What kind of packaging robot should you use?

By Harpak-ULMA
Posted In : Automation, Labor, cobots

There are several different packaging automation options to achieve your goals at each stage of your process. The basic types of automation are primary, secondary, and palletizing. While robotic packaging can be a part of each of these types of automation, it offers some unique solutions that are worth taking a closer look at. We’ll evaluate the two main types of packaging robots to help you determine which application may be best for you, and where on your line you might use it. 

Robotic Pick-and-Place Automation 

One of the most noteworthy advancements in automation has involved robotics for pick and place applications. This makes it easier to replicate the dexterity and vision once only available through human labor.  

There are two key components of pick and place automation that are noteworthy: vision systems/timing and grippers. 

Vision systems are critical when products are arriving chaotically on the conveyor. It utilizes a camera that sends images to the robot so it knows where to pick product from, as well as its shape and size. Vision systems can also be important for identifying product defects and weeding them out before packaging. 

Pick and place automation can also work on timing, which requires products to be evenly spaced on the conveyor. That way, the robot knows to pick up a product in the same place every time at a certain interval. 

Grippers allow product to be handled in multiple ways. There are two main kinds: vacuum with suction cups or pneumatic fingers. The right method for you will depend on your application. 

If you’re operating at a high speed, vacuum with suction is a good route. These grippers can pick up multiple items at a time and therefore operate at a faster pace. 

If you’re working with a delicate product, pneumatic fingers are a good option. Say your product is a frosted donut with sprinkles on top – using vacuum suction to pick up the product could damage the product by removing sprinkles or smudging icing. Pneumatic fingers mimic the motion of human fingers gently picking up a product.  

This solution can also be beneficial for sanitary design, as there is sometimes concern that vacuum systems will suck up food particles and cause sanitation concerns. 

Robotic Pick-and-Place Applications 

Pick and place automation can be used for primary, secondary and palletizing. There are applications for: 

  • Palletizing and depalletizing 
  • Infeed handling (primary packaging) 
  • Case packing and de-casing (secondary packaging) 
  • Mixing (combo packs) 
  • General material handling  
  • Full line integrated solutions 

This type of robotic automation is flexible, partly because it can pick and/or place product from almost any configuration, from simple single lane to random (using vision systems). Robots can also use sensors to pick and place radically oriented products and handle multiple locations, heights, and lanes. 

Collaborative Robots for automation 

Collaborative robots, sometimes called “cobots”, work alongside humans in your production line. Their highly advanced, integrated safety capabilities employ onboard sensors to monitor for risk of operator collisions and act to avoid them, thus enabling positioning next to their human colleagues. This not only improves deployment options; it eliminates the additional cost of safety fences and interlocks. 

Cobots are an affordable, flexible, and safe way to introduce robotic packaging automation to your line. There are several key benefits: 

  • Cobots can work safely side-by-side with humans. 
  • Like all automation, cobots don’t get tired or call out sick. 
  • They utilize machine learning, vision systems and artificial intelligence. 
  • Smart sensor technology can analyze errors and troubleshoot solutions. 
  • You can move cobots between product lines for maximum flexibility. 
  • They are fully compliant with safety regulations with no additional safety guarding required. 

Collaborative Robot Applications 

Cobots are best utilized with lower volume and lower weight pick and place opportunities. Since they can work alongside humans, they are often used for palletization or menial tasks within the plant. For example, a cobot may be programmed to form boxes for case packing so a worker can manually load it. 

Cobots can also be programmed to do multiple tasks, and are modular so they can easily be moved around the plant. This allows for lots of flexibility in your automation and allows for a semi-automatic process that blends robotics and human activity. Manufacturers with limited floor space can benefit greatly from cobots because they have a smaller footprint. 

Packaging robots are a great way to introduce flexibility and efficiency to your automated solution. Like any other type of automation, it’s important to consider all the factors that may impact your choice of equipment, such as floor space, packaging process, production requirements, and more. 

If you think pick and place or collaborative robots could be a good fit for you, our automation experts can take a custom approach to find the best solution for you.  

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