Sensors and Actuators A 126 (2006) 375–381

Development of a gripper using SMA wire
Z.W. Zhong ∗ , C.K. Yeong
School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, 50 Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798, Republic of Singapore Received 22 April 2005; received in revised form 4 October 2005; accepted 19 October 2005 Available online 18 November 2005

Abstract A gripper actuated by shape-memory-alloy (SMA) wire was designed and fabricated. The design took the advantage of the small linear displacement of the SMA wire to convert it into angular movement of the gripping jaws. The SMA actuation is provided by pulsing electric current from a driving circuit. With this method, the risk of the SMA being overheated can be reduced, yet providing sufficient power for the useful gripping task. This ensures that the gripper has long and lasting actuation. Testing experiments were conducted using the prototype to evaluate its working responses and reliability, including the generated force, level of excitation, reaction time, its characterization and cyclic performance. The gripping force achieved was in the range of 70–500 mN, ideal for micro-applications. This force can be varied by changing the driving current through a variable resistor. In terms of reliability, millions of gripping cycles were accomplished without any deterioration in performance. This proves that the concept of the design is feasible and the gripper is able to support a continuously long operation before any replacement of parts is required. The actuator (SMA wire) costs only US$ 0.7, much less-expensive than other actuators such as piezoelectric actuators. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Gripper; Shape memory alloy; Actuator; Force sensor; Reliability

1. Introduction Technologies in the micro-scale have been developed over the years for consumer products and specialized applications in the fields of electronics, information technology, optics, medicine and biology covering areas such as diagnostics, drug delivery, tissue engineering and minimally invasive surgery [1–4]. Although considerable developments have been made in fabrication of micro-parts, unfortunately, the assembly of these micro-systems still accounts for a substantial portion of the final cost. Micro-assemblies refer to assemblies of components in the micro-scale including handling of components in micro ranges. One basic challenge in precision micro-assemblies is the need for very high accuracy (often in the sub-micron range) over a large range of motion [5]. It shares many common aspects with traditional robotic assemblies such as positioning of manipulators, velocity, jerk and force control, tactile feedback, task planning, collision avoidance, grasping, part orientation, etc.

Corresponding author. Tel.: +65 6790 5588; fax: +65 6791 1859. E-mail address: (Z.W. Zhong).

A typical micro-manipulation workstation consists of several interchangeable and application-dedicated micro-grippers. It has a visual subsystem, a micro-positioning subsystem with micro-actuators and micro-sensors for accurate positioning of micro-grippers, a control unit and a human-to-machine interface consisting of software simulation tools to aid micro-assembly processes [6]. The micro-gripper is an important component of the system to manipulate biological objects or mechanical micro-components. A typical micro-gripper is made of thin-plate silicon or stainless steel, designed as a compliant mechanism such that conventional bearings are replaced by flexure hinges, which are regions with decreased stiffness [7]. Actuation is typically provided using a piezoelectric actuator [8,9] or shapememory-alloy (SMA) foil (laser-cut and mounted on the gripper [7,10] or surface-deposited [11]). The gripper is generally fabricated using a lithography-based, precision micro machining, electrical-discharge machining or laser cutting method. For higher-end-scale components (0.5–1 mm), a forceps-type design is typically adopted, and actuation can be achieved using electrical motors, pistons, miniature solenoids or SMAs in various forms (bar, spring, wire) [12–14]. In a typical gripper design using motorized actuators, a complete gearing system is a must. Two miniature motors are used

