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Review Article

A Comprehensive Survey on Microgrippers Design: Operational Strategy OPEN ACCESS

[+] Author and Article Information
Alden Dochshanov

Department of Mechanical and
Aerospace Engineering,
Sapienza University of Rome,
Rome 00184, Italy
e-mail: alden.dochshanov@uniroma1.it

Matteo Verotti

Department of Mechanical and
Aerospace Engineering,
Sapienza University of Rome,
Rome 00184, Italy
e-mail: matteo.verotti@uniroma1.it

Nicola P. Belfiore

Department of Mechanical and
Aerospace Engineering,
Sapienza University of Rome,
Rome 00184, Italy
e-mail: belfiore@dima.uniroma1.it

1Corresponding author.

Contributed by the Mechanisms and Robotics Committee of ASME for publication in the JOURNAL OF MECHANICAL DESIGN. Manuscript received July 28, 2016; final manuscript received March 14, 2017; published online May 10, 2017. Assoc. Editor: Massimo Callegari.

J. Mech. Des 139(7), 070801 (May 10, 2017) (18 pages) Paper No: MD-16-1536; doi: 10.1115/1.4036352 History: Received July 28, 2016; Revised March 14, 2017

This article provides an overview of the operational strategies adopted in microgrippers design. The review covers microgrippers recently proposed in Literature, some of which have been systematically presented in a companion paper, where their topological, kinematic, and structural characteristics are discussed. In the present contribution, the prevalent actuation methods and the operational aspects are discussed: the tip displacement, the tip force, the actuation voltage, and the amplification factor are the reference parameters that are adopted to compare the different types of actuation and operational strategies. In addition, the control strategies and control algorithms currently adopted are reviewed.

FIGURES IN THIS ARTICLE
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Microgripper, as a crucial element of micromanipulation, is usually designed to guarantee size compactness, accuracy, and controllability, and for these characteristics, it is much appreciated in a wide range of applications, particularly, in the manufacturing, electronics, and biomedical fields [18].

This review offers readers the opportunity to examine a large variety of methods that have been recently employed to give microgrippers actuation and sensing capability. However, the main ambition of the present review consists in achieving a complete and systematic overview of the actual scenario. For this purpose, the set of the analyzed devices has been built as large as possible, while a systematic classification of the operational methods has been proposed. The review includes the microgrippers that appear in the Atlas of mechanical structures illustrated in the companion paper [9], dedicated to the topological, geometrical, and structural characteristics.

Different aspects of micromanipulation have been extensively covered in Literature. The actuation and sensing systems, as the primary components of micromanipulation setups, have been studied comprehensively from different perspectives. An overview of microactuators based on silicon microfabrication technologies is given in Ref. [10]. A detailed performance comparison of MEMS actuators and sensors in terms of maximum force, displacement resolution, and frequency can be found in the work of Bell et al. [11]. Comparative performance metrics, error sources, and technologies of a wide range of position sensors are reviewed by Fleming [12]. Working principles, detection accuracies, advantages, and disadvantages of several widely used force sensing methods are presented by Wei and Xu [13]. A survey on gripping force measurement using two-fingered microrobotic systems is presented in Ref. [14]. Intrinsic performances, strengths, and limitations for each type of actuator applicable to different quantities of living cells are discussed by Desmaële et al. [15]. The related scaling issues are covered in Refs. [16] and [17] which underline fundamental limitations in scaling mechanical sensors down to the nanoscale and present a detailed comparative survey of the actuators for micro- and nanopositioners. In addition, microgripping techniques, manipulation strategies, integrated microassembly systems design, and its implementation have been reviewed by Cecil et al. [18,19]. Finally, interesting details related to the releasing strategies are thoroughly covered by Fantoni and Porta [20].

More recently, a survey dedicated to some actuators and sensors used to drive MEMS Technology-based microgrippers [21] has suggested some reasoned selection guidelines. This contribution has been somehow inspiring for the present investigation, where an attempt has been made to cover also some important aspects of performance evaluation (including a comprehensive list of prerequisites).

Effectiveness and efficiency in micromanipulating rely on some crucial characteristics such as, for example, high force–to–volume ratio, actuation precision and micropositioning accuracy [22], optimal kinetostatic behavior [23], and gripping force sensing capability [24]. Moreover, reliability and performance will depend on the method used for actuation [25] and sensing, the geometry, the aspect ratio [26,27], and, finally, on the control, grasping, and releasing strategies. The last two tasks have been also related to the material properties [28].

In addition to the above described characteristics, the peculiarity of each specific application deserves to be mentioned. In fact, special environments or hazardous tasks may impose particular requirements. For example, when biological objects have to be manipulated, the actuation must take into account the necessity of moderate voltages (from 1.5 V to 2 V limits range for electrolysis [29]), together with temperatures [30], compatibility with operating medium [31,32], and integrability and easiness of the release function [33].

The present paper is based on the analysis of 78 different operational strategies adopted in microgripper design. The focus is mainly on actuation and sensing because the mechanical structure has been examined in the first part of the review [9]. Some basic features, including manufacturing processes and materials parameters, have been extracted and arranged into representative tables to supply microgrippers' designers with an immediate reference guide. The application of each microgripper has been also characterized by classifying the specific objects (and their size) used during a microgripper performance assessment.

