A Glove from the 3D Printer

A startup named Formhand has developed a robot gripper expected to revolutionize automation technology – with an elastic gripper made of silicone and manufactured using ACEO® 3D technology.

The silence at WACKER’s ACEO® campus in Burghausen is almost total – the only sound is a buzz coming from a box the size of a photocopier. The buzzing box is the first industrial 3D printer for silicones, which was developed by WACKER engineers. Since its inception, it has been turning clever ideas into tangible objects – like the silicone cap designed by Holger Kunz, which had only existed on a USB drive until now.

“A lot of designers still think in terms of outdated paradigms. If you couldn’t make it with traditional tools or if it took a lot of time and investment, you just didn’t design it.”

Dr. Vera Seitz Mechanical engineer

The Idea Came while Having a Beer

This unremarkable-looking part is designed to be about the size of a thumb and shaped like a cylindrical pocket: closed at the top, open at the bottom and hollow inside. Yet as unspectacular as it may appear, it is the result of years of fine-tuning, hard work and no small amount of courage. That’s because the mechanical engineer and his team founded Formhand, a startup built around their idea.

“It all started seven years ago – the traditional way over a beer,” Kunz recalls. “That evening, I was telling my startup partner Christian Löchte about this problem that hadn’t been solved at the time: how to develop a robot gripper that can pick up really thin materials. At first, we were just joking around, but then we came up with the idea of Formhand.”

It was an idea as simple as it was brilliant. “Any child understands the principle from home: if you suck up a ball with a vacuum cleaner, you can move the ball from point A to point B. The main idea behind Formhand is to add a granulate-filled pad in front of the ‘vacuum cleaner’: the vacuum changes the shape of the pad, molding it to any geometry you like,” Kunz explains.