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the temperature range for the martensite-to-austenite transformation at heating is higher than that for the reverse transformation at cooling. large generated force.W. switches. The objectives of this study are to investigate the use of SMA wire as an actuator. the Ni–Ti alloy received much attention due to its high compatibility with living tissue and low risk of rejec- tion when implanted. SMAs can also be found in consumer products such as spectacle frames. Micro-valves in micro-fluidics [20]. etc. Piezoelectric actuators are widely used in various applications [21–31] as well as in micro grippers. copper–tin. which was non-toxic. restoring its original shape. electrical connectors. Another form of SMA that can be used in a gripper is SMA wire. However. The cooling time is required to deactivate the Ni–Ti spring to close the gripper [12]. thermostats. golf clubs. Therefore. heat engines. SMAs have been used in micro-electro-mechanical systems. low costs and large changing capabilities [18]. The complexity in SMA models present difficulties to mathematical design of controllers for SMA actuators [19]. because of their advantages [32]: high energy-conversion efficiency. The first SMA was discovered in 1932 when the shape recovery ability of a gold–cadmium alloy was noted for its potential in creating motion. This design requires a fluid feeding system. stable displacement.376 Z. A spring would have to be put in the jaw to enable it to close when the SMA wire is deactivated [12. micro-positioners.35]. The SME in an SMA is caused by a solid state phase transformation. In a gripper with hydraulic piston actuation. there are few micro-grippers in the market that use SMAs in particular SMA wire as a means of actuation. minimum rise time of a piezoelectric actuator requires a power amplifier with sufficient output current [33]. The disadvantages are low energy efficiency. 2. The power amplifiers and piezoelectric actuators providing large displacements are expensive. Zhong. the costly gold and indium and the toxic nature of cadmium hindered further research efforts. 1. Due to the short contraction length of about 3–5%. it is used in aerospace. The new shape remains as long as the temperature is constant. In the martensitic phase.K. mirrors. Currently. The prototype gripper designed and fabricated. C. Design of the gripper Fig. and small strains [34. valves and robotics [18]. More recently. The Ni–Ti spring acts against a counter-force steel-spring separated by a disk connected to a shaft. Ni–Ti and Cu–Zn–Al turned out to be the best due to their strengths. Heating above the transition temperature would cause the alloy to transform back to the austenite phase. less expensive and had a better deformationto-recovery ratio. The difference between the transition temperatures at heating and cooling is called hysteresis. nickel–aluminum and manganese–copper. limited bandwidth due to heating and cooling restrictions. copper–zinc. copper–gold–zinc. the design would have to incorporate special mechanisms such as pulleys to amplify the motion. . Successful applications can be found in surgical tools and in dentistry where it is used to develop braces and tooth alignment structures. generating great research interest leading to the discovery of an indium–titanium alloy with similar shape recovery capabilities. which complicates the arm architecture [12]. the SME in a nickel–titanium (Ni–Ti) alloy. In medical fields. Using a shape memory spring or Ni–Ti spring is a popular method for linear actuation. toys. the alloy can be easily deformed to a new shape and the crystalline microstructure de-twins as grains reorientate. The gearing systems normally include a set of planetary gears coupled to a set of bevel gears to transmit the angular motion to the jaw [15]. respectively. acting against a counter force spring to open the gripper. Additional advantages of Ni–Ti SMAs are the excellent corrosion resistance and biocompatibility. it was found that the shape memory effect (SME) could be used to perform physical work. high response speed and ease of use. Actuation is provided by a short piece Fig. However. Above and below a certain transition temperature. This finding sparked a new wave of research. Among them. It has an acrylic-based body and aluminum jaws pivoted to allow an opening of 1 mm. copper–zinc–aluminum (Cu–Zn–Al). In 1950. iron–platinum. The change within the crystalline structure is a thermodynamically irreversible process due to internal friction and structural defects. design and fabricate an SMA-wire-actuated prototype gripper that has the ability to handle devices in the range of 100–500 m. which is linked to the jaws enabling the gripper to open when the Ni–Ti spring is activated. Yeong / Sensors and Actuators A 126 (2006) 375–381 if independent jaw control is desired. military and automotive industries. leading to discoveries of other SMAs such as copper–aluminium–nickel. Advantages in SMA actuation are simplicity. In engineering fields. the piston drives a shaft that is linked to jaws. degradation. The material grains form a twinned structure. Applications include pipe couplings. This can be overcome using an SMA-type piston [16]. 1 shows the prototype gripper designed and fabricated. sensors. antennas. safety. micro-robotic systems are made using SMAs for various industrial applications. an SMA is austenitic (hard) and martensitic (relatively soft).17]. Researchers have been toying around with ideas of using Ni–Ti alloy to activate artificial organs. was discovered. and high power-to-weight ratio. fatigue. In 1963.

