The use of robots in food packaging applications is increasing as more robots adhere to IP69K construction standards for sanitation. This is according to PMMI’s recent robot report, “2022 Robots and Cobots An Automated Future”, which shares that the main packaging applications for which robots are used are handling bags and bottles, loading containers, multipacks, packaging instructions, pick-and-place, unloading and loading of trays, etc.
According to a report by TechNavio, the food packaging robotics market size is expected to increase by $1.03 billion, with a year-over-year growth of 4.75% from 2021 to 2025. “One of the key factors driving the growth of the food packaging robotics market is safety and quality assurance,” the report explains.
A new robotic innovation for primary food packaging is a robotic tray loading system from BluePrint Automation (BPA) called Spider 100v. The company explains, the system replaces a traditional assemble and load system and eliminates race track assembly and potential bottlenecks. Recommended for bags, pouches, cereal/nutrition bars and other flow-packed products such as frozen novelties and baked goods, the Spider 100v uses a combination of four- and six-axis delta robots and a system of vision to select the product and place it. in trays, cartons, crates and other secondary containers.
The vision system is designed to pick random, non-oriented product, eliminating the need to perfectly orient the product before it enters the picking belt, thereby reducing floor space. The vision system also provides integrated product inspection, detecting double wraps, wrong sized products, etc.
The Spider 100v can accept bulk products using BPA power supply technology and is built using BPA’s standard modular frame, which the company claims saves costs by minimizing wiring and reducing the clutter by eliminating bulky external electrical cabinets.
Also designed for the picking and packaging of primary food products, a new robot from Fanuc, the DR-3IB/6 STAINLESS, which is the company’s first food-grade stainless steel delta robot. Rated IP69K, the robot meets USDA and FDA food safety standards, with a fully enclosed stainless steel body that withstands chemicals and the high pressures/temperatures required in stringent washdown environments. Fanuc notes, the robot’s mirror-like surface finish ensures that all microbial contaminants can be removed cleanly.
Other hygienic features include NSF H1 food grade lubricant, secondary oil catch basins (with viewing windows to monitor potential leaks), self-draining surfaces and other details governed by USDA standards /FDA.
The DR-3IB/6 Stainless has a reach of 1200mm and a four-axis design that allows it to handle 6kg payloads at high speeds. The new bot works with Fanuc’s latest R-30IB Plus controller with integrated intelligent functions such as IRVision, Force Sensing, Robot Link, Collision Guard and Zero Down Time (ZDT).
JLS automation also recently launched a food loading system equipped with an IP69K-rated delta robot: the Harrier Bacon Draft Loading System. The system automatically loads the sliced fresh bacon drafts into the thermoformers. According to JLS, the Harrier replaces the typical complex series of conveyors and devices often used for this process while helping to solve labor shortages. An EOAT patent-pending robotic gripper pre-bends a flat L-shaped board flap using a combination of linear servo actuators. The folded draft is then rotated 180 degrees and hinged down into the pocket of the thermoformer. Drafts can also be loaded onto a model loading board of a thermoformer designed for packaging fresh retail bacon. The system has a 20% surge capability.
Notes JLS, the vision-guided robot targeting system accommodates a wide range of blank position variations on the infeed conveyor while providing some degree of blank quality inspection. The Harrier has an open design, which the company says contributes to its sanitary design and washability, as well as easy access for operator loading of “Make Weight” and “B-Grade” drafts. “. The IP69K rated stainless steel delta robot sits in an open channel chassis and allows tool-less disassembly of all tools and conveyors for easy cleaning and sanitizing.
Another solution that picks up and packages proteins in a thermoformer is an integrated system of Quest and Osidboth are part of ProMach brand family. Recently showcased at a trade show, the integrated packaging line featured a Quest six-axis robotic pick and place system powering an Ossid thermoformer. using Fanuc IR vision and flexibility of the robot’s six axes, the system orients and loads steaks into thermoformed trays. The EOAT robot was equipped with a Soft robotics gripper, designed for difficult-to-handle products such as poultry and meat.
According to Mandy Turner, Regional Sales Manager for Quest Industrial, “The protein industry has been hit hard by labor shortages over the past two years. Quest develops innovative, space-saving and cost-effective solutions to lighten labor in the toughest bulk handling applications.
The new Robotic Pick & Place platform, or RPP, from Syntegon. The platform uses a modular cell design that allows individual configuration of robot cells, with up to three delta robots per cell. Explain Andreas Schildknecht, Product Manager Robotics at Syntegon, “Every customer project is different. Thanks to the RPP modular platform, we can manage a wide variety of products. The delta robots can be flexibly connected and, together with the transport modules, seamlessly integrated into an overall system. Together with our customers, we can automate individual process steps consecutively and according to their needs or budgets, following the “build as you grow” principle. Additionally, the platform can be scaled to accommodate different production capacities, while multiple cells can be connected.
Among the functions handled by RPP are product handling, including capping, re-orientation, and grouping into single packs, stacks, shingles, multipacks, mix packs or assortments; loading products into trays, u-boards, boxes or crates; or the feeding of products into the feed chains of primary and secondary packaging equipment. Depending on the type of EOAT, RPP is capable of multi-select, reflex-select, grouping, pre-stacking, product orientation, and tilt functions.
RPP uses open control software which ensures the seamless integration of delta robots into the line. According to Syntegon, RPP cells offer “excellent visibility, easy access and efficient cleaning”. The stainless steel robot cells also meet protection class IP65 and are designed to meet the latest food safety regulations.