Section 2 introduces the actuation principles most frequently adopted in microgripping, namely, electrostatic, thermal, shape memory, electromagnetic, and piezoelectric. Section 3 is dedicated to different sensing aspects, considering physical principles, geometry, and control. Section 4 contains additional information related to grasping–releasing strategies, whereas Sec. 5 discusses the key functions of the different gripping mechanisms and compares the actuators performance.

Actuation is the most important function of a microgripper. The variety of actuation methods can be classified depending on whether the actuation source mechanism is simply integrated with the structural body or it serves also as the structural body of the microgripper [34]. However, considering that an actuator is basically a device that converts energy from the available form (e.g., electrical, thermal, and so on) into mechanical form [35], the nature of energy source can be a reasonable criterion to define classes (the following are also used for meso-scale systems [36,37]):

  • electrostatic,

  • thermal

    1. shape memory and
    2. electrothermal

  • electromagnetic, and

  • piezoelectric.

For the sake of completeness, it is worth noting that there are also some other principles of actuation that have been used, although more rarely than the above mentioned ones. Among them: pneumatic, hydraulic, ultrasound, molecular, fluorescence resonance energy transfer, optical, laser, acoustic, dielectrophoretic, and freezer.

The selection of the most suitable actuation type is a proper balance between several fundamental factors: aspect ratio, temperature, actuation voltage and time, gripping force, and range and position/force sensing. Moreover, the specific application plays an important role. For example, in biomedical applications, the choice of the actuation method and the fabrication process are partly restricted by the gripper's material biocompatibility [5,30,38,39]. Another aspect of considerable importance for the final application consists in the active or passive opening of the microgripper, which fundamentally depends on whether the system works in normally closed [28] or normally open [4042] conditions. In the first case, opening is considered active, because the gripper must be actuated to open the closed inactive jaws, whereas in the second case, the actuation is set only during the grasping phase and the release is actuation free. It is worth noting that a normally open structure, in contrast to normally closed, is controllable in terms of the force [42], which makes it often preferable.

Electrostatic.

The basic working principle of an electrostatic system is based on the concept and structure of a capacitor [43]. A potential difference between two plates induces an attractive force which is a nonlinear function of the plate separation distance. Two types of motion, either rectilinear or rotary, are achievable with this type of actuators [44]. The key advantages of electrostatic actuators include:

  • easiness to be microfabricated [45],

  • high resonant frequency allowing a high bandwidth [46],

  • capacity to operate both in vacuum and ambient environment [47],

  • little energy consumption [48],

  • convenient control [49],

  • relatively fast response [50],

  • hysteresis free behavior and low temperature dependence [51],

  • negligible amount of current flow through out combs [51],

  • wide functional versatility [52].

Because of their straightforward fabrication, small footprint (∼1 mm2 and lower), and low power consumption, they find potential use also at the nanoscale [53].

On the other hand, there are some serious drawbacks which affect electrostatic actuators.

The low energy density, which imposes high electric potentials across small gaps in the case of comb-drive or parallel-plate designs [54], may cause their incompatibility with standard IC voltage [55,56], and, as consequence, with water and electrolytic environments [57]. To customize the grippers for application in biotechnology, a decrease of the driving voltage could be necessary [49].

A relatively limited range of the tip displacement is another drawback. However, a satisfactory solution to this problem could be achieved by introducing a series capacitor [58] or continuous S-shaped flexures [59], which have the effect of extending of the effective electrical gap.

Due to the capacitors' small dimensions, two or more comb drives are necessary to increase the force. In this case, several approaches are possible: modified fingers [60], coupling of linear motor and amplification stage consisting in ground links and moving pin joints [22], serpentine flexures [61], and long gripper arms [62]. In the case of gaps misalignment, the actuator may perform poorly or may not work at all [54].

To sum up, an electrostatically actuated microgripper may provide relatively large displacements, deprived of hysteresis and characterized by a low operating temperature and high frequency response (up to hundreds of kilohertz under resonance) [51]. Nevertheless, its primary concern for applications consists in its high operating voltage [63].

During the performance assessment of electrostatically actuated microgrippers, an interesting range for the dimensions of the manipulated objects appeared. For example: 55 μm diameter optical fiber insulation [51,64] as well as 70 μm diameter optical fiber [31], glass and polystyrene spheres with diameters of 2.7–200 μm [56,6569], and different biological objects such as HeLa cancer cells (20 μm) [68], 78 μm diameter animal hair [62], dried red blood cells (RBCs) and various protozoa (40 μm long and 7 μm in diameter) [65], 50 μm blood vessel [4], 40 μm Lilium pollen cell in solution [70].

