The best 3 ceramic end-effectors for your Industrial robot

January 30, 2024
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What are ceramic end-effectors, and why do we use them?

Ceramic end-effectors are specialty grippers used on Industrial robot arms for handling sensitive items like silicon wafers or glass panels during manufacturing. 

They provide a secure, contamination-free grip to move these delicate materials safely and delicately. 

  • Ceramic end-effectors are made of advanced ceramic materials like silicon carbide or alumina. These ceramics are optimized to be ultra-smooth, dimensionally stable, and thermally resistant, which are important properties for semiconductor and electronics production.
  • The ceramic surface resists particle shedding, keeping the gripping surfaces clean. This prevents microscopic debris that could scratch wafers or interfere with other processes.
  • Ceramics have low thermal expansion, so the grippers maintain a consistent size and grip force even when temperatures change. Also, sudden thermal shocks won't cause them to crack or shatter either.
  • They are lightweight yet rigid, maximizing the robot arm's payload capacity. The firm grip provides precise positioning without damaging fragile items.
  • Advanced ceramics like silicon carbide allow for electrostatic gripping too, which lets the gripper secure items with an electrostatic charge – versus mechanical clamping.
  • 100% ceramic end-effectors are also very niche, and you won’t find many of them in regular online shops. 

Some of the ones used for micron-level applications are: 

  • Nanoscale ceramic grippers: Developed by ETH Zurich, these tiny grippers (just 350 micrometers wide) are entirely made of aluminum oxide ceramic and used for manipulating delicate objects in micromanipulation and research.
  • MicroSTORM ceramic grippers: From the Institute for Micro Nanotechnology, these microgrippers feature single-crystal silicon tips for high precision and wear resistance. 

On the other hand, some tailor-made specialty grippers are: 

  • Ceramic gripper inserts: Designed by Blue Photon, these UV-cured adhesives act as grippers by bonding directly to ceramic workpieces. 
  • Customizable ceramic grippers: Companies like CeraTek offer custom-designed ceramic grippers made from materials like zirconia or alumina. 

What to look for in a ceramic end-effector

So, we’ve established that these grippers are not your run-of-the-mill end-effectors. Therefore, you’ll have a few different factors to keep in mind that don’t apply to all grippers.  

  • Mind the grip force! - Make sure the gripper has enough force to securely hold the items you need to manipulate, whether that's using parallel jaw, angular jaw, or vacuum suction cup designs.
  • How much weight can it carry? - Keep in mind both the weight of the parts you need to lift and the gripper itself. Will the combined load exceed your robot arm's rated payload at maximum reach?
  • Temperature resistance - Make the ceramic can withstand high temperatures if you'll be working near heat sources. Alumina, silicon carbide, and zirconia ceramics generally have excellent thermal stability.
  • Dimensional tolerance - Tight tolerances prevent particle shedding and contamination. Tolerances of +/- 0.002" or better are ideal.
  • Customization - Many vendors offer customized ceramic solutions if you have unique requirements. This includes special coatings, configurations, or integrated sensors.
  • Wear resistance - Ceramics are generally known for their wear resistance, but different types of ceramics have varying degrees of durability. It's important to choose a material that can withstand the specific types of wear – such as abrasive, adhesive, etc. 
  • Chemical resistance - If the end-effector is exposed to chemicals, corrosive materials, or harsh cleaning processes, the chemical resistance of the ceramic material becomes a critical factor. Not all ceramics are built equal!Surface finish - Depending on the application, the surface finish of the ceramic gripper can be important.
  • Insulation - Ceramics are excellent electrical and thermal insulators, so if your application involves electrical or thermal processes, you might need a ceramic with specific insulation properties.
  • Tool changers - If using a quick tool changer system, double-check that the gripper is compatible and can auto-align. This enables fast swapping of grippers.

Applications and industries using ceramic end-effectors

While rarer than other grippers, ceramic end-effectors are being used in specialized industries – and more than you think. 

