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Video: robots for rainbow packs

To improve profits on variety packs, new robots automate the re-packing process.
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FILED IN:  Machinery  > Case packing
     

Rainbow packs are those popular multi-flavor packs of beverages,
yogurt, confections, snacks and other typically single serve products. 
Unfortunately for profitability, rainbow packs are largely repacked by
hand at distribution centers and co-packers – adding cost, time, the
potential for shrinkage and sometimes less than ideal secondary
packages.

After all, most packaging lines run single flavors from the filler
through the case or tray packer.  So long as club stores and other
influential retailers demand these variety packs, there will be a need
to repack them more cost-effectively.

One way to do this is with robots, but not the familiar articulated
robots found in palletizing and sometimes case packing applications. 
Instead, delta 2 and gantry style robots make the most sense, along
with sophisticated end of arm tooling that may be equipped with vacuum
and servo actuation.

Robotics designed for co-packers

Enter XPAK USA, which introduced the V-Pass system at the most
recent PACK EXPO show using servo automation from Schneider Electric. 
The robot mechanism descend upon filled single-flavor multipacks,
plucks groupings out and repacks into the openings it’s created.

XPAK’s design objective was to produce a system so cost-effective that
the smaller, regional contract packagers making up the bulk of food
industry co-packing can afford it.

Robotics designed for high volume rainbow packing

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Oystar A+F’s massive SetLine. 
In operation at Germany’s famed interpack show, the SetLine comprises
three sets of twin delta 2 robot arms, two carriages on parallel
tracks, and in rainbow configuration up to four infeed conveyors.

Shown here handling dairy tubs, the SetLine is powered by Schneider
Electric’s purpose-built ELAU packaging robotic automation system.

The first robot picks four groups of three tubs of one flavor from a
tray on the first input conveyor.  The tooling expands to place three tubs
into each of four fixtures.  The robot arm then picks from infeed
conveyor #2, #3, then #4 until all four flavors are transferred into
variety pack configurations.

Then the carriage indexes to the next station where a sleeve is picked,
erected into the carriage and filled with cups by a second robot.  At
station 3, a robot glues and seals the filled sleeves and places them
into the trays on a discharge conveyor.

The SetLine is the ‘big brother’ of A+F’s TwinLine, believed to be the
very first case packing delta 2 robot – also also powered by Schneider
Electric’s ELAU packaging automation.

The SetLine obviously fits larger packaging operations, including food
processing plants where products may be diverted from dedicated single
flavor filling lines after tray/case packing to a separate rainbow
line.  SetLine can just as easily be configured to pack single flavors
on the main packaging lines.

Trend favors embedded delta robotics

The trend in packaging has been to shift away from third party, general
purpose robots in primary and secondary packaging applications to these
kinds of embedded robots implemented by packaging machine builders.

That’s because they are compact, offer good payloads and freedom of
movement, they’re highly synchronized with the rest of the packaging
machine, and they are applied with the OEM’s deep knowledge of the
packaging process.

Case packing in particular has benefited from compact, self-contained
delta 2 robots.  A delta from Nuspark can case pack, de-case empty
bottles for filling, or orient and transfer packages from one belt to
the next.  A second arm can fit on the same frame, doubling throughput
without any increase in footprint.   It even runs on the same ELAU
controller from Schneider Electric.  

This is made practical because, in all of these examples, an IEC
compliant automation control system replaces the traditional
proprietary ‘black box’ robot controllers.  Where complex kinematic
algorithms are required, these are calculated behind the scenes, so
programming is the same as for ‘normal’ servo packaging machines.

About Schneider Electric’s ELAU Packaging Solutions

Schneider Electric’s ELAU Packaging Solutions is the only automaton
supplier in the world exclusively focused on the packaging machinery.
They offer the only automation system purpose-built for the packaging
industry.

Through ELAU, Schneider Electric equips over $1 billion worth of
packaging machines annually, with over 45,000 systems already deployed
worldwide.  

The market demands packaging operations that are more flexible and
efficient to fulfill marketing, supply chain and global business
strategies.  Schneider Electric innovations have enabled a revolution
in mechanical, software and hardware modularity to deliver these agile
packaging systems.

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