Robots on the rise

Because they’re smaller, faster, stronger, and a tad less costly than in previous years, expect to see robotics occupying an increasingly important role throughout the packaging function in the next few years.

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 (1괢 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 $20ꯠ four or five years ago are now in the $5ꯠ 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.

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