It’s not my intention to describe some vulgar activities, but to emphasize the significant difference between handling packaged products (boxes, cases, bags, pouches) and the non-packaged products. In other words the confectionary, bakery, meat and snacks products fresh from the processing line to be picked-up and placed into their primary packaging.
Today I don’t want to talk about the large autonomic operating robots, but want to take you along the Interpack stands to look at the small robotic pick-and-place movements, sometimes small robotic units, integrated in a packaging process. And again, I only have an eye for the handling of the naked product. That means that we will look at the robotic gripper, suction head, vacuum cups or whatever is used to solve the picking-up problem.
Every packaging machine is a coordinated bundle of moving arms and legs with or without eyes, sensors, suction heads and grippers. This bundle isn’t called a robot, as it’s an integral part of a packaging operation, but in fact the bundle of arms and legs can be seen as a multitude of robotic movements. They form the most interesting part in robotics.
While not a robot an sich, there is often a Delta robot or a Scara unit incorporated in the packaging system. That isn’t really the interesting part. Solely of interest is the end-of-arm tooling (EOAT). Although the synchronisation of the movements is of importance, it is similar in all robots on the market. A different piece of cake, however, is the picking-up of a vulnerable, naked object and placing it with high-velocity and accuracy in its primary packaging.
The fun of course is that the best way to show the used techniques in pick-and-place units is by seeing it in motion. And that’s what I offer, few words suffice as the videos are self-explanatory. I have to admit that I took some videos from company websites, while some are from Interpack 2011. But be assured that you will find the described pick-and-place unit in the stands of the mentioned exhibitor. There is one more thing to say. As Interpack is in combination with the Confectionary and Bakery exhibition, most examples you see at Interpack, are from that industry segment. To balance I included some pick-and-place units for meat and fish products, which were on show at the IFFA in Frankfurt last year.
Before detailing let me spend some words on pick-and-place movements integrated in packaging lines.
It is notable, but on the other hand not surprising that most manufacturers of packaging machinery incorporate a Delta robot for the handling of naked products. The most cost-effective robotics solutions deploy Delta type pickers. However the more advanced machine manufacturers prefer to incorporate a Scara pick-and-place unit.
Personally I prefer a Scara, as they give a much more reposeful process than the nervously moving Deltas. But I recognise the benefits of the Delta. As top-mounted units, they can be suspended in any multiple arrangement, yet take up very little floor space.
Enough about the robot, as we want to explore the possibilities of the end-of-arm tools. For the product range we are talking about, you roughly can devide the end-of-arm tools in two sections. The Vacuum Suction Cup or Head and the Mechanical Gripper.
The suction heads you see mainly used in the confectionary and bakery industry as long as the vacuum cup doesn’t left a “ring” on the top of the product. Piab AB from Sweden (B46/Hall 13) is probably the most experienced manufacturer of vacuum suction cups. Watch the video below in which a Delta robot picks up the individual chocolates from the conveyor belt and places them one-by-one into the box. That’s not spectacular, what is special however is that a so called Coax cartridge is integrated into the end-of-arm tooling, close to the suction cup, and therefore allowing the highest possible picking speeds.
Furthermore I made a slide show of a collection Vacuum Suction Heads in the Confectionary and Bakery industry:
In confectionary the Fanuc Robot M-430 series (D79, Hall 06) is said to be a ideal solution for high speed picking in the food industries with a handling capacity up to 4kg and a reach up to 900mm makes, for all applications to handle low payloads.
In this case, WOW Technology has automated a production line with two Robots M-430iA which can handle different kind of chocolate products and several types of blisters with an actual output of 200 chocolates per minutes using two robots, a modular system upgradable with six robots and an output up to 600 chocolates per minute.
As a last example of vacuum suction cups the Automatic Wafer Roll Packaging Line built by Robert Bosch.
A Bosch Delfi Delta robot picks and places 750 wafer rolls per minute into trays that are then over wrapped with a Pack 201 flow wrapper. Although vacuum suction heads are common in the confectionary industry, there are some examples of mechanical grippers. Here is the one from Schubert for cakes.