Some of them are: 

  • Ceramic end-effectors are commonly used in the semiconductor industry to handle silicon wafers during manufacturing. Their low thermal expansion and high temperature resistance allow precise positioning of wafers without contamination.
  • They are also popular in flat panel display manufacturing for LCD and OLED screens. The material purity prevents any unwanted particles or chemical reactions with the glass substrates.
  • Many lab automation and testing systems rely on ceramic end-effectors. Their chemical inertness ensures accurate sample handling and testing – without skewing results.
  • Medical and pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities use ceramic end-effectors to move delicate components and hazardous compounds without risk of corrosion or contamination.
  • Some food and beverage applications use ceramic end-effectors for handling hot or corrosive ingredients in processing. They can withstand high washdown temperatures for sanitation.

Ceramic grippers are sometimes used in PCB assembly, though they are less common than plastic or metal options in this industry. Their electrical insulating properties prevent any shorts.

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The top 3 ceramic end-effectors for Industrial robots

Now, we’re talking about semi-commercial grippers with ceramic parts, available online, and not for extremely specialized applications, as we mentioned above. Also, we’ve kept price ranges open because these are customized grippers. 

They are: 

  • Schunk EGL-C ceramic parallel gripper - This 2-finger parallel gripper with ceramic parts provides 130 N of gripping force in a compact, lightweight package. The aluminum body and precision-machined ceramic jaws have excellent rigidity and durability. It's compatible with all major industrial robot brands via ISO flanges and features integrated sensors.

    Expect a price between $4,500-$7,800.
  • Robotiq 2-Finger 85 adaptive robotic gripper - Itself-adjusting fingers automatically adapt to the shape of objects, with up to 30 N of holding force. It's lightweight at just 285g and available with ESD-safe ceramic coating. An optional force torque sensor provides real-time feedback.

    Expect a price between $1,700-$2,800.
  • Festo DYN Grip2 Ceramic Gripper - The DYN Grip2 is a ceramic gripper designed by Festo, featuring flexible fingers for adapting to various object sizes and shapes. It has a payload capacity of 40 kg and is equipped with built-in force sensors for controlled gripping. The gripper's modular design allows for the customization of fingertips.

    Expect a price between: $5,600-$11,300.


Do ceramic end-effectors wear out over time? 

Yes, ceramic end-effectors will gradually wear down with prolonged use, especially under very abrasive conditions. However, ceramics are very hard and durable materials that can last for years with proper maintenance.

What causes ceramic end-effectors to break? 

Thermal shock from rapid temperature changes is the most common cause of breakage, so make sure the material is thermally stable for your process temperatures. Other causes are overloading beyond the rated capacity, impacts from crashes, and machining stresses.

How often should I inspect and service ceramic end-effectors? 

Frequent inspection (daily or weekly) lets you catch issues early, so check for the first signs of wear, cracks, or loose/damaged components. Routinely service per the manufacturer’s recommendations. Also, the proper lubrication of moving parts reduces wear.

Can ceramic end-effectors be used in cleanroom environments? 

Yes! Alumina and zirconia ceramics have excellent chemical resistance and ultra-low particle generation, making them suitable for cleanrooms, and precision machining achieves the surface finishes needed.

What maintenance do ceramic end-effectors require?

Keep all surfaces clean and free of buildup, remember to lubricate moving components. Also, inspect regularly for wear, cracks, or damage. Replace grippers/jaws when worn, and follow manufacturer service guidelines.

Summing up

Commercial ceramic end-effectors are not really dime-a-dozen, but you’ll need them if you work in fields that require niche, extremely specialized applications

And if you need something truly custom, many manufacturers can tweak an existing design or create a new effector tailored to your process.

Next steps

Searching for the perfect combination of a robot arm and ceramic end-effector? RO1 by Standard Bots is tailored for adaptability, seamlessly accommodating a variety of ceramic end-effectors. 

This makes RO1 the go-to, versatile choice for diverse tasks in both large and small machine shops. 

Here’s what sets RO1 apart:

  • Cost-effectiveness: RO1 is an economical solution, offering 50% savings compared to its closest competitors.
  • Advanced vision technology: RO1 comes equipped with state-of-the-art vision systems, simplifying complex tasks with a user-friendly, no-code programming interface. This feature is perfect for detecting the smallest imperfections.
  • Safety and collaboration: RO1 is designed with integrated safety sensors and collision detection, ensuring a secure and cooperative environment on your shop floor.

Take advantage of a free, 30-day onsite trial with RO1. Our expert solutions team is available to provide comprehensive insights and all the necessary guidance for a successful integration of your first robot.

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