Robotic grippers often have difficulty handling wet, soft foods such as fruits, vegetables, and baked goods without damaging them. Soft bags and pouches, as well as clamshell containers, can also give grippers problems. To overcome these issues, engineers at Adept Technology, Pleasanton, Calif., developed SoftPIC grippers for high-speed Adept Quattro and Cobra robots. The one-piece grippers are made of soft silicone approved by the food industry for direct contact with food, whether packaged or unpackaged.

When negative pressure is applied, the grippers can softly grasp and carry nonrigid and irregularly shaped products and packages — both wet and dry. Various grippers are available, and they are easily swapped out to let food-processing lines handle more than one product or package size. For example, specific grippers are designed to hygienically pick and place flat packs, clamshells, and salad trays; other versions handle meat or cheeses. Grippers can safely pick up loads from 0.3 to 12 lb and withstand high and low temperatures.