In handling fragile cakes by Gerhard Schubert GmbH (A06/Hall 14), the mother tray is filled with tasty cake slices in line part 1 by TLM-F44 robots. The total output is 900 cake slices per minute. In line part 2 , which is a TLM sealing and punching machine, sealing with a cover film is then carried out using ultrasound while individual trays are punched out. In line part 3 , which is a TLM final packaging line, packages of 48 individual units are produced from 6-pack sleeves and cartons.
To grip the sticky cake slices, a special gripper had to be developed for the TLM-F44 robot. In the video you can’t see the grippers for the cakes properly. So, here a close-up photo. By the way, did you see that Schubert uses Scara robots.
In combination with the Schubert gripper for cakes, I like to show a video from SAS Automation. Unfortunately the company isn’t present at the Interpack, however its solution is too relevant to leave it out.
SAS Automation, a US manufacturer of Robotic End-of-Arm Tooling (EOAT), recently introduced the latest in handling different types of baked goods more efficiently. Bakery products can be challenging to de-pan as they are fragile and often topped with fruits, nuts or candies.
The SAS de-panner accommodates a wide range of bakery products and is flexible enough to handle different shapes and sizes making it perfect for handling cakes, brownies, and cupcakes in addition to muffins.
The Muffin De-panner has custom stainless steel needle grippers, each using 4 curved needles to de-pan 144 muffins from 2 moving baking pans on an oven conveyor. The small diameter needles leave limited evidence of penetration.
In addition to de-panning, the tool is designed to compress the muffin spacing in two directions for direct deposit into retail and wholesale trays on an adjoining conveyor.
Now we have seen some grippers for bakery products, let’s move to the meat and fish aisle and have a look at how these products are handled nakedly.
First a combination of ABB Delta robots in a Unilever plant in Ansbach, Germany, picking and placing Peperami salami (mini pepperoni) in their primary packaging. The speed of execution enables an increase in productivity of +25% compared to the work being done by a human chain.
The FlexPicker by ABB Robotics (A45, Hall 16) can pick up three mini sausages at a time with its three pincers and individually arrange them in their places. The arms are equipped with image analysis technology controlled by a central computer in order to determine the positions of the sausages at any time.
But for the real thing you have to go to Iceland and talk to the people of Marel, one of the most inventive manufacturers of processing machines for fish and meat. I took these videos from the IFFA exhibition in Frankfurt last year.
Automatic portioning and robot loading of salmon filets for Nordlaks, a fully integrated company producing, and processing high quality Atlantic salmon and Rainbow trout. It is headquartered in Stokmarknes in Northern Norway.
Marel introduced a solution that automates the process of fixed weight salmon portions into retail packs (thermoformed).
The fully integrated solution features the collective advantages of Marel’s I-Cut 300 portion cutter and IPL (Intelligent Portion Loading) pick & place robot, which have been integrated in a unique way. The line is capable of loading up to 150 individual salmon portions per minute – directly into the thermoformed primary packaging.
The video might not have shown the gripper in detail, so let me post a photo of the gripper with a filet of salmon.
Now, let’s have a look at the handling of meat portions. Marel designed the following line, almost similar in machine design as the salmon line, but look at the grippers.
I-Cut Profile offers high speed, yield optimized portion cutting of fresh, boneless meat products into individual portions or well defined groups with maximum on-weights, thanks to 3D scanning. The shingled portions are loaded into trays or a thermoformer by Marel’s full washdown IPL Robot.
For the meat portions the gripper is different. Here a photo of a meat (portion) gripper from Applied Robotics. The design is more or less similar to the Marel design.
I think I have given you sufficient guidance if interested in automatically processing and packing your naked products. There is one point more, I want to emphasize. No robot, no gripper or suction head is functioning without eyes. It might belong to the paraphernalia, but whatever the pick-and-place unit or its gripper it needs this to function properly.
The most important part is the scanning of the products to be handled. The 3D Scanner, which Gerhard Schubert GmbH premieres at Interpack, sets new performance dimensions and represents a milestone for product image processing. This includes quality assurance parameters such as volume, weight, or stack height. The image processing scanner for robots realizes spatial perception.
This development is based on the stereoscopic approach, which means that the scanner captures two views of each product from different viewing angles. The Vision System tolerates belt soiling, as long as it remains below a certain height threshold, which allows products to be detected under difficult conditions. The first TLM picker line with a 3D scanner has been put into operation by a candy manufacturer in Belgium.
And herewith this article ends with an impression of the first day of Interpack 2014.