What do robot grippers do? 

October 4, 2023
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What are robot grippers used for? 

Grippers are attached to the end of robot arms and are used to complete physical aspects of tasks. Without a robot gripper in place, your robot arm wouldn't be able to hold and manipulate tools or pick up objects. They're essentially the interface between the robot and the environment that the robot has been put in.

Once programmed to complete a certain task, robot grippers can carry out the action precisely and as often as necessary.

Specifically, grippers can be used to complete the following tasks: 

  • Pick and place: Robot grippers can pick up physical objects in one place and then drop them in another.
  • Packaging: Robot grippers can pick out items based on specific criteria and pack them appropriately.
  • Assembly: A robot gripper can be programmed to take specific parts and put them together to make a whole.
  • Quality inspection: Grippers can pick up and examine objects in order to assure quality. The robot can then report back the findings of the inspection. They can also rotate objects in order to inspect different sides of the product.
  • Safe handling: A robot gripper can safely handle and pack food, medicine, and delicate items.

The main types of grippers available 

There are a range of different grippers available. Specifically, there is a range of ways in which a gripper can be powered.

Each type of gripper is designed to complete specific tasks. You need to choose a gripper based on the task you need the gripper to complete, the objects you require it to hold, and the environment you require it to work in. 

Here’s a rundown of the main types of grippers that are available: 

Pneumatic grippers 

A pneumatic gripper is a type of mechanical end-effector used primarily for quick pick-and-place manufacturing operations. These electromechanical devices can hold, grasp, lift, rotate, and place objects quickly and effectively. 

A pneumatic gripper uses compressed air in order to move its fingers or jaws. Air pressure causes the internal mechanisms of pneumatic grippers to expand, which moves the fingers or jaws in the desired position. When air pressure is released, the gripper will let go or drop the item. 

The pneumatic aspect of these grippers allows them to be fast-acting; they can deliver a heavy grip force within a fraction of a second (they have a fast “closing time”). 

Another benefit of pneumatic grippers is that they don’t require oil or lubrication in order to operate. This makes them an ideal gripper for industries that require machinery that maintains a clean environment. 

Due to the hygienic nature of pneumatic grippers, you often find them used in the following industries: 

  • Pharmaceutical and medicine 
  • Food and beverage
  • Electronics 
  • Cosmetics and personal care 

Electric grippers

Electric grippers are like pneumatic grippers. However, instead of compressed air, they rely on electric motors, servos, and gears to power the gripping. 

Electric grippers can be controlled via the gearbox in order to select a precise speed and torque. This is the main benefit of electric grippers: the high degree of control they provide. 

By far the most precise gripper type, electric grippers can be programmed to deliver both hard and soft grips. Electric grippers particularly excel at providing a soft, controlled grip. 

They’re also one of the most energy-efficient end-effectors, given that they only require energy when in use. 

Electric grippers can be used for material handling, gentle pick and place operations, grasping and holding, and testing and inspection.

You’ll often find electric grippers used in the following industries: 

  • Research and laboratories - for handling samples and equipment 
  • Textile and garments - for handling delicate fabrics, and sewing and cutting
  • Consumer goods and appliances - used during the quality control process, in addition to assembly and packaging
  • Entertainment - electric grippers are often used for specific effects, particularly animatronics to create precise, controlled movements

Hydraulic grippers 

Hydraulic grippers deliver a high grip force, making them ideal for heavy-duty operations. Hydraulic fluid is used to power the gripper, which is capable of producing a robust gripping force. 

In order to match this high grip force, hydraulic grippers are made using heavy-duty materials, such as steel and aluminum. This creates a robust design, allowing the tool to withstand heavy loads. 

Hydraulic grippers are mainly used for lifting, loading, unloading, positioning, aligning, and assembling materials.

