Engineers collaborate to create electroadhesive grippers

As smartphones and laptops get smaller and sleeker in design, so too do the parts that make them. Manufacturing chips and displays in an average smartphone can be a tricky process that increasingly requires integration and assembly of small components. But how can manufacturers pick up and place down very small components to assemble them? 

electroadhesive stamp picks and places a 170-micrometer sized LED chiplet “stick” to the LED.
The researchers new electroadhesive stamp picks and places a 170-micrometer sized LED chiplet, using an external voltage of 30V to temporarily “stick” to the LED.

Traditionally, vacuum grippers are used for pick-and-place assembly processes, but they are reaching their limit in terms of how minuscule of an object they can handle.

New solutions are needed to construct the latest technologies, and Penn engineers have contributed to a collaborative study on using electroadhesion—which exploits the same phenomenon as static cling—to manipulate microscale objects.

The Penn team was led by Kevin Turner, professor and chair of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics (MEAM), with contributions from members of Turner’s lab: Yijie Jiang, then a doctoral student in MEAM, Kiera Thompson-Towell, then an undergraduate student in materials science and engineering, and Chunxu Chen, then a masters student in MEAM.

The study, led by MIT’s Sanha Kim and A. John Hart, was published in Science Advances.

The collaborative research team has developed an electroadhesive stamp that can handle objects with diameters as small as 20 nanometers—about a thousand times thinner than a human hair. The stamp features dielectric-coated carbon nanotubes  arranged like bristles on a brush; its stickiness comes from the application of voltage to these CNTs.

Read more at Penn Engineering.