WHICH ROBOTS ARE BEST FOR CONTRACT PACKERS?
With consumer buying trends influencing greater product diversification, contract packing facilities are increasingly leaning towards flexible robots that straddle several pick and place lines and palletising.
For contract packers that deal with varied products, packages and sizes, automation equipment, like the FANUC M410 palletising robots and the FANUC M10 case loading family, support quick and efficient product switches. Frequent product changeovers underpin this trend, evidenced by Pacepacker Services reports that enquiries for a single robot that can straddle or move between infeed conveyors have doubled in the last 12 months as customers move away from traditional application-specific palletising and case loading cells.
Designed specifically for palletising tasks, the M410 robot series is capable of multiple palletising configurations and features a large vertical work envelope. This robot has the payload and multitasking capability of stacking anything, ranging from 25kg potato sacks, to tubs of animal feed and bales of pet bedding. For increased flexibility, this high-speed robot can be fitted with different multi-purpose end effectors to suit the application. What’s more, the robot can be easily moved to other production areas to suit business demands, boosting a packer’s investment even further.
Pacepacker’s Commercial & Information Systems Manager, Paul Wilkinson, explains: “We are increasingly designing palletising cells with three to four in-feed conveyor lines, often carrying different product sizes, packaging types and weights. Thanks to the maximum 3.1m reach of the M410, one robot can pick up different pack formats from multiple lines simultaneously and stack up to three pallets up to 2.4 metres high.”
Palletising payloads within the M410 family range from 140kg to 700kg, and the robots are capable of completing 1,700 cycles per hour. The robot’s generous payload also opens up possibilities for handling and palletising several heavy items simultaneously, for example two filled keys of beer or several sacks of aggregate.
“Because of the choice of end-effectors available, we can select a multifunctional tooling that automatically adjusts to all of the functions it has to perform: picking pallets and slip sheets before palletising commences, as well as bags and boxes,” continues Paul. Adding to its flexibility, hundreds of pallet patterns can be programmed and stored by the robot. And even if operatives need to change the end-effector for a specific pack format, quick changeovers means this can be done in just a few minutes, minimising production downtime.
When it comes to adaptable case loading, the FANUC M10 is equally efficient. This family of robots can pack anything from cardboard cartons of frozen fish portions to thermoformed trays of fresh meat or sacks of potatoes into shelf ready cases and trays. They can also stack filled boxes, trays and sacks on pallets. “The versatility of the M10 robotic arms enable fast adaptability to any case loading application,” emphasises Paul. “The system can also be customised to any type of conveyor and food factory configuration and can even be integrated with a case erection, case sealing and palletising system.”
With a payload of 12kg and capable of picking and packing up to 80 items per minute, M10 robots can be fitted with any end effector to suit the application. There are more than 80 to choose from, including mechanical grippers for gently cradling fresh poly bags of produce, or delicately transferring potatoes and freshly harvested root vegetables into bulk display units, to suction cups for loading tubs and pots into retail ready trays.
Weighing just 130kg, the robot arm is much lighter than similar case loading applications on the market and in comparison to conventional mechanical case loader systems it has a much smaller footprint. “This makes it an ideal robot for when production space is limited, as due to its weight it can be wall or ceiling mounted, or installed at an angle,” says Paul.
Similarly, the FANUC M20-iA robot series is a popular choice for food packers wanting a two-in-one multitasking case loading and palletising robot. Thanks to its industry-leading reach of over 1.8 metres, coupled with a high payload on a compact footprint, the same robot can programmed to carry out both pick and place and palletising duties, making it an attractive investment proposition. Although small, the M20 robot is mighty, providing 35kg payload with the highest wrist movements and inertia in its class. Its larger work envelope also enables simultaneous servicing of two lines. For example, produce can go in one direction into a cardboard box and the other direction into a retail tray.
“Given that a large volume of packers today serve a wide customer base and have to accommodate peak demands, palletising and case loading robots increasingly need to be able to react swiftly to varied products and packaging sizes,” explains Paul. “We are increasingly building systems for customers that flex to the needs of a business and as specialists in automated systems we can design or select a multifunctional end effector to eliminate the need for changeovers.”
Pacepacker has worked in partnership with FANUC for almost 20 years and is considered a high-end strategic partner. Working strategically with a number of carefully selected OEM and robotic companies, Pacepacker also recently unveiled a series of informative automation awareness workshops with equipment manufacturer and training provider Festo, focusing on how contract packers can integrate systems and extract full benefit from them quickly and efficiently.
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