January 29, 2014

2 Min Read
Integral robotics increase machine agility

In order to achieve greater flexibility in packaging machinery, OEM machine builders have combined automation technology from a wide range of domains. Specifically, packaging lines and individual machines have drawn upon robotics, vision systems and information technology to gain high degrees of flexibility required in today's production environments. In a white paper introduced at the PACK EXPO Las Vegas show last September, ARC Advisory Group (www.arcweb.com) describes how robotics and automation systems have been built into machine design, not just added onto the equipment, to maximize productivity. According to the report:

  • Information technology is automating the exchange of packaging-line production and business data through standard operating interfaces, such as PackML or Make2Pack [see page 8];

  • Vision is widely used for in-line inspection and is now becoming important to machine diagnostics and

  • Robotics are now being designed as an integral part of the packaging machine.

Historically, the mainstays of robotic applications in the packaging sector have been palletizers and case packers. However, there is clearly a movement underway to design the mechanical portion of the packaging machine with an integral robotic manipulator. The implications of this are that the machine variability can be considerably expanded, according to the white paper.

The challenge that packaging machinery OEMs face is that robotic motion is generally out of their domain of expertise, says ARC. It is not economical or practical for the machine builder to consider a separate control subsystem simply to integrate a robotic manipulator—the cost is simply too high. Some packaging automation suppliers recognize this issue, reports ARC, and are adding robotic functionality as an integral part of the machine control system.

A market report issued last November by the Robotic Industries Association (www.roboticsonline.com) on the first nine months of 2005 shows that robotic orders overall (including welding and assembly) grew 30 percent in North America. However, orders for robots used in materials handling applications, such as packaging functions, grew 45 percent—the highest growth category for robotics.

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