A Mexican facility owned by multi-sector manufacturer Flex that produces shoes for Nike is about to become one of the firsts in the industry to feature automated processes for soft materials that are hard to handle by robots, using a groundbreaking technique based on static electricity, according to a piece by Bloomberg.

Working with soft materials has remained a challenge for the automation industry, but now a California-based startup called Grabit has developed a electroadhesion technique to grab components made of fabrics and leather.

Grabit uses flat pads of electrodes that, when charged correctly, create an electric field that adheres to nearly any surface. This makes it able to do things robot-hand companies are unlikely ever to conquer, says Greg Miller, Grabit’s chief executive officer.

These robots, which are designed for stacking fabric, can precisely position all the pieces of a sneaker upper in 50 to 75 seconds. A human worker, by contrast, can take well over 10 minutes to do the same job.

“Grabit has begun providing facilities that make Nikes with a handful of upper-assembling machines that can work at 20 times the pace of human workers. By the end of the year, about a dozen of these machines will be operating in China and Mexico,” says the report.

Here's a sample of Grabit's capabilities:

MexicoNow

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