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 manufacturing."
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."
The PAC is 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 meat.
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."