flexible printed circuit that senses contact force [36]. The driving circuit was modified with the addition of a variable resistor (trimmer) connected between the 555 timer IC and the SMA wire. the gripping force of the prototype gripper was measured as shown in Fig. the circuit provides an output voltage oscillating between 0 and 3 V as shown in Fig. As conductance in Siemens (S) is the reciprocal of resistance in Ohms ( ). Gripping force test A gripping force test was carried out to determine the relationship of the gripping force of the prototype gripper and the excitation current of the SMA wire. 150 and 250 m).W. Force sensor calibration chart of mass vs. and the linear chart of force versus conductance is shown in Fig. The SMA wire forms a loop around a protruding feature attached to a sliding unit. The correlation coefficients (R-values) obtained from Figs. and it has a linear relationship between its conductance and the force applied.3 Hz.99574. 7.K. oscillation (0. The duty cycle of 71% coupled with the short cycle time of Fig. Oscillating output voltage from the driving circuit. The base of the gripper has grooves and steps to accommodate the placement of the springs and the stopping block. When it is activated. In this way. Fig. The SMA wire used and investigated is the Muscle Wire (Flexinol 037–250) from MONDO·TRONICS. Fig.99539 and 0. Testing experiments Fig.1. 4. 0. the gripping force was measured by probing the resistance (33 mm long) of SMA wire with both ends connected to a perf board by a pair of bolts and nuts.44 s) provides the gripper with a steady grip without any jerking effect. 5. resistance. Using the calibrated force sensor. 3. A third spring is added at the back of the sliding unit (as shown in Fig. the respective desired excitation current was adjusted by tuning the variable resistor (trimmer). followed by 0. 50. . with a duty cycle of 71% at a frequency of 2. A pair of bias springs is mounted at the back of the jaws to open the gripper when the SMA wire is deactivated. Yeong / Sensors and Actuators A 126 (2006) 375–381 377 Fig.31 s is utilized to generate heat in the SMA wire. In the driving circuit used. 5 shows the relationship between the mass and the resistance of the force sensor. 2. 3. 3. Set-up for force sensor calibration. This is achieved without using a current limiting resistor as the 555 IC has a maximum output current of about 300 mA.Z. thus prolonging its useful lifetime. and the corresponding resistance values were taken using an ohm meter (Digital Multi-meter Model 19 from Fluke).13 s of relaxation before the cycle is repeated. The sliding unit is properly guided along its path to slide through the C-slots integrated in the stopping block. This prevents it from overheating. 2) to ease its recovery motion and effectively prevent it from getting jammed in the C-slots. For all available sizes of the SMA wires ( 37. The mass weight was carefully placed on the center of the sensor pad and the average reading from the ohm meter was taken to reduce uncertain errors. the output of a 555 IC (timer) is used to source the SMA wire directly. For every tested current level. A third spring behind the slider. ample time is given to allow the SMA wire to cool down a little before being heated up again.2 mm). Zhong. 4. The force measurement was conducted using a special force sensor (Flexi-force model A201 from Tekscan). The force sensor was calibrated using known masses of 3–130 g as shown in Fig. 100. 3. the resistance of the force sensor was taken for the measurement. which is within the recommended range of excitation current given by the manufacturer of the SMA wire used. With this circuit. which has an opening slot at one end providing a linkage to both jaws so that it pulls the jaws to close simultaneously when the SMA wire is activated. C. This means that for every cycle of the oscillation. This sensor is an ultra-thin (0. indicating the errors were small. a resistance-force relationship was established. 6. respectively. 5 and 6 were 0.

Zhong.2345 and 0. 0. The idea was to make the gripper open and close for two million cycles and record the number of successful cycles before permanent failure of the SMA wire would occur. 3. For the 100. With three of the five available sizes of SMA wires out of the picture. When the test was stopped for inspection. From the data collected and presented in Fig. Force sensor calibration chart of force vs. indicating the errors were small.1687.m SMA wire is about 400 mA.99328. Similarly.0748 N from three readings. they were also very difficult to handle.m SMA wire basically shared similar behavior with the 100. Apart from being extremely prone to breaking.378 Z. 8 for the 100 and 150 m SMA wires were 0. The image captured was transferred to a personal computer. the average output current (SMA excitation current) was also measured. beyond the capability of the driving circuit used. Driving-circuit power measurement The aim of this test was to determine the efficiency of the driving circuit by probing the input of the circuit with a multimeter. The minimum current required for the of the force sensor while allowing the gripper’s jaws to grip the center of the force sensor pad.m wire.K.2. and subsequently the efficiency of the driving circuit was determined. With the period of a cycle known.3270 N. conductance. Results and discussion 4. Cyclic performance test This test was designed to examine the cyclic life of the SMA wire used in the prototype gripper. The correlation coefficients (R-values) obtained from the two curves in Fig. Average gripping force vs.99780 and 0.4. 8.3. 8. resulting in the requirement of higher power for activation. 4. With an incremental step of 25 mA for each level. excitation current.1.m SMA wire. measuring the input current and voltage. It was found to be too thick. For each tested current level. The number of testing cycles could then be computed. The forces recorded at this current level averaged to 0. and the gripping force was then computed based on the relationship obtained during calibration. the opening of the jaws was captured using a high-resolution digital camera. C. 6. the average gripping force increased steadily to 0. respectively. the focus of the test was shifted to the sizes of 100 and 150 m. the input power and the output power of the driving circuit were then calculated. Set-up for measuring the gripping force of the gripper. at the output of the circuit. Gripping-force test result Initial results of the gripping-force test indicated that the SMA wires of 37 and 50 m were too thin and fragile to act as the actuator of the gripper. An addition non-stable oscillation circuit was used to trigger the driving circuit.W. Yeong / Sensors and Actuators A 126 (2006) 375–381 3. Fig. Fig. Fig. it was clear that the gripping force increased with the excitation current. According to the manufacturer’s data. which is in the range of 200–300 mA. at least 200-mA excitation current was required for the gripper to close its jaws completely. resulting in installation difficulties. The test result for the SMA wire of 250 m was opposite. the corresponding end date and time were also registered. 7. The start date and time were recorded each time a continuous test was conducted. . The tip-displacement per jaw was then determined by converting the number of digital pixels in the image into real geometry. Tip displacement measurement The aim of this test was to determine the displacement of the gripper jaws with respect to the SMA excitation current from the driving circuit. 3. With the resistance of the load (SMA wire) known. respectively. the number of testing cycles could be obtained by recording the total test time before failure. The resistors and capacitors were chosen carefully so that the gripper would close for 1 s and open for another 1 s. The 150. The test was conducted using another modified version of the driving circuit. the recommended excitation current for the 250.

