Robotics continue to grow in packaging operations, according to the most recent Purchasing Plans Study from the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (see Market Forecast, p. 4). While robotics purchases overall actually decreased in 2006, due to the decline in the auto industry, usage increased in the consumer goods industries, such as food, beverage and pharmaceuticals, as well as paper and printing. Palletizing accounts for the largest share of robot usage in packaging, followed by case/tray packaging and then by cartoning. The Robotics Industry Association reported at the end of the first quarter of this year that robot orders were again increasing, gaining about 26 percent in units sold.
At Italy’s pizza producer, Panidea, pick-and-place robots load three types of frozen pizzas into a flowpack machine ahead of a cartoner (see p. 8). The customer wanted a completely flexible and scalable system so that new products could be introduced and capacity could be increased over time. The flexibility provided in the system’s approach is very valuable to the customer, since it allows the optimal mix of products to be produced, reacting to consumer demand.
In this project, two types of grippers are used—a finger-like gripper and a faster, vacuum gripper. Although single grippers are simpler than multiple grippers, the high capacity and product variation in Panidea’s operation makes the gripping technology very important.
This pizza-picking installation is an excellent example of how standard robots and application software afford a short payback for a food producer. Panidea says it is already planning to continue to expand this concept.