Table 1 shows constructional and operational details of 25 samples of electrostatic actuators, namely 21 linear and four rotary configurations. To provide a direct link with the companion paper [9], the last columns of Tables 16 list the reference and figure by using the same enumeration as in the first part. The most widespread fabrication methods are deep reactive ion etching (DRIE) and reactive ion etching (RIE). However, silicon-on-insulator multi-user MEMS process (SOI MUMPs), silicon-on-insulator (SOI MEMS), low-pressure chemical vapor deposition (LPCVD), single crystal reactive etching and metallization (SCREAM) are involved as well. The materials adopted for this type of microgrippers are silicon and polysilicon. The gripping stroke (conventionally signed as Δ) ranges from 2.5 μm to 275 μm. The applied actuation voltages (U) reach 185 V. The force at tip (Ft) ranges from 4 nN up to 2.5 mN. Characteristic resonant frequencies (ω0) are within the range between 0.41 kHz and 2080 kHz. The table also reports:

  • ϑ0, y0: finger overlap angle or length, in the case of rotary or linear configurations, respectively (see Fig. 1Fig. 1

    Comb-drive parameters: ϑ0, y0—finger overlap angle or length; d—finger gap, h—thickness, w—width

    Grahic Jump LocationComb-drive parameters: ϑ0, y0—finger overlap angle or length; d—finger gap, h—thickness, w—width

    );

  • d, h, w: finger gap, thickness, and width, respectively (see Fig. 1);

  • F: comb drive-generated force;

  • T, L, W: gripper thickness, length, and width, respectively;

  • Af: amplification factor (i.e., the ratio between the arm tip and actuation deflections) provided by the mechanism.

In the linear type, the fingers overlap from 5 μm to 30–50 μm, while in the rotary arrangement, the overlapping remains within the narrow range from 1 deg to 2 deg.

The finger gap does not exceed 10 μm, with a minimum of 2 μm.

The most widespread thickness values are within the range from 25 μm to 50 μm (the thickest reaches 60 μm while the thinnest is limited to 1.2 μm). The device width ranges from an apparent minimum of 1 μm to a maximum equal to 80 μm.

Thermal.

Thermal actuators are often preferred when low voltage and large output force are of primary importance. The thermal expansion of a material is one of the most general phenomena used as actuation method for microgripping devices [71,72]. This kind of actuator is efficient in the atmosphere and vacuum as well as in dusty environments [73].

In contradistinction to the electrostatic actuators (which are mainly made of silicon) and despite the ability to induce high temperature at the immediate proximity to the cells, freedom in material choice (e.g., Su-8) allows designers to activate the microgripper with small temperature elevations (20–40 °C) at low voltages (1–2 V) [57,74], causing its applicability to biological objects. Nevertheless, thermal stability, insulation, structural rigidity, biocompatibility, electrical inertness, and high temperature in the device have to be considered to ensure the biomaterial's (e.g., cell) integrity during its micromanipulation [30].

However, in general, crucial drawbacks for thermal microactuators consist in slow response, high power consumption, and high temperature required for actuation [30].

The objects manipulated during microgripper performance tests have a large variety of dimensions: 140 μm diameter optical fiber [75,76], latex, and glass balls with 5–200 μm in diameter [54,7780], 100 μm diameter gold-coated Su-8 microcylinders [5], 29 μm [81] and 38 μm [82] diameter metal rods, carbon nanotubes with 30–150 nm in diameter [8385], and biological objects, namely HeLa cell [57,74], microblood vessel 70–80 μm in diameter and 3 mm length [8,86], mouse oocyte [87], 15 μm diameter porcine aortic valve interstitial cells (PAVICs) [88], 9 μm diameter cyanobacteria cell [8].

Shape Memory.

Shape memory alloy (SMA) materials have intrinsic physical properties which can be used to build a new class of actuators. In fact, a change of the crystal phase between the martensitic and austenitic phases can be induced by controlling SMA temperature, either internally or externally [89]. Due to the variety of the available processing techniques, SMA actuators can assume different forms [36]. Several recent contributions [82,8996] have been dedicated to the exploration of SMAs, mainly because the available energy density is, generally, higher than in other methods. Furthermore, a pseudo-elastic response [97] can be achieved.

Micromachined SMA microactuators have been investigated in an extensive range of biomedical areas, including endovascular [98] and cardiac [90] surgery, intestinal obstruction [99], neural interfaces [100], and drug delivery [101]. Additional advantages of the SMA actuators [42,75] include:

  • large strokes,

  • high work outputs,

  • compatibility to microelectronics and biological environments,

  • high reliability due to an intrinsic actuation mechanism,

  • frictionless actuation,

  • design flexibility,

  • corrosion resistance.

However, despite their favorable features, SMA actuators possess several drawbacks [42,102]:

  • high fabrication cost,

  • high response time,

  • complicated gripping force control,

  • large size,

  • hysteresis,

  • low lifetime,

  • low cooling rate,

  • low fatigue resistance.

One of the limiting factors for this type of actuators is SMA formation with a desired transformation temperature, due to its extreme sensitivity to metallurgical factors such as aging and annealing treatment upon structure fabrication [103]. In addition, to alter the transformation temperature of bulk SMAs, additional processes, such as constraint annealing, must be carried out [104]. Moreover, fabrication that involves bulk materials is not compatible with standard microfabrication processes and thus it causes additional costs and complex fabrication procedures [97].

