Until recently robots used in the food and beverage industry were limited to secondary and tertiary packaging tasks, such as palletizing, as they could not met the necessary standards for direct food contact. The use case is now changing as manufacturers are increasingly developing robots suitable for handling unpacked goods and subsequent washdown, creating new opportunities for the direct and indirect handling of foods.
The new Quest (a product brand of ProMach) Flexible Robotic Loading System is one such system developed specifically for the primary packaging of meat and poultry products. The system was first demonstrated at IFFE (the International Production & Processing Expo) in January 2020, pairing the loading system with an Ossid (also a product brand of ProMach) thermoformer, the ReeForm E40.
The system uses a Fanuc six-axis SCARA robot, the LR Mate 200iD/7LC, which was developed specifically for cleanroom environments, to load, orient, stack, and group products into thermoformed trays. The robot can grip hard-to-handle products, such as poultry and meats, as well as virtually any other product shape. The Quest system is U.S. Department of Agriculture-compliant for direct food contact and features a washdown design with easy access to all components for cleaning.
Another system, the JLS Automation robotic cartoner, branded the Peregrine™, offers features that make it suitable for placing naked or packaged products into cartons—a part of the packaging process often performed in areas where there is moisture. Says JLS, the Peregrine is designed to get wet, shed water, and eliminate any pooling. “And, with proprietary, sanitary Vacuum On Board™ technology, sanitation is as simple as an end-of-arm tool changeover—no cleaning needed.”
The system also scores high in flexibility. JLS describes the process of changing from one carton size to another or changing products carton-to-carton as being “as easy as a simple push of a button.” Automatic changeover is done in seconds by selecting a setting on the HMI. The Peregrine’s vision-guided delta robots offer flexibility in handling different sizes, shapes, and styles of products and packaging, including placing thermoformed pouches, flow-wrapped packs, and flexible bags into tri-seal and other carton styles.
Stäubli’s solution for the food industry is the TS2 HE four-axis SCARA pick-and-place robot. Food industry-specific features include a pressurized arm that prevents microorganism penetration and avoids condensation; a hygienic design with smooth, rounded, and tilted surfaces that eliminate liquid retention; full compatibility with NSF H1 food-grade lubricant; protection against low-pressure jets of water (IP65) and immersion (IP67); and a design for use in wet environments and full wash-down applications.
Read Packaging World’s full 2020 Robotics Special Report: Robots Drive the Manufacturing Revolution