The right way to use robots in packaging machines

At the risk of annoying some of my machine builder friends, I think the current approach to robots and packaging machines is backwards.

Many packaging machines incorporate robots as components. Loading products into crates and cartons is a common application. Anytime a standard component, such as a bot, can replace a custom component, that’s usually a good thing.

It’s not enough.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that what machine builders should do is start with the robot and build the machine around it. A few companies are already doing this.

FG Industries was the first to give me this idea. He developed a continuous motion in-line filler and capper around a Biker 6-axis robots. The robot, plus the dispensing system, is the entire filling machine. A second robot (not shown) applies the corks. (Watch the video above.)

Another variation on this theme is a system from Australia Andrew Donald Design Engineering. A cobot arm of Universal Robots picks up a capped bottle, places it under an uncapping mandrel to remove the cork, then places the bottle under a nozzle for filling. A second cobot takes the bottle, puts the cap back on and places it in a tray. (Click here to see a video.)

Bottle orientation is another natural application for robots. This system uses a delta-style robot of Fanuc. Bottles feed randomly onto a conveyor. A camera identifies the position and orientation of each bottle and guides the robot. The robot picks up the bottle, orients it and places it upright on a conveyor. (Click here to see a video.)

The Coboxx case erector from XPakName is built around a Universal Robots cobot to erect, seal the bottom with tape, position the crates for loading and send them to a top sealer for closing. The universal hinged clamp allows it to run a range of case sizes without any setup. Add multiple crate stores and it becomes a randomly sized crate builder. (Click here to learn more and see a video.)

The most important advantage of using robots as a basic packaging machine is flexibility. But there are also other advantages.

Speed ​​to market—Most common robot models, especially in sizes that would be used on a packaging line, are available off the shelf for immediate delivery.

Standardization—A few dozen makes, models and sizes of robots would cover about 80% of all packaging machine applications. This simplifies design, as well as maintenance and operation.

Cost—Robot prices have dropped dramatically in recent years. Epson offers a SCARA robot, suitable for a small filler or bottle orientator, for less than $8,000. Even a larger robot, as used for the FG filler and capper, is in the $50,000 price range. Compare that to the cost of building a similar wrapping machine from scratch.

Reusability—60% to 80% of all new products fail. When they do, it can be difficult to sell the purpose-built machine you no longer need. A robot used for filling can be converted into a case packer by simply changing the tooling at arm’s length.

These are just a few examples that are currently on the market. Others arrive.

When I was younger, I was promised that we would have flying cars and robots in the 21st century. I’m still waiting for my flying car, but the robots are here now. Machine builders should not hesitate to use them. If they don’t convert their machines into robots, someone else will.

Jean-R Henry

Known as the Changeover Wizard, John R. Henry is the owner of changeover.com, a consulting firm that helps companies find and correct the causes of inefficiencies in their packaging operations. He wrote the book, literally, about packaging machines (www.packmachbook.com) and is the face and personality behind the packaging detective KC casebackthe main character of Adventures in Packaging, a popular blog on packagingdigest.com. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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