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SCHUNK automated by ctrlX AUTOMATION

Getting a grip on automation: SCHUNK uses ctrlX AUTOMATION to optimize gripping and clamping processes

Clamping and gripping systems play a key role in the flexibility and precision of automated manufacturing processes. Acting as a direct interface to the work piece, they perform central functions in machine loading, among other areas. SCHUNK, the expertise and world-market leader for gripping systems and clamping technology, applies the highest level of precision, flexibility and innovation in its solutions. To help it achieve this goal, the company uses Bosch Rexroth’s ctrlX AUTOMATION. The automation platform makes it possible, among other things, to control complex gripping and clamping processes as well as to test and shape software development.


SCHUNK is a leader in the area of gripping systems and clamping technology as well as a pacesetting technology provider of robots and production machinery. With more than 11,000 standard components, SCHUNK is the world’s largest single-source provider of equipment for gripping systems and clamping technology. The entire gripping-system program comprises more than 4,000 components. The company employs more than 3,500 people in nine plants and 34 country branches. It also has sales partners in more than 50 countries. Its biggest customers are manufacturing companies with assembly, handling and machining processes. These customers include market leaders in the mechanical and plant engineering industry, robotics, automation and assembly as well as nearly all leading automotive brands and their suppliers.

To maintain and expand this strong market position, SCHUNK’s Technology Factory in Lauffen, Germany, continuously develops new products to optimize and add flexibility to gripping processes, among other areas. Dr. Martin May is the Director of the Technology Factory. He says: “We are working on intelligent components in the areas of gripping and clamping systems that are being adapted to meet the current and future needs of users, applications and markets, among other things. Our gripping system solutions set standards in robotics, handling, service robotics and human-robot collaboration.”

SCHUNK relies on an ecosystem for industrial applications

SCHUNK added the Bosch Rexroth solution ctrlX AUTOMATION to support its technology development work. ctrlX AUTOMATION is an open-source automation platform that comprises all necessary software and hardware components for complete system solutions: high-performance control systems, compact drives, safety, I/O modules, HMIs and IPC. The heart of the platform is the ultracompact control platform ctrlX CORE.

To facilitate a particularly high degree of individualization, the solution was developed as an open platform. The result is a new ecosystem for industrial applications. Software developers are now able to develop and offer industrial applications in all popular programming languages – quickly, easily and flexibly.

For SCHUNK, this results in a high degree of flexibility. The solution fulfills a range of usage purposes at the company. Martin May says: “First, we used ctrlX AUTOMATION to develop an application for a flexible gripping process. When we use the word ‘flexible,’ we are not just talking about opening and closing. We are also talking about calculating a space between various gripping mechanisms into which the gripping fingers have to move – things like complex components with different gripping points. The software of ctrlX AUTOMATION enables us to control such complex systems.”

A process that is currently being performed with ctrlX AUTOMATION works this way: The compact control platform ctrlX CORE controls the SCHUNK gripper that is attached to a mobile robot. The gripper’s data are collected in the process and passed onto a cloud platform. The gripper is controlled, visualized and operated with ctrlX CORE. The software component ctrlX PLC enables the gripper to be quickly controlled, and ctrlX IOT provides the necessary connectivity and establishes a fast connection to the cloud system, which is the Bosch Nexeed Industrial Application System in this case. Node-RED is currently serving as a fast visualization tool and can be easily integrated, just like other open-source tools. In the future, the HTML5-based ctrlX HMI software will be used. ROS (open-source robotic software) on the ctrlX CORE will continue to be used as an app for image recognition.

Martin May says: “Grip control was quickly created with the help of ctrlX CORE. The integrated components facilitate rapid gripper control and a smooth connection to the cloud system. We also have easy access to the ctrlX Data Layer that contains all application data. The combination of several functions in one device, including SPS, IoT Gateway and image recognition, is another key benefit. All necessary functionalities have been very practically integrated into apps. System expansions are also easy to add.”

Other applications like the intelligent inclusion of sensors in clamping technology are being planned at the moment.

Proprietary software development supported

ctrlX AUTOMATION also appeals to SCHUNK because proprietary software can be easily added to the scalable, open system. As a result, SCHUNK can also demonstrate its own expertise in software.

Martin May says: “Over the years, we have developed our own software and used a range of programming languages in the process, including C, C++ and Python. We were quickly able to prototypically port the system to ctrlX AUTOMATION and test it there. We can now refine our own software and profit from the benefits of the automation platform in the work we do to ensure system security, run remote updates and offer other IT-related solutions. We can easily integrate ourselves into the Bosch Rexroth IoT world and now have a partner who can market our solutions around the world and scale them accordingly. We can now focus on our core areas of expertise.”

Conclusion and outlook

The future of gripping and clamping systems lies in the software that will control them. ctrlX AUTOMATION enables SCHUNK to quickly implement new gripping concepts and then provide new gripping-planning concepts to its customers. Even complex gripping systems can be easily integrated.

Martin May says: “We think ctrlX AUTOMATION is the ideal platform. It enables us to develop our ideas in such a way that they can be widely used in the market. The system has all of the components necessary for complete automation solutions. It is extremely scalable and meets the requirements of nearly every application. The first stage of our proprietary software is now running on the platform. In the future, we plan to focus even more closely on our customers and develop special applications that we will offer in various app stores and in the ctrlX Store.”


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Portrait view of Dr. Martin May, Director of the Technology Factory

Dr. Martin May

Director of the Technology Factory

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