The packaging industry has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, fueled by the adoption of robotics and automation technologies.
These advancements have revolutionized production processes, enabling manufacturers to achieve increased efficiency, precision, and consistency while helping deal with the continuing difficulty of labor shortages in often repetitive and challenging environments.
This article discusses the three main types of robots found in packaging applications.
The video examples show examples of robots from leading manufacturer Fanuc.
Industrial Robots: Versatility and Strength
Industrial robots, also known as articulated robots, are the workhorses of the packaging industry. Their human-like arm structure enables them to handle a wide range of tasks, from picking and placing items to palletizing finished products. These robots are typically large and powerful, ideal for handling heavy loads and operating in demanding environments.
These industrial robots were first encountered in the packaging industry, handling applications such as palletizing and de-palletizing, where the ability to manage heavy loads makes them ideal for almost all products.
Industrial robots generally need a high skill level for programming and might be less flexible than cobots, but integrators, such as Quest Industrial, produce software systems that allow end-users to easily customize their robot’s operation to handle various product and pallet configurations.
In addition, because of the powerful motion of industrial robots, it is essential that comprehensive guarding is installed to ensure the safety of workers in the area.
Collaborative Robots (Cobots): Safety and Flexibility
Cooperative robots (cobots) are generally smaller, less expensive than their industrial cousins, and easier to set up and use.
Cobots can handle many pick-and-place-type applications and are also often seen being used for lighter-weight palletizing jobs.
The smaller size and weight of these robots means that they can often be mounted on a cart, enabling them to be moved to different locations in a plant and in some cases, on an automatic guided cart to increase automation levels further.
With their focus on safety and human-robot collaboration, cobots are making inroads into the packaging industry. These robots are designed to work alongside human operators nearby without compromising safety. They are equipped with sensors and safety features that automatically stop the robot’s movement if it detects a person in its workspace.
Note that the improved levels of safety with cobots don’t remove the need for a complete safety survey when installing these robots and installing guarding where needed.
Delta Robots: Speed and Precision
Delta robots, also known as parallel link robots, are characterized by their triangular structure and 360-degree rotational capability. Their unique design allows them to perform pick-and-place operations with unparalleled speed and precision, making them ideal for high-volume packaging applications.
These robots are becoming increasingly popular for automating repetitive tasks on packaging lines, such as loading fruits and protein products into the infeed of form-fill-seal machines and placing small items into boxes at high speed.
As shown in the video above, delta robots are often made of food-grade materials, allowing them to be in direct contact with
How Robots Enhance Productivity and Accuracy
Robotic automation in the packaging industry brings about a multitude of benefits, including:
- Increased Productivity: Robots can work tirelessly and efficiently, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This consistent and uninterrupted operation significantly enhances packaging throughput and reduces production time.
- Improved Accuracy: Robots are programmed with precise movements and data, ensuring that every packaging task is executed with consistent accuracy. This eliminates human errors and minimizes product defects.
- Reduced Labor Costs: By automating repetitive and labor-intensive tasks, robots free human workers to focus on more complex and value-added activities. This reduces labor costs and improves worker safety.
- Enhanced Consistency: Robots maintain consistent performance throughout their operation, ensuring that packaging processes remain stable and predictable. This consistency minimizes variability and promotes product quality.
Examples of Robotic Applications in Packaging
Robots are employed in various aspects of the packaging process, from product handling and sorting to palletizing and packaging machinery operation. Here are some specific examples:
- Picking and Placing: Robots efficiently pick up and place products from conveyor belts, boxes, or shelves, ensuring accurate positioning and orientation.
- Palletizing: Robots automatically arrange and stack products on pallets, optimizing space utilization and facilitating efficient transportation.
- Bottling and Canning: Robots handle intricate tasks like filling bottles, capping cans, and labeling products, ensuring consistency and accuracy.
- Packaging Machinery Operation: Robots control and operate packaging machinery, including cartoning machines, shrink-wrapping machines, and labeling systems.
The Future of Robotics in Packaging
As robotics technology continues to evolve, we can expect even more innovative applications in the packaging industry. Collaborative robots will become increasingly sophisticated, enabling them to perform more complex tasks and interact seamlessly with human workers. Meanwhile, delta robots will be refined to handle even lighter and faster-moving products, further enhancing packaging efficiency.
Integrating robotics into the packaging process is not merely a technological but a shift in the industry. Robots are transforming how products are packaged, improving productivity, accuracy, and consistency while enhancing worker safety and reducing labor costs. As the packaging industry embraces automation, we expect to see even more transformative applications that revolutionize product handling, packaging, and overall supply chain operations.