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Article | July 31, 2005
Robots find a fit in packaging (sidebar)
The Sweet Side of Robotics
When the largest candy cane manufacturer in the world bought its first packaging robot in 1989 they must have liked it—the company now has 32 robots packaging the holiday treats.
Spangler Candy Company of Bryan OH manufactures candy ranging from Dum-Dum lollipops to circus peanuts to Saf-T pops as well as the candy canes. The company uses robots with vision guidance to inspect and pick up each piece of candy and place it properly in the cradle packaging.
“We’re constantly looking for different ways to use robots” says David Bauer manufacturing engineer at Spangler. “This was a different item because it was a repetitive motion and we could present the canes to the robots in a uniform way.”
The Adept robots at Spangler take a picture of each candy cane inspecting them for the proper length and an appropriate crook then pick up those that pass inspection. Failed candy canes are ignored and flow to a receptacle at the end of the line.
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That first 1989 robot was fairly primitive by today’s standards with a 20-megabyte hard drive and code programmed in a combination of Fortran and BASIC.
“Everything had to be done with hard code” says Bauer. “I had the Adept application engineers write that code because it was quite an undertaking.
“Now the systems are all Windows based and it’s all really simple almost like filling in blanks” he adds. “There are tons of code wrapped up in Adept’s MotionWare which gives us a whole lot more flexibility and control and I can do it all myself.”
While the robots perform well on the candy canes the other candies aren’t appropriate robotic applications where traditional packaging systems fill items in bulk bags. But according to Bauer robots are perfect for the continuous packaging line.
For other packagers considering a robot Bauer recommends that the robot be appropriate for the application.
“When I consider a robot I take the application and look and see if hard automation or a robot is the best method” says Bauer. “In our case—and there are similar areas around—the payback is if it saves labor and how much. And you have to have the appropriate systems integrator to make it work well.”
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