10.K. As shown in Fig. It can be concluded that the reliability achieved using the SMA wire in this gripper design was creditable.84 300 250 4. The outcome of the cyclic performancetests of the prototype gripper was satisfactory. This study aimed at developing a simple and inexpensive gripper and thus force control and displacement control were not considered. high-precision force and displacement sensors can be used. This was because the smaller the cross-sectional area. Driving-circuit power The results obtained from the driving-circuit power test are summarized in Table 2. this may increase the complexity and the cost of the gripper and its control system. giving an average gripping force of 0.98301. η = 0. With a current level of 75 mA and above. . With these values available.2. RW ( ) 4. 10. The driving circuit was able to draw up to the maximum of 300 mA. Only a short period of break was given when inspection of the gripper condition was performed. the time required to perform a closeopen motion using the 100.3063 Pout = 0. with an average of 0.1 million cycles.3063 W Efficiency.m SMA wire was shorter than that using the 150. closed completely.8 1 NA Time-off (s) NA NA 1 2. and the result was favorable. Shortly after this exhaustive test ended. providing a gripping force of 0.84 V × 300 × 10−3 A = 1.5883 N.m SMA wire.9 Fig.W. Table 2 Results obtained from the driving-circuit power test Input voltage. 8 and 10 were relatively small. the correlation coefficient (R-value) obtained was 0. test number of the cyclic performance-test. Pout = Iout × RW = (250 × 10−3 ) A × 4. Without any feedback control. For more accurate results. 9.Z. However. the faster the SMA wire absorbs heat. 10. Vin (V) Input current.1% = Pin 1. The prototype gripper opened and closed consistently for more than two million cycles. excitation current. 6.5 NA Remarks Too thin Too thin 379 Insufficient current gripper to close its jaws completely increased to 250 mA. the errors shown in Figs. no significant displacement was observed at a current level 50 mA and below. indicating the errors were small but there was room for improvement to reduce the measurement errors.4.1632 N. no “burn-up” resistor was used to protect the SMA wire from overheating. Cyclic performance-test result Fig. the gripping force test on the gripper was performed again to gauge its gripping performance. the SMA excitation current was varied in steps of 25 mA starting from 0 mA to the current level where the gripper Fig.3. 4. C. and thus the shorter time for activation required. Tip displacement of one jaw vs. The result was consistent with the result from the gripping force test discussed earlier. 4. Yeong / Sensors and Actuators A 126 (2006) 375–381 Table 1 Reaction time recorded when various sizes of SMA wire were used SMA size ( m) 37 50 100 150 250 Time-on (s) NA NA 0. Subsequently. As shown in Table 1. Pin = Vin × Iin = 4. Input power.452 W 2 Output power. As shown in Fig.9Ω 2 = 0. Iin (mA) Output current. Tip displacement In this test. 4. With the current from the 555 timer IC sufficient to activate the SMA wire. the gripper displacementcurrent characteristic can be modeled as a linear function. the input power and output power of the driving circuit can be computed as follows. and force and displacement feedback control may be performed. Iout (mA) Load (SMA wire) resistance. The final test (Test 14) was the longest non-stop test of more than 1. The tests were conducted virtually without stopping throughout the testing period. This single test alone took almost a month to be conducted. the efficiency of the driving circuit can be determined. 9 shows the open-close cycles versus test number of the cyclic performance-tests.452 The efficiency achieved in this driving circuit was expected due to nature of the circuit design.211 = 21. 5.3 N for a full powered SMA excitation. Cycles vs. Zhong.

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W. Biographies Dr. Currently. Singapore. C. His research and development areas are electronics packaging. Mr. Sin- . mechatronics and design. Zhong. Japan after he received his Doctor of Engineering in Precision Engineering in 1989. FlexiForce. html. Yeong / Sensors and Actuators A 126 (2006) 375–381 [36] Tekscan Inc. Zhong worked at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research.tekscan. he works as a design engineer involved in the designing of machines for the automation industry. His research interest is in the development of innovative and creative engineering devices for automation. http://www.K. 381 gapore.Z. and is currently at the Nanyang Technological University. precision engineering. Yeong graduated from Nanyang Technological University of Singapore with a Degree in Mechanical and Production Engineering (Honour). He has also worked at the Gintic Institute of Manufacturing