new Packaging Automation Cell (PAC) is a targeting the next generation of
high-speed primary packaging of poultry and meat, using what Adept Technologies
says is the only USDA-accepted parallel linked robot currently available.
"This platform is intended to address a need
in food processing and is targeting primary food handling predominantly in
regulatory markets (FDA or USDA)," says Rush LaSelle, Director of Sales &
Marketing for Adept
Technology Inc. "The
rationale from the technology side is that we did an exhaustive development on
a USDA approved Quattro platform. What we want to do is leverage the learning
developed in that process to better service regulated areas within food
The cell is a platform for high-speed primary
packaging applications that require both flexible and sanitary processing. It
is built with a rigid stainless steel frame for wash down capabilities and
integrated with the USDA-accepted robot, ultra-compact motion and vision
controllers, a touchscreen operator interface and predefined programming
recipes for advanced conveyor-tracking and vision-guidance. Adept will unveil the
new packaging platform at the Pack Expo 2010 event.
LaSelle says the idea of the cell is to
provide a standard mechanical configuration which integrates the robot, vision
system and conveyor systems. In terms of total costs, the robot tends to
represent a large percentage of an overall cell and integration costs are not
always efficient. This platform is designed to reduce costs and allow
integrators to add the value that they bring to the supply chain, which is
tooling and the material handling system (whether that is the infeed of a
multi-vac or another conveyor system).
The platform can be more rapidly deployed due
to the extensive engineering and planning associated with bringing the system
to market, which benefits end users by reducing the total cost of ownership and
aids integrators through faster project turns. Adept's partners and integrators
can add value by implementing best practices in optimizing the solution to
deliver high-throughput applications rather than focusing on robotic cell
fundamentals such as sanitary frame layout and design. The platform's
state-of-the-art software also helps customers to build specific applications
without the need of complex and lengthy programming.
"A key element for us is that one of
the key dissatisfactions in integrating robotics is that programming a robot is
not attractive," says LaSelle. "One thing we have done is create a system where
the market doesn't need to program the solution. We are putting an HMI on the front end, so
there isn't a need for users to write code."
"Instead, users are able to use terminology
that is familiar to a food processor, in terms of rates, product IDs and SKUs,"
he says. "That is where we think the greatest efficiency in deployment
technology comes. And with the life
cycle of products shrinking, it also enables lower level technicians to
efficiently achieve product changeovers and new product introductions."
specifically targeting areas such as the loading of a thermoform machine like a
multi-vac and applications including handling proteins such as chicken breasts.
Processing speeds are high enough so that food processors can realize the
throughput advantage of the Quattro robot system, in areas where primary food
handling has not been heavily automated. These areas have used less automation
both because of the challenge for the vision system to identify natural product
shapes, such as chicken breasts, and the regulatory aspects of handling raw
But now the Quattro platform
elements have already had to achieve form, fit and function to meet the USDA's
egress, ingress and bacteria creation requirements. For the design of the
robot, that meant eliminating all pooling opportunities, crevices and flat
surfaces that might promote growth of bacteria. The requirements also pay
special attention to material selection, since that is of equal importance to
make sure a design is not promoting bacteria growth.
"We took the learning from those two
elements and translated that into the frame for the PAC," says LaSelle. "In the
design, the frame is more important than it may appear because the electrical
and pneumatic systems, along with all of the utilities, are behind the frame to
eliminate the expense of a USDA approved cable, for example, because it is now
integrated into the frame."