A new breed of robotic solutions, emphasizing high speed operation and tight integration with general purpose motion/machine control, is offering flexible robotic solutions for packaging OEMs.
“What packaging machine builders are trying to accomplish is to create flexibility and respond to the retailer's need for different product arrangements,” says Sal Spada, research director, Discrete Automation for ARC Advisory Group. “Current generation machines are often fixed and require manual adjustments to create new container arrangements, but robotics can re-configure packages digitally. Robotics is increasingly becoming part of digital packaging lines because food, drug and beverage manufacturers are redesigning packages and want to update packaging requirements to the machinery itself.”
Spada says more and more machines can be re-configured digitally including inspection systems, printing systems and machines with robotic capabilities. He says robotics is a natural fit because of what has occurred in the automotive industry in the last 20 years, with manufacturers gaining the ability to configure welding lines based on new product models.
“Each robot is not re-programmed and they don't teach all of these points,” says Spada. “New application recipes based on design changes are shipped down to the machine at a very high level. I believe that is going to occur in the packaging market as well and OEMs are beginning to adopt these technologies that have proven to be of great benefit in other industries.”
The quest for near zero changeover times and more computing power available in controller platforms is enabling vendors to offer more powerful solutions. Combining general purpose motion control, logic control and robotics control together in single control platform has also allowed vendors to simplify information movement, synchronization of data as well reducing development costs. The result is technology that allows OEMs to bring new machines to market much more quickly.
What follows is a series of products and technologies that show how robotics is providing new solutions for packaging machinery. With continuing demands for flexibility, throughput and faster changeover times, these solutions offer ongoing promise for new levels of overall packaging performance.
Integrated Robotic Solution for Packaging
Rockwell Automation has integrated robot control into its Kinetix motion offering to provide OEMs a single solution for both general purpose motion and robotic control. Combining multiple disciplines eliminates additional robot and safety controllers, software and special custom function blocks that are typically needed to incorporate a robot into an application. OEMs and end users can program robots using simple Cartesian coordinates, while the controller handles the computer required for Kinematics transformations.
The RSLogix 5000 software provides the ability to control two-and three-axis articulated independent/dependent, SCARA, H-bot and Delta geometry robots natively in standard and safety ControlLogix controllers. Software for enabling the Kinematics transformation and a newly added instruction allows users to reuse the motion instructions for programming both the robot and the motion components of the application. A library of add-on instructions simplifies robot program development and integration.
Key advantages of this approach are one programming software and programming language for the entire application. Robotic motion can be more easily synchronized with other parts of the application such as conveyor tracking and vision systems. By programming the robot in simple Cartesian coordinates, with the controller handling the Kinematics transformations, no special custom function blocks or high-level language programming is required.
Rockwell says using Delta robots in packaging and pick-and-place applications can improve packaging performance. An increasing number of Delta ARM suppliers are providing a wider variety of ARM configurations and sizes. Two Rockwell Automation partners supply Delta robots in North America: AFAST Robotics Inc. and PWR-Pack. These solutions provide cycle times up to 180 parts per min and high throughput. Advancements in vision technology are now supporting high speed random product identification and location.
High-Speed Packaging Robots
The Adept Quattro is a parallel robot designed specifically for high-speed packaging and material handling. The robotfeatures a unique patented four-arm design and rotationalplatform for high-speeds and high acceleration across the entire work envelope. Embedded amplifiers in the base of the unit and compact controls make installation easy and reduce workspace requirements.
The Quattro robot utilizes the four parallel arms and rotational platform design for high-speed operation and payloads rated up to 2 kg. This approach offers consistent speeds across the entire work envelope including a large 1,300 mm work envelope and maximum Z stroke of up to 500 mm and enables high product mix and changeover while reducing overall system integration costs.
ePLC Connect Server software also provides seamless connectivity with a customer-supplied Ethernet/IP PLC. The ePLC Connect Server is pre-configured and ready for operation. It provides a full IEC61131-3-compliant interface, a common PanelView interface and an ability to control multiple robots per PLC. All application programs and locations are defined and reside within the user's PLC. The PLC client retrieves data and commands the robot to move and the overall approach allows customers new to robotics to easily support high-performance robots using familiar software tools. Target applications include multiple pick-and-place locations, along with flexible drop-off or reject locations.
Cartesian Robots in Packaging
Aerotech supplies both mechanics and controls for Cartesian robot applications in the packaging industry. These applications require both flexible and distributed control technology, plus high speed and high accuracy mechanics. Key features of these systems include velocities to 5 m/s, accelerations to 5 g, customizable Z and theta axes and noncontact linear encoders.
Mechanics are produced in cantilever and gantry configurations, with the cantilever style usually used in medium-to-high performance systems and the gantry style for high- and ultra-high performance applications.
“Packaging systems are moving toward the use of servomotors, both rotary and linear,” says Dr. Joseph Profeta, director of Product Management for packaging equipment at Aerotech. “These components provide the foundation technology required for improved configurability and higher performance. These systems usually require a higher initial capital investment, but provide a significantly lower total cost of ownership and meet the current business goals driven by consumers today.”
One example is the use of linear motors in case erectors. Linear motors afford a large advantage in speed and configurability. Many different box sizes, for example, can easily be accommodated and building can occur at very high production rates. Line transfers, case packing and other line operations also can benefit from the use of Cartesian robots that include servo control coupled with I/O or vision, providing high-speed, highly configurable pick-and-place operations. Coordinate system and coordinated motion programs can be written using the implicit motion commands and coordinate transformations, such as rotation, offsets and kinematic transformations, if required.
