The trend toward greater customization of packaging, including pack sizes, configurations, and packaging types, to differentiate brands and connect with consumers continues to grow and with it, packagers’ need for greater flexibility. In response, packaging machinery suppliers are addressing this need with more flexible and modular systems for primary packaging that incorporate robots.
Among them is BluePrint Automation. BPA’s new Spider 300v case-loading system, engineered for both packaging and contract-packaging operations, combines two delta-style pattern-building robots with a 6-axis case loader. The system uses vision to allow operators to perform both vertical and horizontal case packing on the same line at the same time. The Spider 300v also allows for random product arrival at high speeds for flexibility in packaging formats. Built for quick changeover between recipes, the system can handle standard RSC cases, three-sided displays, shelf-ready packaging, and a range of other secondary containers.
According to BPA, another advantage of the machine is its compact footprint. Says the company, the Spider 300v is built with a new standard modular frame that has been designed to reduce cost by minimizing wiring and decreasing the footprint of the line by eliminating bulky external electrical cabinets.
EndFlex is also using a delta robot, this one for top-load case and tray packing. The PKR Delta modular pick-and-place cell has been designed to accommodate flexible pouches and is recommended for applications as varied as personal care items, vitamin gummies, vegetables, and snack foods. The modular and compact 60 x 60-in. cell incorporates the delta robot with end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) that features a Venturi vacuum system and a vision system. The PKR Delta can be customized to fit into an existing production line or can be integrated as part of a complete packaging solution that includes automatic case erecting, tray forming, sealing, and robotic palletizing. Another new offering from the company is the PKR Gantry robot, which can be used to pack rigid cans, bottles, jars, and cartons.
Says Jorge Perez, vice president of operations at EndFlex, “Our clients needed faster, more compact and precise modular cells to compete in their respective industries. They came to us with their wish lists and trusted us to find a solution. Our team of engineers and technicians got to work, and their efforts led to this new generation of robotic pick-and-place cells. The gantry and delta robotic cells we developed allow us to offer unique new solutions to some of the old packaging challenges.”
Modularity and flexibility are also the highlights of another new robotic case packer—the Proco Collaborative Robot Packer—which incorporates cobot technology. According to the company, the system was created to address growing workforce issues.
|Read Packaging World’s complete robotics report, "Robots 2023: Smarter, More Adaptable & More Robust."
“We understand that labor shortages are becoming more common in the packaging industry, and that manufacturers need solutions that can help them reduce their labor costs and increase efficiency,” says John McCormick, president of Proco Machinery. “Our new collaborative robot packer is designed to be flexible, versatile, and easy to use, helping our customers stay competitive in their markets.”
The Proco Collaborative Robot Packer can perform a range of tasks, from testing containers to packing them into cases. The system is modular and on casters, making it flexible and easy to use, and can be adapted to different container shapes and sizes.
R.A Jones has also recently introduced a new robotic case/carton-packing system. Shown at interpack 2023, the Intelligent Flexible Transfer System (iFTS) is designed to load flexible pouches into cases or trays. Explains the company, in its most typical form, the iFTS receives flexible pouches in a range of sizes from upstream systems that can then be grouped, oriented, and layered for either side-load or top-load cartons or cases, drawing upon a comprehensive library of standard or custom robot tooling, various robot types and sizes, fixed automation, and conveyance.
The iFTS uses 2-, 3-, or 4-axis robots from Autonox Robotics that are driven by kinematics in the same controller that runs the main machine. Says R.A Jones, the use of the same controller provides a clean and open control architecture, reduced numbers of enclosures, and simplified machine wiring. Standard frame mounting, guarding, and overhead enclosures can be readily and safely adapted around other machines or configured to meet specific manufacturing requirements.
Interestingly, Schubert’s new robotic equipment for carton-packing operations deals not with packing, but with feeding. Typically when a carton-blank magazine runs empty in a cartoner, machine operators must react quickly to avoid unnecessary interruptions. Schubert’s TLM Comfort Feeder, also introduced at interpack 2023, automates the infeed of carton blanks to its snack bar packer. According to the company, the TLM Comfort Feeder is the logical extension of its signature concept of a fully integrated and controlled packaging process.
|Watch this related video, “The Automation Revolution: Robots Revolutionizing Packaging and Processing Tasks.”
To feed the carton blanks into Schubert’s bar packer, a pallet with blank sheets is placed into the machine. The blanks are pre-cut and only connected at a few predetermined breaking points to form a sheet. For removal, a spacer fixes the sheet in place, while an F4 SCARA robot pulls each blank directly from the sheet one by one and deposits it into a vertical magazine that serves as a buffer. During this process, the pallet is gradually lifted until it reaches the last sheets. A camera also monitors the corner of each top sheet so that the robot can accurately access each blank.
Next, via Schubert’s new A6 carton erector, each blank is pulled individually from the bottom of the buffer and transferred to a pusher that transports it past the gluing unit to a folding box. There, a punch sucks up the blank, pushes it through the folding box for erecting and places it onto the transport system. In spite of its streamlined single-lane design, the unit achieves an output of 60 blanks/min due to its use of robotics. The feeder can also be used in Schubert machines without infeed from the pallet, but with a vertical magazine.
Flexibility and full line integration are also at the heart of Shemesh Automation’s new robotics-enhanced packaging line for cosmetics, the TKS-C60. According to the company “the need to package a range of product shapes and sizes—a common challenge in the cosmetics industry—has caused manufacturers to toil with the complexities of integrating machinery from different suppliers, expensive line-changeover parts, and changeover-related downtime, for too long.” The TKS-C60 handles the entire process, including feeding, filling, capping, labeling, case packing, and palletizing of cosmetics products in a range of shapes and sizes.
|Read how flexible end-of-line robotics let Molson Coors mix formats.
The new line is designed to provide uninterrupted bottling of products that range from creams and foundations to fragrances and nail polish speeds to 60 bottles/min and incorporates a number of robots in different areas of the machine. ETNA, the line’s automatic bottle unscrambler, uses a delta robot supplied by ABB or Fanuc to provide precise bottle orientation, covering virtually all bottle types common to the cosmetics sector. Notes Shemesh, the robotic elements ensure no changeparts are required—except in some cases for the robot grippers—when unscrambling multiple different bottle shapes. Robots also ensure the bottles are facing the correct way for filling and capping.
Shemesh’s continuous-motion cosmetics capping machine, the Attilus, uses a robotic sorter based on a delta robot and an advanced vision system to enable higher speeds, enhanced accuracy, and flexibility in automatic screw, pump, and spray-cap sorting. The Attilus also uses a servo-controlled pick-and-place 2-axis gantry robot to track and deliver the caps to the bottles while in motion, ensuring smoother and faster production. Integrated with the Attilus and the gantry robot are a PLC and HMI from Siemens or Allen-Bradley that put the operator in control, allowing for simple programming, such as changing formats and the course of movement, at the touch of a button. The robotic enhancement of the Attilus also ensures changeover downtime is kept to a minimum of less than 20 minutes. PW