Robotics and Automation

Joe Curcio
Northeast Regional Sales Manager
BluePrint Automation (BPA)

What are the latest robotics innovations in the following areas? Pick & Place, Robot Learning, End-of-Arm Tooling (EOAT) and Space-Saving Designs?

I’m seeing a renewed appreciation for pick and place technology.  Not that anything cutting edge has happened recently, but rather the simplicity of a pick and place is helping it regain popularity.  If a pick & place can perform the required automation, I find engineers opting for this approach over a more complex 5 or 6 axis robot.  When it comes to robot learning or AI, I haven’t seen it applied in packaging.  3-D printed end-of-arm tooling is a big win on many fronts.  These tools can go from concept to the production floor in a matter of hours.  As more 3-D printers come online, the cost of these tools continue to drop.  Ultimately, multiple EOAT concepts can be tested in a production setting to find the most efficient design.  The ability to integrate robotics, pick & place and traditional mechanical devices together, all within the same machine frame, helps reduce floor space requirements over single sourcing any of the above technologies.

Are most robots self-monitoring? Can they analyze errors and provide troubleshooting tips? What is vision-guide robotics? Are 3D cameras the next innovation?

I continue to see more robotic integrators implement self-monitoring applications on their machines.  These applications can alert maintenance that EOAT, robot axis and ancillary equipment in the cell needs attention before they fail.  But most robotic integrators don’t take full advantage of these features.

Vision guided robots rely heavily on imaging technology to be efficient.  These images can be negatively affected by anything from lighting to a product’s reflective packaging.  Newer 3-D imaging, mainly laser scanning, help eliminate some of these variables.  Additionally, many products have irregular shapes that the 3-D scanner can process and send to the robot controller.  Ultimately, the robot can use this data to determine the best location to pick and handle each product as its presented.

What robotics equipment has your company recently introduced? Please describe its capabilities and benefits or improvements.

The SPIDER 200i was developed allowing end users to vertically case pack, close and seal packages into standard RSC (tape) or re-usable cases on the same system.  With a four-point changeover in under five minutes, The Spider 200i provides end users more versatility by allowing various product sizes and case types to be run on the same packaging line including RSC, reusables and 1x display cases too!  Benefits include:

  • Service Different Supply Channels from same line: Direct Store Delivery (DSD) and Centralized Distribution (CD)
  • Minimize footprint and optimize plant layout with an all in one, compact, system to include case packer, erector and closer
  • Open design allows adequate space for operator and maintenance access to internal parts of the machine.
  • Fault detection that initiates the machines relax mode opening the case sealer section automatically, making obstructions easily accessible, minimizing down time.
  • Integrated with a BPA automated blank distribution and loading system to get corrugate off the floor and reduce potential safety hazards (optional)

Synchronizing traditional product collation methods, pick & place technology for case erecting, and the latest in delta robotics we’ve developed a small footprint “all-in-one” case packer.

What are some challenges in designing robotics? What opportunities do you see in the bakery/snack market?

Robotically handling delicate, irregular shaped products at high speeds is a big challenge.  Engineers are leaning heavily on 3-D imaging and innovative end-of-arm tooling to overcome these challenges.

I believe automating secondary packaging is the biggest opportunity for many CPG’s.  Many plants still manually packing off their products.  As wages rapidly rise and social distancing becomes the new normal, I see more and more companies investing in end of line automation.

What robotics innovations do you foresee soon for the bakery/snack segment?  What about cobots, robots designed to collaboratively work with humans in a shared workspace?

Cobots are finding their way into the industry already.  I’ve seen plenty of them used to palletize cases at the end of lines.  Light payloads and slow rates make cobots a great fit for this application.

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