathers, instead of PMMA, probably due to their porosity, and
becomes comparable with G2.2 and G3.2;
G2.1 and G3.1 continue to present a low value of the grasping
force due to the simultaneous effect of a reduced grasping area
and to a greater vertical component of the air jet (a = 608);
G3.2 shows a very good behaviour in all situations demonstrat-
ing, in grasping these kinds of materials, the positive effect of a
small deflector angle and the presence of the Venturi channels. In
particular, a payload of at least 10 N can be assured in each
situation.
No imprint on the leather surfaces has been noticed during the
tests performed by the grippers equipped with the deflector. On
the contrary, G1, which generates a jet perpendicular to the leather
surface, produces appreciable imprints in a small area approached
by the gripper nozzle.
4. Conclusions and proposal of application
These experiments show that the tested leather plies can be
grasped by Bernoulli grippers. In particular, the use of a deflector
having a small angle aand radial Venturi channels on the plate give
positive effects to the grasping force and completely eliminates
imprints on the leather surface.
A set of Bernoulli grippers can be applied for handling large
leather plies, having a weight usually ranging between 5 and 50 N,
by grasping them on the central area of the leather surface. As said
before, in this kind of application the borders fall down and it
becomes difficult or impossible to release it on the conveyor belt of
a processing machine. For this reason, a rotating device able to
spread the leather through two perpendicular directions has been
designed and it is currently under testing.
Future works will be oriented to optimize the gripper
geometry, by means of FEM simulations, in order to increase
the grasping force. Further researches will be also devoted to
investigate the transversal stability of grasping, an important
issue in the case of grasping parts with contactless grippers, and
the dynamic conditions of handling, fundamental in industrial
practice.
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Fig. 6. Grasping force exerted by the grippers for different leather specimens (Q = 4.8 Â 10
À3
m
3
/s).
G. Dini et al. / CIRP Annals - Manufacturing Technology 58 (2009) 21–24 24