Aerotech has two control platforms, the Automation 3200 and EnsembleTM that provide sophisticated software environments for Cartesian robot applications. Built on .NET architecture, the user can create their own custom interfaces for an application using an SDK (Software Developer Kit) or use the default interfaces provided with the controllers. All commands are provided with APIs for the programmer.
Intelligent Palletizing Robot
A new intelligent R-2000iB/100H palletizing robot from FANUC Robotics is equipped with the company's iRVision technology for high-speed bag and box palletizing. The robot offers a 100-kg payload, a 2655-mm reach and is capable of handling product at rates of 20 cycles per min. The unit's speed and payload capabilities make it a fit for palletizing bags, boxes, bundles, trays and other products.
“We saw a growing demand in the packaging industry for a mid-size palletizing robot,” says Rich Meyer, product manager for FANUC Robotics. “It offers the throughput of our M-410iB palletizing robot, but it is significantly smaller and will help customers with smaller work spaces or lower ceiling heights.”
The palletizing robot has a five-axis configuration, which helps maximize the robot's speed. The R-2000iB family of industrial robots includes pedestal, invert and rack mount versions with a variety of payloads and reaches. A slim arm and wrist assembly helps minimize interference with system equipment and allows the robot to operate in small workspaces.
iRVision is an integrated robot vision option for the FANUC R-30iA Controller. It is a ready-to-use robotic vision package, requiring only a camera and cable and no additional processing hardware. The system has a 2-D robot guidance tool to accomplish part location, error proofing and other operations that normally require special sensors or custom fixtures.
Delta Robot Mechanics
With expiration of key patents, packaging machine designers have the option of designing or purchasing Delta picker robot arms from ELAU, Schneider Electric's packaging automation specialist. The purpose-built robot mechanics leverage the company's robotic library for creating integrated robotic solutions within a single control platform and programming environment.
The PacDrive Robot P3 offers complete mechanical packages for integrating pick-and-place capabilities into packaging machinery. Packaging machine designers can design their own Delta3 robot arms or purchase Delta picker arms and reduce their upfront investment to develop a robotic capability for primary and secondary packaging applications.
The new offering utilize ELAU's robotic library, which enables control software integration that integrate robotic capabilities in the same automation controller running the machine, without requiring kinematics skills or proprietary robot controllers.
The PacDrive Robot P3 is based on the principle of a Delta3 robot. Using light composite materials for most moving parts, an ultra-light module provides right integration with servo drives and allows operating speeds of up to 160 cycles per min in pick-and-place operations. With a vertical picker path of up to 230 mm, the solution covers a circular operating envelope with a diameter of 1,100 mm. With a vertical path of 350 mm, the robot covers an 800-mm diameter envelope. Other features include quiet operation, noise emission less than 70 dB and direct-drive arms with ceramic ball joints that reduce maintenance and simplify component changeout.
High-Speed Picking Robot
FANUC Robotics offers high-speed picking with its new LR Mate 200iC food option robot and M-430iA/2F high-speed, intelligent picking robots. These solutions provide built-in iRVision capabilities, plus new PickTool software and simulation packages. The robots are lightweight, compact mini-robots offering effective wrist load capacity, repeatability, work envelope flexibility and speed.
The units are designed to handle products in a wide range of industries and working environments including food, pharmaceutical and packaging applications. The robots can be mounted in a variety of positions including floor, tabletop, inside machines, angle and invert, which helps customers challenged with small and narrow workspaces.
Designed specifically for food washdown environments, the robots are capable of picking primary food and packaged products at speeds up to 120 cycles per min on a continuous basis while using visual line tracking. FANUC says the five-axis M-430iA/2F is the fastest robot it has ever designed and sets a new speed record for articulated robots of 120 cycles per min at a 1 kg payload and 100 cycles per min at a 2 kg payload.
The new PickTool software is designed to simplify setup of high-speed multi-robot picking systems. The software divides incoming product so each robot in the system picks an equal number of products. It can also assign a specific percentage of products for each robot to pick. PickTool allows each robot to pick from a certain section of the conveyor and can assign half of the robots to pick from one side of the conveyor and the other half of the robots to pick from the opposite side.
Controller Family Adds Embedded Robotic Capabilities
Bosch Rexroth's IndraMotion MLC Motion Logic Controller is available with powerful embedded robotic capabilities. The controller uses standard IEC programming controls rather than proprietary programs for the robotic functions and allows for greater flexibility and increased use of robots in packaging applications.
The newest MLC controller combines motion and logic control with robot control on a uniform IEC platform. The approach is designed to lower automation cost and is capable of handling up to 64 axes of control. The controller can handle up to eight robotic kinematic processes simultaneously. More than 100 ready-to-use, kinematics for Delta, SCARA and Cartesian-style robots are available for integration into applications. The system offers a full six-axis path planner, with the ability to run multiple kinematics at the same time.
Features include up to 64 axes of control, dynamic belt synchronization for multiple conveyors and integrated vision system interface. A kinematic wizard is available for easy configuration. This control platform uses an all Ethernet-based SERCOS III network as standard drive interface and for HMI and vision system integration.