Editorial Feature

Packaging and Material Handling Robots

Assembly systems are characterized by their hypothetical nature owing to the uncertainty in dimensions of manufactured parts, parts arrival time and the components placed at random orientations and positions.

Hence, to achieve industrial robotization of assembly operations, it is essential to develop a robot having potential to function in an uncertain world.

This in turn requires the development of robots that generate manipulation sequences on their own and induce fixtures and sensors only when required to manage the unexpected events.

Embedded robotic modules are of prime importance for designing a packaging machine. Such robots can easily adapt to new processes, automate manual tasks and reduce the carbon footprint.

They provide flexibility to the packaging operations. However, the inability to adjust robotic motions with respect to high speed packaging processes has been a major drawback in the field of packaging machine engineering. As demonstrated in the example below by Mitsubishi Electric, a key example of robotic material handling and packaging:

Mitsubishi Electric Robots Material Handling Packaging Industry

Video courtesy of Mitsubishi Electric Automation

Design of Packaging and Material Handling Robot

A typical packaging and material handling robot designed by Devalla V et al (2012) has sensors for sorting the desired object from within a mixture of objects of different colours.

It also consists of a robotic arm to lift the object and a controller to control the mechanical movements of the robot.

The robot is programmed with an algorithm which helps in the recognition of the object and also sends command signals to a controller through serial communication. The controller will in turn control the movements of the robot with the help of incoming signal.

This system consists of two DC motors, one attached to the base for providing rotation of the arm and the other attached to the gripper for picking and dropping the detected objects. A power supply unit supplies power to the controller.

Advantages of Packaging and Material Handling Robots

The key benefits of packaging and material handling robotic technology include the following:

  • Less carbon footprint
  • Labor savings
  • Easy integration
  • Low cost
  • Highly efficient
  • Ergonomics and flexibility
  • Multi-tasking
  • Speed of the robot can be improved by adjusting its mechanical design.

Products on the Market - Advancements

The packaging industry is currently being faced with a lack of precision and speed of devices, high costs, wastage of materials and lack of hygiene.

However, all of these limitations can be resolved through the development of an optimal packaging line. More and more industries are focusing on automated robotic system to enhance their packaging operations, particularly after the significant improvements in flexibility, costs and programming simplicity.

Engineers continue to deliver robotic systems with more modular designs, introduction of electromechanical devices and high degree of automation with an aim to meet the requirement of consistent product quality. Some of the high quality products currently available in market are listed below:

Automated Robotic Label Applicator

The robotic label applicator system developed by Advanced Micro Robotics can automatically lift jars, bottles, cans, vials and test tubes and place them in a semi-automatic bottle label applicator, which will in turn activate the label applicator.

The system then picks the labelled objects from the label applicator and places it into a return bin. It can be set to carry out the cycle once or repeat the cycle. This system operates without a computer.

The key benefits of the automated robotic label applicator system include the following:

  • Simple operation
  • Easy to set-up
  • Optional automation
  • It can be interfaced to Windows XP/Vista compatible computer via a serial port to perform more complex applications
  • Compatible label applicators.

Heavy Duty Bag Gripper

Heavy duty bag gripper designed by Machinery Automation & Robotics can be used for palletizing applications that involve placing bags of various sizes and weights.

It features a pneumatically actuated mechanism for clamping the bags from the sides to maintain consistency in palletization and prevent misalignment of the bags. This system also includes pneumatically actuated clamp pads that hold the bags in position, valves, replaceable stainless steel fingers and grippers.

Additional features of the heavy duty bag gripper include the following:

  • Collision sensing device
  • Connect/disconnect device for robotic attachment
  • Pneumatic mechanism for moving empty pallets into loading position
  • Vacuum cups to pick up a slip sheet.

The major advantages of the heavy duty bag gripper include the following:

  • Presence/absence of the bag in the gripper can be verified using a sensor
  • It can be perform more than 20 cycles per minute based on the robot and distance traveling.

Pouchmaster™ XII

Pouchmaster™ XII, a product of About Packaging Robotics, Inc, is a four-station system designed for processing pouches and bags of size up to12" wide and 12" long.

This automated system features a rotary manipulator that rotates four, custom-designed, vacuum plates around its axis. The suction cups collect the pouches from a preloaded magazine and rotate them to the corresponding work station. The pouch is then opened by a remote arm attached with another vacuum plate. Product deposition takes place, and the cycle continues automatically.

It has three modes of operation that includes the following:

  • Manual mode - The cycle can be controlled by an operator using a foot pedal
  • Automatic mode - It provides an adjustable cycle timer for automatic repetition of cycle
  • Integrated mode - It uses vacuum sensors for controlling the automatic distribution of the product, when dispensing systems were used.

The following are the benefits of Pouchmaster™ XII:

  • Simple to operate
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to move to any location
  • It allows quick and easy changeover for one pouch size to another.

Sources and Further Reading

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