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Video: robots for rainbow packs

To improve profits on variety packs, new robots automate the re-packing process.

This content was written and submitted by the supplier. It has only been modified to comply with this publication’s space and style.

Rainbow packs are those popular multi-flavor packs of beverages, yogurt, confections, snacks and other typically single serve products.  Unfortunately for profitability, rainbow packs are largely repacked by hand at distribution centers and co-packers – adding cost, time, the potential for shrinkage and sometimes less than ideal secondary packages.

After all, most packaging lines run single flavors from the filler through the case or tray packer.  So long as club stores and other influential retailers demand these variety packs, there will be a need to repack them more cost-effectively.

One way to do this is with robots, but not the familiar articulated robots found in palletizing and sometimes case packing applications.  Instead, delta 2 and gantry style robots make the most sense, along with sophisticated end of arm tooling that may be equipped with vacuum and servo actuation.

Robotics designed for co-packers

Enter XPAK USA, which introduced the V-Pass system at the most recent PACK EXPO show using servo automation from Schneider Electric.  The robot mechanism descend upon filled single-flavor multipacks, plucks groupings out and repacks into the openings it’s created.

XPAK’s design objective was to produce a system so cost-effective that the smaller, regional contract packagers making up the bulk of food industry co-packing can afford it.

Robotics designed for high volume rainbow packing

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Oystar A+F’s massive SetLine.  In operation at Germany’s famed interpack show, the SetLine comprises three sets of twin delta 2 robot arms, two carriages on parallel tracks, and in rainbow configuration up to four infeed conveyors.

Shown here handling dairy tubs, the SetLine is powered by Schneider Electric’s purpose-built ELAU packaging robotic automation system.

The first robot picks four groups of three tubs of one flavor from a tray on the first input conveyor.  The tooling expands to place three tubs into each of four fixtures.  The robot arm then picks from infeed conveyor #2, #3, then #4 until all four flavors are transferred into variety pack configurations.

Then the carriage indexes to the next station where a sleeve is picked, erected into the carriage and filled with cups by a second robot.  At station 3, a robot glues and seals the filled sleeves and places them into the trays on a discharge conveyor.

The SetLine is the ‘big brother’ of A+F’s TwinLine, believed to be the very first case packing delta 2 robot – also also powered by Schneider Electric’s ELAU packaging automation.

The SetLine obviously fits larger packaging operations, including food processing plants where products may be diverted from dedicated single flavor filling lines after tray/case packing to a separate rainbow line.  SetLine can just as easily be configured to pack single flavors on the main packaging lines.

Trend favors embedded delta robotics

The trend in packaging has been to shift away from third party, general purpose robots in primary and secondary packaging applications to these kinds of embedded robots implemented by packaging machine builders.

That’s because they are compact, offer good payloads and freedom of movement, they’re highly synchronized with the rest of the packaging machine, and they are applied with the OEM’s deep knowledge of the packaging process.

Case packing in particular has benefited from compact, self-contained delta 2 robots.  A delta from Nuspark can case pack, de-case empty bottles for filling, or orient and transfer packages from one belt to the next.  A second arm can fit on the same frame, doubling throughput without any increase in footprint.   It even runs on the same ELAU controller from Schneider Electric.  

This is made practical because, in all of these examples, an IEC compliant automation control system replaces the traditional proprietary ‘black box’ robot controllers.  Where complex kinematic algorithms are required, these are calculated behind the scenes, so programming is the same as for ‘normal’ servo packaging machines.

About Schneider Electric’s ELAU Packaging Solutions

Schneider Electric’s ELAU Packaging Solutions is the only automaton supplier in the world exclusively focused on the packaging machinery. They offer the only automation system purpose-built for the packaging industry.

Through ELAU, Schneider Electric equips over $1 billion worth of packaging machines annually, with over 45,000 systems already deployed worldwide.  

The market demands packaging operations that are more flexible and efficient to fulfill marketing, supply chain and global business strategies.  Schneider Electric innovations have enabled a revolution in mechanical, software and hardware modularity to deliver these agile packaging systems.
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