PERFECTING AGRI-BUSINESS PACKING LINES
Food packers facing increasing demand from the retail sector to efficiently load their produce into trays, crates and BDUs have been boosted by one of the smoothest, slickest and versatile pick and place solutions for tray and merchandising applications on the market.
Developed by Pacepacker Services the system, affectionately dubbed the ‘Dolly Packer’ by some industry specialists, is particularly suited to packers of agricultural produce. Featuring a FANUC M710 robotic arm with a gripper formed of two opposing finger sections incline and taper to form a wedge. These fingers gently lower to cradle fresh poly bags of produce, from potatoes and freshly harvested root vegetables, to apples, delicately moving and placing them into retail ready Bulk Display Units, trolleys and trays in a uniformed manner at speed, yet without waste.
The gripper, like many innovations from Pacepacker, is designed to be flexible. This means it can be bolted onto different robot arms and models depending on throughput speed, space limitations in the production facility and weight of the retail-ready packs being handled. Equally, it helps to eliminate one of the more tedious and labour intensive tasks in today’s food supply chain.
“When polybags or nets of fresh produce travel along the conveyor, the gripper moves over the top, closing and cradling products from underneath,” highlights Paul Wilkinson, Pacepacker’s Commercial & Information Systems Manager. “The tips of the gripper are rounded to prevent bags from being pierced. However, the motion of enveloping products in a cradle style is also designed to ensure the fingers don’t penetrate bags.”
The number of packs the system can handle varies depending on each customer’s set-up. “Anything from 60+ packs upwards per minute is feasible, but this is entirely dependent on the weight of each bag,” says Paul. Bag weights of 1kg to 5kg, and all of the variants in between, can be accommodated, making the ‘dolly packer’, as some industry specialists have affectionately named it, ideal for agricultural and contract packers.
During the release stage, the gripper is angled to rotate and adjust according to the depth and positioning of the tray. As a result, product damage, such as bruising, is minimised. That’s because the bags gently slide down the fingers into position within the tray or pallet. “This accurate product placement is another important feature when supplying retailers, due to the perceived quality this conveys to customers when produce packs are neatly presented,” comments Paul.
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