Finally, the lack of reliability for a high number of cycles and low fatigue resistance lead to a limited cycle time and nonlinearity hysteresis at the microscale [30]. As a consequence, SMA microgrippers, in general, are not good candidates for applications where reliability is required for a high number of cycles [30]. On the other hand, SMA is an ideal actuator when stroke and energy density (rather than speed) are of primary concern [21,105]. However, this type of actuators will still suffer from Ref. [106] low energy efficiency, limited bandwidth degradation, fatigue, small strains and, as a result, a limited number of cycles [107]. A more complete and detailed review of the SMA actuators has been proposed by Zainal et al. [97].

In Table 2, several examples of microgrippers employing this type of actuators are presented. The processes involved in production are laser cutting (LC), electric, and (micro-electric) discharge machining (EDM, μEDM). The maximum gripping stroke available is around 7100 μm. The forces at the tip are of the order of several tens of mN up to the calculated value of 330 mN. Finally, working temperature (ΔT), power supplied (P), response time (t) (settling time or heat response, i.e., the time between setting the voltage and the maximum stroke achieved), and other geometrical parameters are also reported.

Electrothermal.

Electrothermal actuators operate on the principle of Joule heating and differential thermal expansion [108]. There are three main types of electrothermal actuation: hot-and-cold arm actuation [40,74,109], chevron actuators (also called as V-beam or bent-beam) [86,110,111], and bi-morph [112]. Though the hot-and-cold arm devices have been quite popular, some inherent problems may limit their performance. For example, back bending and arms contact may occur [113]. Nevertheless, the hot-and-cold-arm concept can be ineffective when considering the biological applications because of a high temperature localization on the thin hot arm. The drawback of the classical hot-and-cold-arm microactuator is that the flexure and the cold arm are both parts of the electrical loop and thus only a portion of the applied power is contributing to the deflection of the actuator [26,114]. In addition, as the flexure is a part of the electric loop, it is rather difficult to scale the flexure [26,115]. To overcome the problem, chevron electrothermal actuators have been proposed [116], where a compliant amplification mechanism is frequently introduced [86,117] to enhance the motion range.

Electrothermal actuators are endowed with the same advantages as the SMA-based ones, but in addition they achieve further merits, such as low driving voltage [32] and compact structure [118].

The actuation is generally regarded as a very promising one due to [11,33,119,120]:

  • large force and displacement provided,

  • ease of fabrication,

  • high accuracy,

  • repeatability,

  • simplicity on design.

Despite being considered as one of the promising solutions for the biomedical applications [5,30,107,121,122], this type of microgrippers is subject to some serious additional problems [33,120]:

  • low frequency,

  • low efficiency,

  • high temperature,

  • nonlinear movement,

  • low sensitivity.

The compatibility of electrothermal microactuators with existing complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology, as well as the small device area, causes their attractiveness for various applications [123]. Additionally, the design of the electrothermal devices implies strong electrical and mechanical connections, and such structure improves the system robustness [54]. In conclusion, thermal actuators provide good deflections and forces (high force × displacement product per volume) that are larger than those obtained by electrostatic, piezoelectric, or magnetic actuators [124]. Considering also that the required voltages and the power consumption are generally very limited, the electrothermal microactuators are among the most attractive ones. However, their high operation temperatures limit their applications in some research areas [125,126]. An extensive survey on electrothermal actuators can be found in Ref. [127].

Table 3 displays several characteristics of 24 electrothermal (ET), one photothermal (PT), and one hybrid type (TP) devices. Photothermal microgrippers (PT) are actuated by the power laser while the hybrid type microgrippers (TP) unifies both thermo and piezoelectric types of actuation.

The most diffused fabrication process is surface micromachining (S. μM in the table). However, other fabrication processes can be involved, such as complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) compatible processes, inductively coupled plasma reactive ion etching (ICP-RIE), UV LIGA (a German acronym for lithographie, galvanoformung, abformung, namely, lithography, electroplating, and molding), and lithography and reactive ion etching (LIRIE). Among the materials involved, Su-8 appears to be the most demanded one. Furthermore, typical ranges for attainable gripping stroke, actuation voltages, and tip force are 1.2–150 μm, 0.1–90 V, and 20–135 mN, respectively. Alphabet “a” represents those force values obtained by using different techniques, such as atomic force microscopy (AFM) measurements [85] and sensor based [78,88,128]. The maximum operating temperature T of the actuator varies from 43 °C, in typical thermo-piezoelectric configurations [128], up to 1189 °C in simulated environments [34]. The temperature values represent the actual working temperature, assuming the environment temperature is equal to the standard ambient temperature (SAT, 25 °C). As a consequence, when data refer to operational temperature increments [5,8,54,57,74,86,128,129], the SAT value has been added. Power shows a large variety, from units of milliwatts, up to units of Watts. The maximum response time (t) does not overcome the value of 1.4 s. The presented geometric parameters T, L, and W refer to characteristic sizes (i.e., the linear sizes of the hot arm, the single chevron beam, or the entire microactuator mechanism). Finally, the characteristic amplification factor provided by this type of actuators extends from 1.73 to 100.

Electromagnetic.

Electromagnetic type of actuation is based on the attractive and repulsive forces generated on conductors currying current in a magnetic field [44]. Voice coil motor (VCM), for example, as a type of electromagnetic actuator adapted for mesoscale applications (100 μm to 1 mm) [130], generates a linear force proportional to the applied current [3] (the latter is sometimes used in robust control [24]). Thus, compared to electrostatic or electro-thermal actuators, electromagnetic ones are characterized with [24]:

  • elevated gripping strokes (up to several hundreds of μm),

  • good linearity,

  • flexibility of sensor integration,

  • electronic circuit is simple and cost effective.

