That was the crux of the message delivered on June 29 by Joe Crompton of Blueprint Robotic Solutions at PMMI’s Pack Ops conference in suburban Chicago. By Crompton’s estimate in 2003 packaging applications made up only 5% of total robot usage in manufacturing.
“The use of robots in packaging lags considerably behind automobile manufacturing and other high-technology assembly operations” said Crompton. “That void has been noticed and suppliers of robotic solutions are rushing to fill it.”
Among the reasons? Robots are smaller and faster. Big ones on the other hand carry bigger loads than ever up to 600 kg (1 lb) in some cases. Robots being built today are also better able to withstand washdown. They’re smarter than ever too and easier to program and troubleshoot. And with more selection from more makers prices have begun to come down from their historically high levels.
“Most dramatic have been the advances we’ve seen in vision systems” said Crompton. “Vision systems that cost $20 four or five years ago are now in the $5 range. And they’re even IP67 rated so they’re suitable for use in washdown settings. It’s amazing what the machine vision companies are doing these days.”
Crompton closed his Pack Ops presentation with a few tips:
• If you’re new to robotics start simple. “By starting with the low-hanging fruit you’re more likely to find your proposed robotic solution more acceptable to management manufacturing operations and everyone else involved.”
• If you’re already into robotics keep current with new developments. “Technology continues to improve and costs continue to come down.”
• Be creative in your use of various types of robots—SCARA delta gantry articulating arm—to arrive at the solutions you need.