Machinery Automation & Robotics designs, builds and integrates automation and robotic solutions.
Optimising your manufacturing line:
New automation and robotic technologies, both in hardware and software, are continually being developed with Australian Manufacturers in particular taking advantage of these advances.
An example where automation is having significant impact is within the food industry, but not only in large plants but also in small to medium manufacturers as well.
Traditionally many of the steps had to be completed manually, but now automation and robotics can be scaled too suit short run manufacturing lines, where varying products and sizes are continually being processed.
A typical line may involve:
- Presentation of initial raw material
- Picking / handling / manipulation of raw material
- Wrapping – foil, shrink wrap, vacuum sealed, canning, etc
- Packing in boxes
- Placement into shipper cartons
- Palletising of shipper cartons
- Transfer to fully automated warehouses
For a system to intelligently switch between product, it does not just require a different initial raw material to be presented, but may also require all of the subsequent steps to be modified. By having all the parts seamlessly integrated, only then can the real benefits of automation start to be had.
High speed picking
Another example of innovation can be seen in the areas of high speed picking. Up to 5 years ago high speed picking had only been for the large established biscuit and chocolate players, with the technology fairly complex, cumbersome and expensive. However, recent developments have seen small and medium sized manufacturers taking advantage of the new generation of high speed picking systems.
In the unpacked food market robot systems are picking and packing products at rates exceeding 100 picks per minute per machine.
This adoption of technology by smaller manufacturers is due to several factors.
Firstly there are the new delta style industrial robots that are replacing the previous generation of SCARA style robot systems. These delta robot style systems have been developed based on an innovative design utilising parrallelagrams and are the ideal candidate for pick and place operations of light objects (from 10gr to 1kg). The use of base-mounted actuators and low-mass links allows the mobile platform to achieve accelerations of up to 12 G industrial applications so they are ideal not just in manufacturing but also in distribution.
Secondly there are the innovative designs that make up the new range of robot manipulators. In the case of many products the type of product is often only restricted by the ability to grip the product, which leads on to the second factor influencing high speed picking.
To retain high speed picking rates vacuum systems are mainly utilised to secure the product in the gripper.
The last few years has seen a vast array of various sized food grade vacuum cups arrive on the market to match the speed that new high speed pickers can achieve. As a result high speed pickers are now a common sight in all types of manufacturing environments – such as frozen foods, pharmaceuticals and electronics as well as your traditional manufacturers.
Small production lines
The traditional rule of thumb that specified automation became cost effective when replacing 6 or 7 plus people is no longer applicable due to the range of hardware and software solutions available.
Even small production lines with 2 to 3 persons packing product are finding that moving to high speed picking automation achieves considerable sub 2 year payback (Return on Investment) when designed and built by an experienced integrator.
As high speed picking systems continue to evolve, vision cameras within the automation cell locate product position to within a fraction of a millimetre and calculate orientation to guide the robot to the picking position. These same vision systems are also used as a quality control check to confirm that the product is within acceptable tolerances, such as checking dimensions or ensuring there are no defects.
Any products that do not pass QA checks simply pass by the picking systems and are directed into a bulk or waste bin.
Robots have many advantages when compared to the traditional packing machinery where suppliers designed and built their own robot arms out of several linear units. By integrating standard off the shelf articulated robot systems, the advantage to the customer is that the robots have an extremely high mean time between failure, are able to be reprogrammed on site with a minimal of training when new products come on line, and a high availability of spare parts.
The requirements that packaging machinery designers focus on is speed, payload and reach of the robot system. The trend emerging from the major robot suppliers in 2006 is the supply of purpose built robots with payloads of 40 kg at speeds exceeding 50 cycles per minute specifically tailored to the packaging industry.
In the last few years the payloads and reach of the robots has increased dramatically to allow a single robot to manipulate heavy payloads as well as service multiple lines simultaneously.
The automotive sector continues to demand larger payload robots and the consumer industry is benefiting with these new designs. Robots with payloads exceeding 550 kg are now being used on high rate production lines where previously dedicated systems dominated.
These high payload robots allow entire layers of product to be palletised each cycle.
Sub zero temperatures
An innovative palletising robot development in the last few years is the introduction of robots capable of palletising in temperatures down as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius. Utilising special materials such as freezer rated cables, plastics, gear boxes and greases, these robots function as if in normal conditions.
Large manufacturers are taking advantage of these developments, where sites are installing large numbers of palletising robots per facility, completely replacing the manual workforce who has in the past had to withstand extreme and hazardous working conditions.