The heavy-duty nature of hydraulic grippers sees them used frequently in the following industries

  • Manufacturing and heavy industry: Specifically metalwork, aerospace, and automotive. 
  • Construction and infrastructure: They can be used to grip steel beams and concrete blocks on construction sites. 
  • Material handling and logistics: You’ll often see hydraulic grippers used in warehouse management and shipping. 
  • Mining and quarrying: Hydraulic grippers are used to move large rocks and heavy materials. 
  • Marine and offshore: Used to move equipment on ships, heavy objects from offshore platforms, etc. 

Despite the high force these grippers are capable of, they can't move as fast as the likes of pneumatic grippers. Hydraulic fluid moves slower than air, making it slower at gripping items. Hydraulic grippers also don’t have as gentle a grip as the likes of electric or servo-driven grippers. 

Vacuum grippers

Vacuum grippers feature suction cups that use negative pressure in order to pick up and move items. This negative pressure is created using an internal vacuum pump, which creates a suction that can hold onto items. Vacuum pumps with high flow rates have higher load capacities. The suction cups can also be altered to hold different items and different-sized loads.

The in-built vacuum that comes with vacuum grippers tends to use the same electrical supply as the robot, meaning you don't require an external air supply.

Vacuum grippers are often used for picking and placing, palletizing and depalletizing, and loading and unloading.

Specifically, vacuum grippers are used in such industries as:

  • Warehousing
  • Furniture and woodwork
  • Manufacturing

Magnetic grippers

Magnetic grippers are unusual in that they don't come with fingers or claws. Instead, they come with two magnetic surfaces that can attract and pick up ferromagnetic objects.

Magnetic grippers are normally used to grip, hold, and move the likes of iron and steel. You'll most commonly find magnetic grippers being used to move heavy sheets of metal to different stages of a production line.

Specific industries that use this gripper type include:

  • Manufacturing and assembly
  • Automotive
  • Metalwork and matching
  • Construction and infrastructure

The different types of gripper jaws

Not only are grippers powered differently, but the jaws - or "fingers" - also come in different layouts.

The three main jaw layouts you need to be aware of are:

Angular grippers

Angular grippers are also known as angular jaw grippers or two-jaw angular grippers. The jaws on angular grippers are orientated towards each other at an angle. This angular aspect makes these grippers better at picking up and holding irregular shapes - in other words, objects that lack parallel angles. You can compare angular grippers to alligator clips or pliers.

Concentric grippers

You may see concentric grippers referred to as two-finger concentric fingers. These gripper types are similar to the human hand and form an arc with a central space in the middle. The jaws move toward a central axis, which creates a balanced and even grip on an object. These grippers are useful when you need a central grip, as they're good at holding cylindrical objects.

Parallel grippers

Parallel grippers are like a wrench and feature two jaws that are in line with each other. These two jaws move closer to each other in order to grip onto something. This linear grip makes parallel grippers suitable for holding most objects, which is why they're the most widely used gripper type.

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Key considerations when buying a gripper 

When buying a gripper, you need to consider the type of work you require the gripper to perform. You also need to consider the defining characteristics of each gripper. Consider the following:

Gripping techniques 

You need to buy a robot gripper that can perform the routine actions that you need it to. For maximum versatility, you need adaptive gripping. Adaptive grippers are capable of adapting to the shape being grasped in order to provide maximum grip.

Three-point gripping is a technique that ensures maximum stability, without the risk of the item slipping or rotating. Clamping is a gripping technique that is required for larger items, as it provides a huge amount of force in order to hold heavy-duty items in place.

Object interaction

Grippers can also be classified in terms of the way in which they actually grip onto an item. The main gripping techniques are as follows:

Impactive grippers

This is the most common type in regard to gripping techniques. They hold objects through physical impact or force. This gripper type can be used for a range of tasks, particularly ones that need a strong, secure grip.

Ingressive grippers

These grippers pierce and enter the object in order to hold it. Ingressive grippers are particularly good for tasks involving textiles and garments.

Astrictive grippers

This gripper type uses suction or magnetic force to handle objects. These are good for handling materials that may be damaged through impactive or ingressive gripping. For example, attractive grippers are good for handling delicate electronic components.