The force output of this kind of actuators is relatively low [11]. In fact, forces induced by magnetic fields scale disadvantageously into the microscale [131]. In addition, besides the required geometrical alignments between the directions of current flow and the moving element, the magnetic field and the generated force make the design of planar system difficult [44].

Typically, the maximum achievable force is between 10−7 N and 10−4 N, and the maximum displacement is between 10−5 m and 10−3 m [11]. Despite difficulty in miniaturizing, electromagnetic actuation (i.e., Lorentz force-type actuators like voice-coil motors) has been applied in a number of micromanipulating devices, including microgrippers [24,132,133]. The objects used in performance assessment of this type of actuation microgrippers include optical fibers of 125 and 230 μm diameter [24,132,133] and biological tissues of 116 μm thickness [24]. In conclusion, despite being capable of providing large force and displacement outputs, electromagnetic actuators due to their large physical size and complicated fabrication processes are limited in terms of application at micro- and nanoscales [21].

Piezoelectric.

The piezoelectric actuator (PZT) is an electromechanical device that undergoes dimensional change when voltage is applied. The physical origin of piezoelectricity is due to the noncentrosymmetric arrangement of atoms and their net charges in a lattice [134]. Electromechanical conversion takes place without generating any significant magnetic field or need for moving electrical contacts. Dimensional changes are proportional to the applied voltage and can be adjusted with extremely high resolution. The current through the actuator, called the leakage current, is negligible because of piezoelectric crystals' high resistivity [17]. The response speed is limited only by the inertia of the object being moved and the output capability of the electronic driver [135]. The actuators may appear in various geometries, for instance, cylindrical, bi-morph beams, and segmented plates [17]. Thus, piezoelectric actuators offer many advantages [42,128,135,136], such as

  • high energy density,

  • large force generation,

  • no magnetic fields,

  • stable output displacement,

  • high response speed,

  • extremely low steady state power consumption,

  • no wear and tear,

  • vacuum and clean room compatibility,

  • wide dynamic response range,

  • high resolution,

  • capability of accurate (subnanometer) positioning with zero backlash,

  • high stiffness,

  • compact size,

  • ease of use.

As for the disadvantages, PZT actuators are characterized by [7,30,35,42,135]

  • strongly nonlinear input/output behavior,

  • high cost,

  • high supply voltage,

  • temperature dependence of performance,

  • small motion range,

  • inherent hysteresis and creep,

  • sensitivity to mechanical fatigue phenomena,

  • biocompatibility problems.

In addition, the unique degree-of-freedom available is a disadvantage in terms of complex manipulation [23].

Another interesting feature consists in the self-sensing capability, which permits use as actuator and sensor at the same time. The last is particularly achievable, thanks to the direct and converse piezoelectric effects [137,138].

In conclusion, piezoelectric microactuators are applied extensively due to their fast response, high accuracy, large stress tolerance, and output force [96,139]. But high actuation voltages, small output displacement, and inherent hysteresis constrain their applicative potential [57]. For the detailed description of piezoelectric actuators the reader is addressed to Ref. [140].

The objects used in piezoelectrically driven gripping performance assessments were: 190 and 250 μm diameter optical fiber [2,141], 60–380 μm diameter metal wires [7,142145], 5–100 μm and 1 mm diameter glass and polystyrene spheres [66,128,146149], 100 μm diameter metallic ball [150], 300 μm thread, 1 mm rod, 100 μm hair, 0.5 mm plate [151], 67 and 500 μm diameter microgears [25,152], 30 μm thick polymer strips [153], and biological objects, in particular human skin samples [154], 15 μm diameter bio-cell [155,156].

Table 4 illustrates the details of 26 variants of piezoelectric microgrippers. The most used process method is electric and wire electric discharge machining (EDM and WEDM correspondingly). Also, methods such as micromachining, LIGA, DRIE, photolithography (PL) are used. In majority of cases, aluminum is chosen because of its mechanical properties. However, Ni, Ni–Ti, silicon and polymers (polyurethane, Su-8) are also used. The maximum actuation voltage is 700 V. The gripping stroke is quite widespread. Different values for the left and right gripping arms are labeled with (L) and (R). The force at the tip is extended throughout several orders of magnitude (1 μN–1870 mN). The column revealing the geometric parameters of the actuator contains the index of the material when dimensions are not available. The stroke supplied by the actuator (As) reaches 100 μm. As to the amplification ratio provided by the entire microgripper, the values lie within 2.85–50.

The current trend of system integration consists in embedding both contact/force sensors and the active releasing components within the same microgrippers platform [63,88]. This has significantly enhanced applicability of microgrippers as the fundamental components in the micromanipulation systems. In addition, one of the main recent trends in microgripper design is the constructional hybridization, which imposes the combined use of actuators and sensors of different kind, such as:

  • electrostatic actuator and electrothermal force sensor [69,79],

  • piezoelectric actuator and strain gauges for the tip displacement and force measurement [141],

  • electrothermal actuator and capacitive contact sensor [32].

