Across the globe, an increasing number of small and medium enterprises (SME) are driving exceptional growth in the packaging automation market. The sector should grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.2% over a seven-year period ending in 2024, according to a 2018 report by Research Nester. By then, analysts predict the global market will have reached $61.2 billion.
Myriad factors are responsible for the market’s accelerated expansion. In particular, rapid industrialization continues to spur more widespread manufacturing activity, especially in such developing nations as Thailand, Argentina, Indonesia and Mexico. Small- to medium-sized manufacturers are also adopting more advanced packaging technologies, like robotics, to improve worker safety, lower operating costs and heighten productivity.
As more and more SMEs implement packaging automation into production, it is crucial for businesses to do so smartly by ensuring they understand not just how automation technology can be beneficial, but what types of tools will help make the deployment seamless and successful.
Recent improvements improve accuracy and flexibility
Packaging automation can be a cost-effective solution for SMEs that need to increase production, while at the same time offer human operators a safer working environment. These businesses require more flexibility and versatility in the packaging process, often needing solutions for low-volume, high-mix production.
Cobots designed for quick and easy redeployment offer significant advantages. And those cobots should be equipped with adaptable force and stroke automation tools to accommodate varying sizes, shapes and condition of parts and raw materials.
Other businesses need sensors that can guide robotic arms to differently positioned parts on assembly lines, or tools that can be quickly programmed and deployed within minutes, even under the direction of inexperienced operators.
End-of-arm tooling (EOAT) is paving the way forward for all the above demands.
EOAT comes in a variety of forms, from grippers and tool changers to torque sensors, each one built to make the robotic arm to which it is attached far more powerful and capable. Depending on its design and function, EOAT can precisely handle materials differing in size and shape, help better accommodate tasks with short lead times and facilitate high-mix, low-volume packaging jobs.
These highly collaborative applications help make palletizing and packaging easier and more accurate than ever before. For instance, dated applications require an object to be in a constant position or a predictable environment to function properly. Advanced EOAT on the other hand can detect improperly positioned objects and adjust accordingly. Traditional applications are limited by their ability to only apply constant grip force and stroke, while today’s cutting-edge EOAT can readily change both functions.
In short, modern EOAT is less demanding, more effective and far more versatile than its more-restrictive predecessor technology.
EOAT at work
Because EOAT plays a significant overall role in automated robotic packaging and palletizing, SMEs must carefully choose the collaborative applications best suited to their specific needs and goals.
For example, businesses that handle high-volume consumer products—toys, lightbulbs, pharmaceutics, car accessories—could use a mix of grippers and sensors to solve issues related to box or product stacks of varying height by accurately determining an item’s position (sensor) and securely picking it (gripper) with fewer, larger suction cups. This EOAT partnership helps avoid product collision, satisfy dual gripping needs and process items of varying sizes.
Similarly, SMEs working with blister packaging—a business group that typically includes co-packers, fast-moving consumer goods producers (FMCG) and logistics service providers—may want to use a combination of sensor and gripper to ensure precise positioning and picking, adapt to differently shaped products and make the time-consuming process of changing grippers for every product a thing of the past.
EOAT-powered automated packaging is on the rise. Accessible and affordable, EOAT can help solve multiple production and overall business challenges by:
1. Boosting productivity;
2. Streamlining operational costs;
3. Reducing damaged product incidents;
4. Accommodating diverse batch volumes.
These dynamic applications offer a clear path forward for enterprises of all sizes.