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Producing a robotic arm that is 30% lighter and cheaper

Space Applications Services came to Sirris with a brief of developing a more lightweight robotic arm at lower production costs, while maintaining the same level of performance. As a result, Sirris successfully optimised two components of the arm exoskeleton.

The challenge | A cheaper and lighter arm exoskeleton

Space Applications Services develops cutting-edge solutions and systems for the aerospace market. The company, which is based in Zaventem (Belgium), assists with the preparations for space missions and the training of astronauts. Its portfolio includes sophisticated human-machine interaction systems, such as an amazing robotised arm. Along with Sirris, Space Applications Services investigated how it could make such a robotic arm (or articulated arm exoskeleton) lighter, while not reducing performance and at the same time cutting manufacturing costs.

The solution | Evaluating mechanisms and materials

After a detailed breakdown of the system, two components were completely redesigned. One of them was an elbow element, which makes rotational movements of the arm possible. Space Applications Services mapped the stress and forces that could be exerted on this, and then Sirris applied so-called finite element simulations of the maximum forces. Various materials were assessed to ensure the best possible balance between rigidity, performance and weight.

A second component Sirris worked on was the sliding mechanism that operators can use to adjust the robotic system on their arm. To optimise the dimensions and assembly of the elements, maximum stresses and deformations were examined, and new materials were sought out.

The result | Advanced manufacturing

The best solution for the elbow element of the robotic arm turned out to be a sandwich of crimped sheet aluminium with a 3D core made of sintered polyamide, obtained using advanced manufacturing techniques. The relatively complex sliding mechanism was also optimised, using more conventional methods. The two innovations allowed both the weight and the cost of the components to be reduced by 30%.