How Do Pneumatic Grippers Work?

Close up of a robotic arm

A pneumatic device is any tool or system that requires compressed air to operate. Pneumatic grippers rely on pistons and compressed air to offer exceptionally strong lifting and gripping actions for heavy items that cannot be moved by electric grippers. When triggered by the force of compressed air, these grippers grasp, lift, or move the item, and then release the item when the flow of compressed air decreases or stops.

Industries where pneumatic grippers are essential for streamlining operations include but are not limited to the following:

  • Medical Device/Biotech/Pharmaceutical
  • Robotics
  • Plastic Injection & Molding
  • Semiconductor & Bearing Manufacturing
  • Automobile Parts Manufacturing
  • Aerospace

Force Levels of Pneumatic Grippers

The force level of individual pneumatic grippers is calculated according to pounds per square inch of compressed air resistance. Increasing the amount of air pressure injected into them by 30% will increase grip strength by 30%. Despite this, all pneumatic grippers are controlled by a maximum air pressure value that prevents overload.

Overview & Function Of Pneumatic Grippers

Pneumatic grippers are available in a variety of different sizes and grip force capacity. They can be further optimized by placing control switches or proximity sensors alongside a gripper. Sensors not only detect gripper location, but also manage precise locations of gripper “fingers,” such as whether they are open or closed.

Pneumatic grippers are sometimes referred to as a type of pneumatic actuator. Tie-rod cylinders, pneumatic motors, and vacuum generators are also considered pneumatic actuators. They also offer exceptional support for industries operating mostly on automated processes. In addition to improving employee safety by reducing the risk of manually-caused accidents, grippers also increase productivity and substantially reduce downtime by centralizing production systems.

Choosing a Pneumatic Gripper Design

When choosing a pneumatic gripper design, you should rely on the following criteria:

  • Weight of the Items Being Gripped/Gripping Force Capacity
  • Air Friction/Air Pressure
  • Configuration of the Items Intended for Movement
  • Grip Type

When it comes to configuration, the shape of the items determines how many fingers a gripper should have. Three-fingered grippers are needed for oval, cylindrical, or round shapes, while two-fingered grippers work well for all other item shapes.

GripShape is an industry-leader provider of custom gripper designs. If you’re not sure what type of pneumatic gripper design is best for your application, we’re ready to help. Contact us today for more information, or to request a custom quote.

Advantages of Pneumatic Grippers

The majority of medium-to- large manufacturing facilities typically have immediate access to some type of compressed air system. This makes using pneumatic grippers one of the easiest and most cost-effective methods companies can depend on for maneuvering small workpieces to large items. 

Compared to electric grippers, pneumatic models tend to have superior gripping abilities. Facilities with limited space would also benefit significantly from choosing ergonomic pneumatic grippers. Some of the other advantages of pneumatic grippers include:

  • Reduces Overhead Expenses (Labor, Maintenance, & Downtime)
  • Versatile: There are many gripping forces available that can meet the weight and shape needs of most workpieces. Grippers can also be used to transport a wide variety of workpieces throughout any manufacturing or warehousing facility
  • Lightweight: Pneumatic grippers can be easily moved from one location to another
  • Rapid Action: Its speed elevates the processing and movement of workpieces
  • Ability to Operate in Small, Tight Areas

Whether you’re operating in a small space or need to reduce your overall costs, opting for pneumatic grippers may be your best choice. Learn more about the different types of grippers below, or contact us online today to learn more about how GripShape can help you. 

Parallel Versus Angular Pneumatic Grippers

As previously mentioned, there are many types of pneumatic grippers, including angular and parallel. Keep reading to learn more about the differences between these types.

Angular Grippers

Pneumatic angular grippers approach items from pre-determined angles, such as 40-degree angles or 20-degree angles. Angular grippers work for oddly-shaped or larger items that require a specific grip force at different angles. 

In limited spaces, an angular gripper is recommended over a parallel gripper due to the width expansion of its fingers. Because angular grippers utilize a pivot-based, mechanical system, they tend to cost less than parallel grippers too.

Parallel Grippers

Larger and heavier workpieces with parallel sides typically require pneumatic parallel grippers for secure, quick movement. The mechanism behind the actions of a parallel gripper involves a complex, linear motion of the cylinder so that grippers slide to and from the other. Pneumatic parallel grippers are also the first choice of machinists who need to maneuver a small part deep inside machines where fingers just won’t fit.

Although angular grippers are more economical than parallel grippers, the expansive action of angular grippers may not be practical for adequately addressing certain applications.

External Versus Internal Pneumatic Grippers

In addition to parallel and angular grippers, there are two other types of pneumatic grippers: external and internal. Both are designed for specific applications. Keep reading to learn more.

External Grippers

External grippers perform an action as described by their name–they firmly grip workpieces on the item’s external surface. This type of gripper is the most common type of pneumatic gripper used by virtually all industries.

Internal Grippers

Internal pneumatic grippers are capable of holding an item from within its middle core. While external grippers are often found in warehouses and facilities where large items need to be picked up, moved, or transported, internal grippers accommodate smaller items with vulnerable exteriors.

Start Your Custom Pneumatic Gripper Design

Although pneumatic grippers are compact and lightweight, they provide exceptional gripping power due to their ability to convert compressed airflow into a linear force. The specialists at GripShape offer custom pneumatic gripper design solutions, and can help you resolve any issue that may arise during the design process.

Selecting the correct type of pneumatic gripper for streamlining application processes will make all the difference in achieving your productivity goals. Gripper calculations should correlate precisely with the item’s weight, size, and shape. When using grippers for machine applications, these calculations should correlate with things like part acceleration, tooling jaw style, material, and how many grippers will come in contact with the exterior or interior of the part.

Our Custom Design Process

We strive to keep our design process as simple and hassle-free as possible. When you work with us, we follow a three-step pneumatic gripper design process:

  1. You consult with one of our specialists who will take the time to understand your company and the needs of your project.
  2. Our design experts produce a no-obligation 3D model to help you see the final outcome.
  3. You submit any revisions, and we handle the rest! We offer quick turnaround times and can complete any project within days. 

If you’re ready to start your design process, click here to get started with our user-friendly app.

Contact GripShape Today

GripShape has offered custom pneumatic gripper design solutions for over 60 years. We can even customize your gripper from any location using our free design tool. If you have questions about pneumatic grippers or want to start your custom design, contact us online today or call (877) 709-2436. We look forward to working with you!

GripShape's Online Design Tool

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Select your gripper module and let GripShape’s advanced configurator go to work generating the finger geometry for you.


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