When CSi, an international systems integrator, upgraded a manual palletizing process for a large Spanish food and drink company, new robotics technology helped overcome a significant design constraint. Operators had been working close to the main conveyor that transported cartons containing grocery items around the shop floor where they were diverted onto short outfeed conveyors.
The operators had to remove the cartons, place them on pallets, remove the pallets that were full, and maintain a small stock of empty pallets. However, during the design phase, CSi realized that with the shorter conveyors, for safety reasons the robots would not be allowed to move when the operators were working with the pallets, so the cell had to be secured with a surrounding fence and sliding doors.
The constraint came from the fact that the production line had to run continuously. "Before receiving the order, we knew we had to come up with a solution that allowed the robot to go on working during the pallet change," Pim Kaarsgaren, project manager for the installation, told us.
ABB's SafeMove technology allowed CSi to design a cell having two sections, with a fixed fence in the middle and two sliding doors. "Within each section there is an area where operators can work in complete safety," Kaarsgaren said.
The overall system produced space savings due to a smaller overall footprint. But it also decreased from four workers palletizing to one worker overseeing four palletizing cells, as well as increasing from six cartons per minute palletized manually to up to 160 per minute using the robot cells.
Dean Mannlein, president of Automated Motion, an experienced robotic systems integrator located in Baltimore, said in an interview:
Robots are increasingly being embedded into applications where hard automation has typically been implemented in the past for systems such as case packers. With users of pick-and-place systems, for example, many companies are now trying to use off-the-shelf solutions to reduce staffing, costs, and lead times. Customers generally don't need to design and build their own systems if standard solutions are available to solve the application needs.
Delta-style robots is one of the big up-and-coming areas in terms of the most popular robotic configurations, but Mannlein said that even small 6-axis robots are continuing to provide additional functionality by becoming smaller and faster. Standard robots are also moving beyond offering just simple pick-and-place capabilities. Now, compared to the $20,000 to $25,000 it might cost to buy the components and build an X-Z motion system, customers can purchase a complete robotic arm for the same money.
It is phenomenal how much the price has come down on robots; it makes it hard for machine builders and users to build anything custom anymore. There are the heavy design costs of building custom equipment, assembly time, and the work also absorbs resources. If a customer can buy a component that is delivered as a complete system, that is one less variable in the process of designing a system.
The VersaPacker that Automated Motion has developed is a top-load packer that uses an articulated arm to create a standard case packing solution. The system is built around Yaskawa Motoman robot technology as an alternative to an end user building a custom case packer. A key feature is that the system allows the user to set up the infeed and outfeed sections in a variety of configurations to meet the needs of different products.