Inspiration from nature results in a powerful suction cup.
Developing your own composite material
“I wanted to do something with biomimicry,” Tjitte says, looking back on his graduation. “That involves drawing inspiration from nature in order to improve a product. One rainy Tuesday, I was looking at a video of a little fish that was remarkably good at holding onto a rock via suction. Surprisingly, It was even able to lift the rock. That is where my research started. I looked at more animals with the same ability and tried to find similarities between them. Then, I translated these into a technical design. Ultimately, this allowed me to develop a powerful suction cup that helps you lift heavy objects- The Succor.”
Explanation of the innovation
“If you attach the suction cup to the ceiling, it can support your entire body weight,” Tjitte continues. The Succor creates a stable anchoring point. It consists of a pump that creates negative pressure and a suction cup made from a composite material that is placed on the object you want to lift. “I developed my own composite material that has the same properties I saw in the little fish and the other species.” Moreover, there is a rotating handle and a display that tells you how many kilograms the suction cup can lift. “It autonomously adjusts the negative pressure as needed and provides real-time feedback about its suction power. This lets users know how securely the object is attached and makes the whole process safer.”
In late 2017, a few months after graduating, Tjitte attended the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven with his design. “I had a working product that I had made with a 3D printer. It drew a lot of attention from attendees.” Therefore, he applied for a patent. “Novel-T offered to help when they saw me during an information day at the UT. It was a busy time: I was writing my business plan, applying for funding, and had a part-time job to boot. Also, I faced some challenges along the way. For example, I discovered a Chinese product that was quite similar to my design. That was when I realized I had to bank on our technological knowhow because I would not be able to compete with them on price.”
Funding the suction cup
For this innovation, Tjitte received funding in the form of a Top Program and a subsidy from the Bionics in SME project. “At the moment, we are working on a modular system with a manufacturer of lifting aids. By linking together multiple suction cups, you can e.g. safely move wooden or glass elements that weigh up to five hundred kilograms. At the same time, we are exploring ways to use this technology for the development of a power tool. I also want to develop a new product with a flexible composite, so you can lift tubes.” His dream is to grow into an R&D company with around fifteen people and develop innovative solutions. “We have plenty of ideas and the region is bursting with goodwill to help out startups. For now, though, we are focusing our attention on the lifting aid. We want to start testing the new system by the end of the year.”
Tjitte’s advice for students and newly minted graduates: “If you have an idea, go for it. Especially in the area around the UT, there are so many parties who can help you develop your idea. You have plenty of time to find a job later.”
“The Bionics in SME project supports businesses with the application of knowledge derived from nature,” Tonny Grimberg explains. “They can use that knowledge to improve products and processes or come up with entirely new ideas.” There are five phases to the project. Tjitte de Wolff got on board in phase four: designing a demonstrator. “He explored optimization, manufacturability and verification of the suction cups and the design. He also researched the possibility of developing a decentralized control system. In addition to specific knowledge, the financial contribution, in particular, helped turn the Succor concept into a successful product.”
If you want to work on product or process innovation, discover what nature has to offer via Bionics.