13 April 2017 //
by Jim Campbell
Robots are not new to the manufacturing industry. The first modern programmable robot was installed in 1961 at General Motors to move hot metal and, today, robots are designed to perform a variety of activities from simple tasks to complex jobs in extreme environments.
In the packaging industry, robots are involved from the beginning to end-of-line, handling food, pick and placing, case packing and palletizing. For secondary packaging applications such as shrink wrapping or case packaging, robotics solve issues related to hard-to-handle products, multiple axis manipulation, fluctuating throughput rates and tight plant layouts.
Equipment Flexibility and Adaptability for Multiple Product SKUs
One of the greatest challenges consumer packaged goods manufacturers and food processors face today is executing packaging that meets the dynamic needs of distributors, retailers and consumers. Flexibility is key in using a single packaging line to accommodate a variety SKUs, packaging types, product counts and configurations. The right robotic solution can provide the functionality needed to address many common flexibility obstacles in ways previous technologies could not, including:
Products received at high rates of speed or with odd profiles, high centers of gravity, oversized caps/lids or other instability will likely benefit from a robot. The same holds true for primary packaging designs that are not conducive to traditional collating methods like a mechanical pusher. For example, tapered containers with a narrow base and wide lid are prone to rim-riding, meaning the containers index against and “jump” onto one another instead of self-collating. To prevent this occurrence, a robotic pick-and-place system can pick and handle a single unit or an entire row. The robot simply builds a collation, loads pads and trays for shrink wrapping, and subsequently loads a corrugated case.
Uniquely Stacked Products
Products that need to be stacked, rotated or nested also exemplify how a secondary packaging line can benefit from a robotic system that replaces the limited flexibility of older technology like up-stackers or down-stackers. In addition to ease of programming and tooling, the multi-axis of a robot makes it easy to create a final pack configuration that accommodates the necessary rotation or orientation of the product — think stand-up pouches that require 180-degree rotation and an alternating pattern to create an evenly nested stack.
While not every secondary packaging application requires a robot, as the need for flexibility increases and products evolve, more complex automation becomes a business necessity warranting new technology. Integrating a robot into a packaging line can help alleviate current challenges and prevent future challenges.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally posted April 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.