Contigutive grippers

Lastly, contigutive grippers use adhesion or cohesion to hold an object in place. This gripper type is normally used on objects that can adhere to the grippers through methods such as freezing or gluing. If you can't use any other gripper type on an object, contigutive grippers would be your best bet.

Gripper integration with robotic systems 

Obviously, you need to make sure your gripper can seamlessly integrate with the robotic system you have employed for your robotic arms and other components. Synchronization is critical in ensuring gripper coordination.


Quality grippers are made from materials that are durable and reflect the tasks they're designed for. For example, heavy-duty grippers are made from steel or aluminum to withstand heavy loads. On the other hand, a flexible, soft gripper will need to be made from the likes of silicone.

The tips of the gripper jaws need to also be made using a task-appropriate material. For example, if your gripper is handling delicate electronic components, it requires soft rubber tips to avoid creating scratches. Tougher tips would be fine if you need a gripper to handle wood, metal, or other rugged materials.


Payload refers to the amount of weight that the robot arm and gripper can hold. If you were to force your gripper to lift a weight that exceeds the payload threshold, your robot would likely break. Payloads range from 1.1 lbs (0.5 kg) to upwards of 2,204 lbs (1,000 kg).

So, before buying a robot arm or gripper, make sure the components have the correct payload capacity for the type of work you'll be using them for.

Grip force

Like payload, you need to ensure the grip force reflects the type of materials you'll be programming the gripper to pick up. For example, you don't require the same grip force to pick up a tomato as you do a steel beam.

Safety features

Ideally, your robot gripper should come with a range of safety features to maintain a safe working environment. Specifically, it should have collision sensors to stop it from operating in the event of a potential collision with humans or other equipment parts.

If these sensors don't work, or you need to stop the gripper for another reason, there should also be an emergency stop button on the gripper. This will stop the gripper from causing damage to stock, other equipment, or members of staff.

A weight sensor would also be useful to prevent unnecessary damage to the machinery.

Next steps

RO1 by Standard Bots provides you with a range of grippers right out of the box, allowing you to experiment with a range of different gripper and arm combinations to find what works best for you. It also comes with integration with OnRobot end-effectors and M8 connectors.

Besides this, the RO1 by Standard Bots is also a top choice for the following reasons:

  • On-site installation: We can come out to analyze your environment to determine the robot and gripper that would work best.
  • Regular updates: We're constantly working to improve the RO1 software, reflected in our continuous updates of the product.
  • Remote access diagnostics: If you're having problems with the product, we can troubleshoot it remotely to identify issues.
  • Hardware replacement: If your hardware joints are wearing down, we'll replace them at no additional cost.
  • Affordable: RO1 by Standard Bots is sold at a significantly lower price than its competitors.
  • All-Seeing: RO1 comes with easy no-code programming, which makes it easy to identify defects and imperfections.
  • Safe: RO1 by Standard Bots comes with collision detection sensors, ensuring that safety is maintained.

To arrange a 30-day onsite trial of RO1 by Standard Bots, talk to our solutions team today.


What is the difference between a robot arm and a gripper?

Robot arms move the gripper toward an object, while the gripper actually touches and holds the object. The difference between a robot arm and a gripper is the exact same as the difference between a human arm and hand. Robot arms have elbows and wrists and deal primarily with movement and angling. Grippers are primarily concerned with gripping and holding.

What are the disadvantages of robot grippers?

There are a couple of disadvantages of robot grippers: vacuum grippers are prone to pulling in dust; debris can stick to magnetic grippers.

Final thoughts 

Grippers are arguably the most important component of Industrial robots. They complete the physical part of the task, such as lifting, moving, or manipulating the physical item. When buying a gripper, you need to make sure the gripper you choose is suitable for the task you need it for.

For example, a hydraulic gripper works best for heavy-duty lifting, while an electric gripper is better for completing more delicate tasks. RO1 by Standard Bots comes with a range of gripper types, which makes the task of choosing an appropriate gripper easier.

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