Unchained Robotics company logo
Unchained Robotics company logo
January 26, 2023
Royal Montgomery
Beginning with Bots
Automated Food Handling - A Super Short Introduction to Gripping Softly
Automation is playing an increasingly important role in the food industry as a way to improve efficiency, reduce waste and decrease the need for manual labor. One key aspect of automation in the food industry is the use of robotic arms equipped with grippers to handle and manipulate foodstuffs.

In this article, we will focus on the different types of grippers that can be used for this purpose, specifically pneumatic soft grippers and vacuum grippers. We will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each type of gripper, as well as how they are used in the food industry.

Additionally, we will explore other ways in which automation is being used in the food industry, such as in packaging and quality inspection. By understanding the different technologies and techniques being used in the food industry, we can gain a better understanding of the potential and limitations of automation in this sector.

The problem with automating food handling

One of the main issues with gripping food using automation is the delicate nature of many food items, especially fruits and vegetables. These items are often easily bruised or damaged when handled with a gripping mechanism that is too rough or forceful (which rules out most standard automated gripping solutions).

The human hand is extremely well-suited to handling delicate items because it has a high degree of tactile sensitivity, allowing us to adjust our grip according to the shape and texture of the object being held. Traditional gripping solutions, such as mechanical finger grippers, rarely have build in sensors and would very likely damage delicate food items... completely eliminating any benefit of automation!

Making Automation for food handling

To address this issue, newer gripping solutions have been developed that are more gentle and sensitive when handling food items. Pneumatic soft grippers, for example, use air pressure to conform to the shape of the object being held, allowing for a more secure and gentle grip. Vacuum grippers, on the other hand, use suction to hold onto the object, allowing them to pick up items as gently as possible.

These two gripping solutions are more suitable for handling delicate food items without causing damage. Let's check them out and see which ones make sense when.

Soft Grippers Large and Small

Soft grippers, also known as pneumatic soft grippers, are a unique type of gripping mechanism used in automation to handle and manipulate fragile objects. They are typically made of very flexible materials, such as silicone or rubber, and use air pressure to conform to the shape of the object being held. This allows them to grip a wide range of shapes and sizes, including irregular or uneven objects that may be difficult to handle with traditional mechanical grippers.

Soft grippers are generally used in applications where a very gentle grip is required, such as in the handling of glass or, more pertinently, food items. They are also well-suited to handling objects with irregular shapes, as they can conform to the contours of the object being held.

One company that specializes in the production of soft grippers is the aptly named Soft Gripping. Their soft grippers are made of a soft, elastic material that is able to adapt to the shape of the object being held, allowing for a secure and gentle grip. They are suitable for handling a wide range of objects, including small parts, irregular shapes, and delicate items.

Soft Gripping is a specialist in soft grippers and soft gripping solutions based in Germany.

Pneumatic solutions

Vacuum grippers offer another solution for the manipulation of foodstuffs. Some food stuffs, especially those which are slippery, oily, or of widely varying shapes, may not be a good candidate for soft grippers but could be gripped with vacuum grippers.

Modern food-safe vacuum grippers are designed in such a way that they are both easy to clean and easy on the food. Gripping meats and oily foods is often best achieved with vacuum grippers and, with certain designs, excess oil or juice that is captured by the vacuum can be easily “exhaled” out of the gripper without gunking up the vacuum itself.


In conclusion, pneumatic soft grippers and vacuum grippers are two effective options for gripping and handling foodstuffs with robotics. Both types of grippers have their own advantages and disadvantages, and the best option will depend on the specific requirements of the application.

Pneumatic soft grippers offer a gentle and adaptable grip, making them suitable for handling delicate and irregularly shaped objects. Vacuum grippers, on the other hand, use suction to hold onto the object, allowing them to pick up even slippery and oily products.

When selecting a gripper for use in the food industry, it is important to consider the ease of cleaning and the certification for use with food. Not all soft grippers and vacuum grippers are suitable for handling food, and it is essential to ensure that the gripper meets the necessary requirements for use in a food handling environment.

Finding a foodsafe gripper for the handling of delicate, slippery, or oddly shaped foodstuffs used to be a very difficult task. Thankfully, with the continuing advancements in the world of gripping technology, it is getting easier and easier to find a fitting solution.
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