How do you guarantee people’s safety in a filling operation where dangerous or toxic materials are involved? How do you automate a dangerous drum-filling process while guaranteeing the right materials go to the right place at the right quantity?
At Feige Filling (www.feigeusa.com), the answer to both questions is robotics guided by a machine-based vision system. For years Feige has been supplying industrial machines used to fill different containers. Recently, Feige developed a new robotic filling technology equipped with the In-Sight 5401 camera plus from Cognex (www.cognex.com) plus Cognex’s PatMax geometric pattern-matching technology. Feige’s four or six-jointed robotic arm can automatically locate the screw closures on steel drums even when the drums arrive in various and unpredictable positions on the pallet. It’s a solution that opens up new opportunities for filling with regard to safety, speed, and cost effectiveness.
The steel drums are introduced to the RobotFiller on pallets. The stopper on each drum lid is arranged off-centre at the edge of the lid, and the stoppers tend to be in a different position on every pallet.
The first step in filling is for the RobotFiller to pick up a tool that it uses to remove the screw closure of each drum. It then places the closures on a tray. Next, it changes tools and grips the filling valve required to fill the drum variety that is in production. Once filling is complete, the jointed-arm robot switches tools again to pick up the closures and screw them back into the drum lids. With the drums filled and closed, the pallet is ready to be conveyed out of the filling station.
The robotic system is able to perform all these functions without human intervention because it relies on the In-Sight 5401 camera to see intelligently. Added functionality provided by the vision system involves code-reading capabilities. The In-Sight 5401 can read a bar code on each container and send that information to a part of the end user’s business system in such a way that the end user can be sure that the correct containers for filling are indeed on the pallet. This increases process safety and reduces the cost of re-work since the correct product is always filled into the correct drum. The robust characteristics of the vision system are an added value in a drum filling environment, where exposure to toxic materials and flammable substances is not uncommon.
Axel Frank, automation technology manager at Feige filling, says he especially appreciates the fact that he does not require any additional evaluation with an industry PC. He also values the clear assignment of interfaces, which makes it much easier for users to familiarize themselves with the system.