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COVID-19, Technology Advancements Drive Robot Adoption

Part I of Packaging World’s 2022 Robot Report explores how new challenges are driving the development of robot technologies for primary food and pharma packaging, case packing, and palletizing/depalletizing.

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It will probably be years before we fully understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed business practices and operations. One area where its impact can clearly be seen, however, is in the increased use of robotics on the factory floor. Says Maya Xiao, Senior Analyst at Interact Analysis, “The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent labor shortages and rising wage costs have turbo-charged factory automation across a wide swathe of industrial sectors.”

In North America, the robotics market experienced its best quarter ever in Q1-2022. That’s according to The International Federation of Robotics (IFR), which reports that companies from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico ordered 11,595 industrial robots in that time period—a 28% increase over Q1-2021. Revenue rose by 43% and reached a value of $664 million. “Across industries, the post COVID-crisis boom created double-digit growth over the same quarter of last year,” notes IFR President Milton Guerry.

Dialing in on the packaging market, a new report from PMMI – The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, titled, “2022 Robots and Cobots An Automated Future,” shares that 54% of those interviewed spent more on robotics in 2022 versus 2019, at 29%. The report also notes that a majority of consumer packaged goods manufacturers—84%—are using robotics along their production lines today, and 93% of participants predicted they will be using robotics on their production floor in the next five years.

According to the report, among the top-five achievements CPGs expect when adding robots are a reduction in labor and repetitive tasks (90%), an increase in speed and productivity (78%), repeatable quality and consistent product handling (67%), improved operator safety (51%), and the minimization of waste and human error (33%).

Along with labor shortages, advances in robot payload, end-of-arm tools (EOAT), Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, vision, hygienic construction, and other innovations are helping drive the robot boom. In Part I of Packaging World’s Annual Robotics Report, we explore some of the technologies spurring the use of robots in primary food and pharmaceutical packaging applications, case packing, and palletizing.

Read the following sections of the report to learn more:

Robots Reduce Labor, Enhance Product Safety in Primary Food Packaging

OEMs introduce new delta robots engineered to meet IP69K ratings and with enhanced vision systems and EoAT to handle pick-and-place functions in food packaging applications.

Robots’ Hygienic Features, Precision Spur Pharmaceutical Applications

A number of new robotic technologies meet the pharma industry’s need for greater automation, offering solutions for capping, pick-and-place, and other processes.

Case-Packing Robots Boast Flexibility, Efficiency, and Speed

Nearly half of CPGs in a new study report using robots for secondary packaging processes. New robot technology for club-store packaging and for case packing of containers and lids gives them new options.

Ease-of-Use, Programming are Table Stakes for Palletizing Robots

Seventy-five percent of CPGs are now using robotics for end-of-line packaging operations.. A new palletizer from Iris Factory Automation using a Kawasaki robot meets the growing need for robotics that are flexible and simple to operate.

Six-Axis Robots Gently Depalletize, Clean Cosmetics Bottles

Italian contract manufacturer Cosmint installs a new robotic depalletizing cell designed to clean and manipulate high-end, preprinted cosmetic bottles without leaving a scratch.

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