Will Soft Robots Influence Manufacturing?

The octopus is an incredible creature – powerful, dexterous, and resilient. Oh, and it’s squishy, too. That’s why the octopus is a source of inspiration for soft robotics.

Soft robotics is bringing all kinds of fascinating new technologies to the world of automation. Everything that we’ve known about robots and machinery is being challenged and manipulated thanks to soft robotics. These soft robots can wiggle, crawl, swim, and squirm. We can squish them, and they bounce back to their original shapes. They’re powered by sunlight, heat, and chemical reactions. Of course, industrial machines are still robots in the traditional sense – still made of cold, hard steel.

Many of these new soft robotics technologies are still experimental, providing proof of concept, or offering a jumping off point for further research. It’s safe to say that soft robots won’t replace industrial machines anytime soon, and probably never will. Motion control depends upon precision and consistency rather than the ability to bend and wiggle. But is it possible that soft robotics could influence manufacturing on some level? Perhaps the cold, gear-filled monoliths of industrial automation could one day benefit from new technologies introduced by soft robots.

Will soft robots influence industrial robots?

Soft robots probably won’t replace industrial robots, but it’s possible that soft robotics could improve industrial robots, or at least give industrial machinery new capabilities. For example, soft robotics could provide a new gripping mechanism that allows industrial robots to grasp delicate items, and items of varying size and shape.

Industrial machinery components could be made of, or coated in, 3D-printed materials that dampen impact and improve resilience to shock.

Chemical reactions could find a place in industrial robotics. Industrial motion control currently relies on the heavy-duty power generated by servo motors. Chemicals reactions, however, provide power without the need for rigid components. It’s possible that this method could one day be useful in industrial automation.

Could soft robots find work in manufacturing?

We’re already seeing collaborative robots find work on factory floors. Several companies have deployed autonomous vehicles in warehouses. We could, perhaps, see soft robots find a place in manufacturing as well. They won’t necessarily do the heavy lifting, but they could perform other tasks to improve the manufacturing process, whether that’s assisting in current tasks, or performing tasks that aren’t currently done. They may provide safer human-robot collaboration, and they could be central to certain components in industrial machinery, offering new possibilities in materials handling.

It could be a long time before we see soft robots in manufacturing. It could be 5 years, 10 years, or even longer. While it’s fun to speculate on if and how robots will influence manufacturing, you have to make sure that your current system is up to snuff. Call us at (479)422-0390 for any Indramat repair needs!