According to the variety of the applications and of the objects to be manipulated, a large nomenclature of the force sensors for microgrippers have been proposed in the literature. The most widespread ones, which have been adopted in MEMS, are discussed below.

Sensing Principles.

A reliable detection and control of the force exerted by the tip is of fundamental importance. Depending on the final application and the object to manipulate, a microgripper may be equipped with opportune type of sensors as described below. Table 5 focuses on 21 different sensing designs, specifying force and position sensing capability, force and position resolution, sensitivity, and microgripper gripping range. The sensors considered here include the

  • piezoresistive,

  • piezoelectric,

  • capacitive,

  • electrothermal and

  • vision-based,

ones. For more detailed surveys, the reader is addressed to Refs. [12,13], and [16].

Piezoresistive.

The piezoresistive sensor uses the change of the electrical resistivity due to the strain variation according to the applied force. The resistance change is evaluated by considering stress-resistivity products along longitudinal and transverse directions [148]. Piezoresistive effect in Silicon and Germanium was known to be much greater (roughly by two orders of magnitude) than in metals since Smith's discovery in 1954 [157]. Due to the change in carriers mobility (and thus, conductivity) in semiconductors induced by the lattice strain [158], the effect is highly dependent on the crystal orientation. Additionally, due to their high strain sensitivity, piezoresistive sensors are also easily integrated into standard integrated circuit and MEMS fabrication processes [12]. Thus, being among the earliest micromachined silicon devices, and due to high sensitivity, low cost, and simple fabrication [159], they have been widely used for various sensors including pressure sensors, accelerometers, cantilever force sensors, inertial sensors, and strain gauges [158].

The accuracy of piezoresistive sensor may reach sub-mN range, which can be enhanced by means of appropriate constructional materials [102].

Considering the reviewed contributions, it seems that ion implantation is the preferred fabrication technique [158]. This method is characterized by lattice damage and annealing requirements for dopant activation and therefore it presents some critical drawbacks. However, this method is still more popular than epitaxy and diffusion. Using ion implantation, sensitivity and noise can be affected by some design and process parameters: energy, dose and doping method, annealing parameters (temperature, time, and environment).

The most significant disadvantages of this type of sensors are associated with low strain range (0.1%), high temperature sensitivity, poor long-term stability, and slight nonlinearity (1%) [158]. For all these reasons, compensation circuitry is usually integrated [159]. Moreover, this type of sensors has certain limitation in miniaturization for micromanipulation and micro-assembly tasks [13]. For the detailed description of piezoresistivity and integrated piezoresistor technology, the reader is addressed to Ref. [158].

Piezoelectric.

A piezoelectric force sensor uses the generation of electric charge in response to an applied stress on a piezoelectric material (direct piezoelectric effect). The corresponding accuracy achieves sub-mN level [13]. The sensors are commonly used as high sensitivity strain sensors to measure forces and strains, particularly those of dynamic nature, such as vibrations, accelerations, and oscillations [160,161]. Being “active,” they do not require a power source to operate, reducing thus the heating issues compared to “passive” piezoresistive sensors [161]. Depending on the exact size of the sensor, three fabrication processes, are possible: additive, subtractive, and integrative. Each of these approaches offers specific advantages which are covered in detail in Ref. [160].

Thus, piezoelectric sensors are characterized by the following features: excellent resistance, flexibility, high mechanical strength, good plasticity, high power density, high bandwidth, high efficiency, impact resistance, and anti-aging [13].

From the other side, due to the high mechanical stiffness of piezoelectric sensors, thermal or Boltzmann noise is negligible compared to the electrical noise from interface electronics. In addition to noise, these sensors are limited by dielectric leakage and finite buffer impedance at low frequencies [12]. Finally, their applications may be constrained by charge leakages, poor spatial resolution, and inefficiency in static force measurements [13].

Capacitive.

Due to their high resolution and bandwidth [162], capacitive sensors are the most commonly used ones in the short-range nanopositioning applications. However, with respect to resistive strain gauges, this type of sensors is inherently more complex due to the noise sensitivity, and so reading-out electronics is required [12,163]. Among other advantages with respect to piezoresistive sensors, the capacitive ones present low energy consumption, higher sensitivity, a good frequency response, high spatial resolution, large dynamic range, and imperceptibility to environmental changes. The detection accuracy can be in μN or sub–μN range [13,77,164,165].

The small size of MEMS capacitive sensors by contrast with their macroscale counterparts requires a more complicated geometry to achieve a practical value of capacitance [12]. Two architectures of capacitive sensors (comb-drive fingers and parallel plate capacitors) are used at the MEMS scale [166]. While the first produces a linear capacitance change in response to a displacement, the second produces a nonlinear one. The main noise source in capacitive sensors is stray capacitance in the environment and so it depends on system shielding [16].

Electrostatic sensors are very helpful in the manipulation of highly deformable biomaterials, tissues, and other biologically relevant samples [70,88]. Furthermore, they permit the characterization of microcapsules for drug delivery [164]. When high actuation voltages are undesirable, the sensor can also be used as actuator for dual actuation to reduce further the operating voltage [79].

Electrothermal.

