1. Sanitary design. Certain robots have recently been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) specifically for handling meat and poultry products. As meat and poultry processing is a messy business, these robots are now being built with sophisticated coatings, seals, and parts to withstand all the substances involved. Many improvements were made to pass the strict hygiene requirements, including the use of food-grade grease, manipulators engineered to be completely clean and smooth, hollow arms to keep all cabling and wiring protected, and joints constructed without crevices where mold or bacteria can build up. These attributes will also be important in complying with the Food Safety Modernization Act.
2. Flexibility due to more powerful controls. Today’s robots use more powerful controllers that interface more easily to other equipment on your line. With this added power comes the ability to better respond to variations in packing and palletizing patterns demanded by different retailer customers.
3. Gentler handling with more precision. Because of lightweighting of materials, robotics suppliers have designed gentler-handling tools for more delicate packages, especially shrink film-covered multipacks. Handling is also more precise. Previously, a robot might have used a vacuum pack to pick up a box, whereas now it’s more likely to use fork gripper or clamp for better control.
4. More robotic packaging choices. For building robotics into your packaging line, you now have more choices than ever before. There are machine builder suppliers that have incorporated robotics into their product lines, especially for end-of-line operations. There are robotics integrators ready to partner with you for custom solutions. In the not-too-distant past, integrators with automotive assembly experience were doing their best to adapt their knowledge to packaging operations. Now there are expert integrators whose specialty is packaging. The right integrator brings expertise in all the components of a robotic system, plus knowledge of your packaging line.
5. Increased safety. Robotics safety has improved, enabling people to work in closer proximity than ever before.
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