Drives and Controls Magazine
Rexroth wins Hermes award for giving robots a human touch
Published:  17 April, 2023

The winner of this year’s Hermes technology award at the Hannover Messe is Bosch Rexroth for its Smart Flex effector compensation module that gives industrial robots a sense of touch similar to that of the human hand. The 2023 Hermes award for start-ups has gone to a Dutch company, MantiSpectra, for its ChipSense product – a near-infrared sensor-on-a-chip, claimed to be the smallest on the market, which can spot production-line defects as soon as they occur, allowing savings to be made through immediate quality control.

Rexroth’s Smart Flex effector combines a sensor system with kinematics that work independently with six degrees of freedom. It can automate processes that were previously difficult to control or could only be implemented manually. It is claimed to increase the range of applications for industrial robots because it compensates for tolerances in real time. It can be used to automate joining processes, complicated assembly movements or difficult handling tasks. The module can be retrofitted to existing robot applications.

The effector is designed for use on articulated robots or Cartesian linear systems. It senses the exact position of workpieces to be gripped and reports the position in real time to a controller, which adapts the movement of the gripper to the correct position. This allows the effector to compensate automatically for tolerances when removing and positioning, and reduces the programming effort, especially when handling different workpieces. Employees without programming knowledge can teach robots manually by moving the gripper into the correct position by hand.

The compensation module is so sensitive that it can also safely handle workpieces made of fragile material such as glass. Because every movement is recorded and documented, the effector also improves process monitoring and increases quality.

The two other companies shortlisted for this year’s Hermes award were Beckhoff for its Atro (Automation Technology for Robotics) project, and the Dutch company, ACS Climatics, for a multi-user platform for building management.

Explaining why Smart Flex was chosen as the winner, Prof Reimund Neugebauer, chairperson of the Hermes Award jury, said: “Close human-robot interaction occupies a central position in solving pressing economic, societal and demographic challenges – from optimising industrial assembly, to increasing productivity in agriculture, to supporting medical and nursing staff in the form of assistance robots. The Smart Flex effector is driving efficiency and diversity in the uses of robots, creating quantifiable value for industry, the environment and society.”

MantiSpectra has won the 2023 Hermes Startup award, which goes to a company less than five years old, whose technology exhibits a particularly high level of innovation. MantiSpectra’s 1mm2 ChipSense device is an integrated near-infra-red sensor with a multi-pixel array containing 16 detectors with high sensitivity in the 850–1700nm region.

“The small and cost-effective sensor in the near-infrared spectrum is easy to integrate and opens up a whole range of new application perspectives,” said Prof Neugebauer. “For example, in agriculture or food processing.”

MantiSpectra is one of more than 300 start-ups are showing their innovations at the 2023 Hannover Messe.

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MantiSpectra has won the 2023 Hermes start-up award for its ChipSense sensor-on-a-chip