Generally considered as quite linear and offering high resolution and large measurement bandwidth [79], the performance of electrothermal sensor significantly depends on the temperature, and, thus on a proper assignment of the bias voltage [79].

The working principle is based on temperature-dependent resistivity of silicon, which results in differential resistance variations upon the sensing arm deflection [69]. To reduce nonlinear effects and noise, sometimes [70], the electrothermal sensors are operated with a differential principle circuit.

One of the most prominent advantages of the electrothermal sensors with respect to the capacitive sensors is compact size, which causes their use in applications such as data storage [167169] and nanopositioning [170]. The noise characteristics of electrothermal sensors can be similar or superior to those typical of capacitive sensors, under certain conditions [12]. However, the elevated temperature entails significant amplitude of low frequency noise [171].

Vision-Based.

Vision force sensors are based on the processing of the images acquired at different times with subsequent application of an algorithm to extract the performance characteristics (e.g., the force). In comparison to other sensing methods, this type of sensor can be easily implemented, as a microscope is an inevitable companion in micromanipulation, particularly in biological and research applications. To sense the force, a vision-based sensor collects such visual information from a camera as position, deflection, displacement, and contour data [13]. The methods extracting the force information can be different. For example, by using an energy minimization method to match the deformed template to the contour data in the image [172], by observing the deformation of a calibrated structure upon its interaction with an object being manipulated [173] or in the computer-vision method by application of the extended regional edge statistics (ERES) algorithm, which permits to sense the force by tracking the gripping point and the deflection of the force sensing arm [94,174]. The typical detecting accuracy is about the order of mN or even less, while nano-Newton resolutions are achievable when measuring static forces [13]. Relying on a sensory capability based on proprioceptive sensors [147,151], camera-based vision sensing systems are preferred to the other ones [151] because of their contactless nature and acceptable accuracy [175]. Despite the natural limit of refraction and distortions of the light beam [68], this type of sensing is frequently preferable in biological applications. Nevertheless, visually based position control is not sufficient to maintain the applied gripping force in a safe range [69]. In addition, vision-based sensors offer a small dynamic range, bad flexibility [13].

Geometry.

Geometry affects sensing quality too. For example, one of the possible strategies to enhance sensitivity to microloading forces is the use of a cantilever arm with compliant joint [81]. When considering the capacitive force sensor range, sensitivity and resolution of the sensing system are easily varied by changing the length, width, or thickness of the flexures [68]. Finally, flexure-based mechanisms can be analyzed and optimized by a careful study of hinge compliance [176,177]. In fact, such flexures present several issues concerning the accuracy in detecting the center of relative rotations among two adjacent pseudo-rigid links [178,179].

Control and Operation Strategy.

In high-precision gripping, the combination of a reliable actuation mechanism and an effective control method that considers the dynamics of the microgripper are earnestly required [132]. Generally, MEMS can be driven in an open-loop and closed-loop fashion [180]. However, due to the strict constraints in terms of forces and displacements exerted during micromanipulation [154], the introduction of the feedback is necessary. A closed-loop control for improving system performance and reliability [181] can be based on position [32,78,143] or force [2,31,41] feedback information [182]. Furthermore, pure position control may be insufficient to achieve efficient manipulation [79]. Thus, position and force sensing integration permits either to enhance system performance or accomplish a complicated task, e.g., to measure certain mechanical properties (stiffness and viscosity) of the grasped objects [68,82,183]. Therefore, two basic approaches to integrated control, namely hybrid position/force control [184,185] and impedance control [186], have been adopted in micromanipulation tasks [182,187,188]. The first method relies on a smooth switching of control law to implement the position and force control in corresponding subspaces [189]. As to the impedance control, both position and force are controlled simultaneously by regulating a desired dynamic relation between the position and contact forces [184,190].

Generally, the sensor measuring band is known to be limited by the resonance frequency of the cantilever, because the measuring band width is expected to be less than a half of the resonance frequency. Moreover, a cantilever with a low resonance frequency is easily influenced by the environment [148]. Finally, flexure hinge compliance can cooperate with active stiffness controllers in order to optimize performances. Such collaboration can work both in serial [191196] and parallel [197200] MEMS-based devices.

Thus, the choice of the control system depends on the available sensor, which may differ from several characteristics: the actuation type [79,94,128,181], its dynamics and noise [180], the device size and the speed [180]. Other factors that are worth to be considered include available space, complexity of the electronic circuitry, and sensitivity of the dynamical response to the device parameters [180]. The detailed overview of the gripping force measurement evolution and control methods can be found in Ref. [14]. The development of control strategies for efficient and reliable handling of microsized objects in uncertain environments is presented in Refs. [201] and [202]. Different aspects related to the position control of MEMS are available in Ref. [203].

Some Control Issues in Specific Actuation Methods.

For each actuation type, there are some intrinsic characteristics which require particular control strategies. In the following paragraphs, some specific control issues will be briefly recalled.

Electrostatic actuation.

Several methods [204,205] have been suggested to overcome a fundamental limitation of electrostatic comb microactuators, which results in system instability to open-loop control beyond approximately 1/3 of the gap height pull-in instability [206208]. A state-variable feedback approach [209] has been adopted [210] to control position and velocity using a Kalman filter. Vagia and Tzes [211] designed a proportional integral derivative (PID) controller coupled to a feedforward compensator for set-point maneuvres regulation.

A large variety of other different methods have been proposed in Literature to improve control, such as, for only representative examples, the following: multiphase piecewise linear mechanical flexure [206], additional circuitry [207], incorporation of an onboard folded capacitor on the device [58], structural design optimization [212], active control system development [213], including input-to-state stabilization (ISS) and robust backstepping schemes [214,215], differential flatness and control Lyapunov functions [215], multimodel and scheduled observer-based one [216], and null-displacement feedback control force-sensing technique [69]. In addition, it is important to note that pull-in phenomenon can appear in a comb-drive actuator when the structure is not completely symmetric due to manufacturing imperfections [203].

Thermal actuation.

The hysteresis of SMA actuators requires more advanced control schemes as the adaptive controllers described in Ref. [217]. Furthermore, proportional integral derivative (PID) controller has been investigated extensively to control SMA and electrothermal actuators [76,88,218,219]. Nevertheless, despite such advantages as being intuitive and easy implemented, PID tends to deal poorly with the hysteretic characteristics of SMAs, especially at low sampling rates [90]. The problem is tackled by introducing a more sophisticated, intelligent artificial neural network (ANN)-based control algorithm, to provide feed-forward control [90]. From the other side, PID control is capable of performing robust force-controlled micromanipulation at a force level of 20 nN in the case of two-axis force feedback [88].

Electromagnetic actuation.

Voice-coil motor (VCM) actuators offer high force and stroke values, but suffer from the noise of controlled position and force output [79,132]. However, due to the flexibility of the sensor design integrated into the VCM-driven microgripper, it can be controlled still in a robust manner [24].

Piezoelectric actuation.

The inherent hysteresis and creep of piezoelectric actuator make their control difficult [3]. Thus, to reduce the effect of nonlinearities, different approaches have been used, namely, current or charge actuation [220], feed-forward control [221], adaptive controllers [222], mixed high authority control (HAC)/low authority control (LAC) strategies [223], or digital sliding mode control (SMD) algorithms [188,190,224]. Additionally, PD control, as compared to other control systems, is considered as fair suitable for controlling the piezoelectric actuator, because it yields fast response time, decreases rise time and oscillations, and compensates transient error during object handling [225]. For the detailed review on algorithms adopted in piezoelectrically driven actuators, the reader is referred to Ref. [188].

Operation Strategy: Grasping and Releasing.

Grasping and releasing strategies are important issues to operate a microgripper. The accomplishment of high-accuracy micrograsping operation can be obtained by including some crucial features [7,42], such as

  • parallel motion of jaws,

  • backlash and coulomb friction free manipulation,

  • operation within elastic region.

In contrast with angular and suction grasping methods, the parallel grasping serves to enhance performance [7].

Microgripping is largely dependent on the size effects. In particular, at microscale surface forces, which include van der Waals, adhesion, electrostatic and surface tension, mechanical clamping and dielectrics [1820,226,227] dominate part interactions as dimensions fall below 100 μm [228]. The latter, together with the features of the grasped object (e.g., surface and mass), predetermines the configuration of the gripper in many respects [20].

Commonly, releasing tasks can be handled by either passive or active strategies [20,67]. The first ones exploit surface features (e.g., shape, material, coatings, etc.), environmental conditions (which reduce the adhesive forces between gripper and microparts [67]) or surface humidity and temperature [150], while active methods involve external additional actions (e.g., forces, pressures, vibrations, freezing/thawing of ice droplets, etc.) [20,56,66,125].

This review pointed out how each mode of actuation possesses both advantages and disadvantages. Moreover, feedback sensing capability and the corresponding issues on control, besides of being an extra challenge [147], represent additional means to improve functionality (see, e.g., Refs. [215] and [222]. The selection of actuation type is initially driven by the nature of the objects to be manipulated and their surrounding medium (i.e., by the final application). Then, it becomes a matter of compromise and complex assessment. It is worth noting that in certain cases, the actuation drawbacks may be considered as advantages, and vice versa.

To complete the survey, Table 6 and the accompanying comparative diagram reported in Fig. 2 have been developed to compare the following fundamental parameters of different types of microgrippers: stroke (tip displacement) (Δ), actuation voltage (U), force at the tip (Ft), and amplification factor (Af).

Each of the parameters listed in Table 6 reveals the minimum and maximum values (m–M), which correspond to any type of actuation.

The tip displacement provided by the electrostatic and thermal actuators is quite close, whereas the piezoelectric ones provide the highest possible stroke (the displacements refer to the performance of the whole structure). Considering the actuation voltages, piezoelectric actuators in particular are less attractive when the application requires voltage sensitivity. The corresponding ranges of the tip force vary significantly from one type to other. Finally, thermal actuators appear to possess the widest range of amplification factor.

The design of a microgripper can be inspired by a large variety of topologies and operating principles. The present review (part 2) and its companion paper (part 1) have shown that there is not a definitely accepted way to design a microgripper because of the large variety of applications (especially in biomedicine and microelectronics), which imply different requirements. The authors believe that this review, together with its companion paper, could be a useful tool for the development and the design of new microgrippers.

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