Robots and Collaborative Applications

From a machine builder’s point of view, robots can solve many processing and packaging line problems. Sebastien Schmitt, manager, Robotics Division, Stäubli North America has shed some light on the specifics of using robotic automation in bakery manufacturing facilities. 

What characteristics do robots in bakery manufacturing facilities need to have? 

Flexibility, speed, accuracy, (versatility), reliability, ease of programming & maintenance. The ease of integration is especially important for packaging in the bakery industry, which is often done with a feeding of the cell from a conveyor. Communications with vision systems for tracking and synchronization with conveyors for example are common set up requirements. The hygienic features can also be required if direct contact with the food products that happen in the so-called primary environment. 

What smart features are the most frequently needed for robots packaging bakery goods?

Vision Systems, end-of-arm tooling, ease of programming, and Industry 4.0. The ease of programming is important as mentioned earlier. Having a robotic system able to efficiently and simply communicate with other systems like cameras, conveyors, scanners, etc. to be able to pick up a product that can vary in shape and placement is always a requirement for packaging. Like in many other markets, “Industry 4.0” capacities of the robots is an emerging topic in the bakery sector. The ability to gather data and share them with the management system of the facility enables smarter decisions and modifications in real time through Ethernet connections. 

How can robots and cobots continuously improve packaging operations?

Generally speaking, robotic solutions are gaining in popularity in the baking industry due to their flexibility and as they present a solution to labor shortages. Bakery products, like most of our food items, vary more and more in terms of shapes, recipes and packaging formats. This growing product-mix requires flexible automation to be able to quickly change and adapt to each product run. On the labor topic, robotic solutions address the shortage of labor that the bakery industry is facing but also enable the execution of dangerous and repetitive tasks that often expose employees to injuries and repetitive strain injuries (RSI). The integration of robotics enables to free the operator and re-assign him or her to higher value tasks.

Collaboration is definitely an active conversation in robotics in general. I start all of these conversations by saying, a collaborative robot is only collaborative in a collaborative application. It’s a mouth full but it’s the truth. If you have a scoring application and the robot needs to hold a scoring knife… this is not collaborative. Now, if we talk about the back end where you are packaging or material handling of any sort, cobots start to make sense. Just keep in mind that there is a slide rule that affects two major variables. As you increase collaboration on an application, you usually tend to decrease productivity. This is due to speed limitations imposed to the robot when an operator is close to guarantee his or her safety. At Staubli we have taken a more practical approach to collaboration: all our industrial 6-axis robots are also capable of collaboration at the highest degree of safety (sil3-PLe rating). This unique feature takes the flexibility of a whole solution to an even higher level with the possibility to run at full speed when no collaboration is needed or to adapt safely to the presence of an operator near the robot during production when desired. 

What setup and usage guidelines do you provide, according to the product requirements?  

In addition to technical documentation and a broad database accessible online 24/7, Staubli offers its own 3D development software called SRS (Staubli Robotic Suite) which allows to create a digital twin of the cell and verify many key points such as collisions, singularities, reach issues, cycle times etc., before building the actual solution which saves a lot of time and money. Inside the “Development Studio”, the user can design the cell and also write programs than can then easily be transferred onto the real controller of the robot for a seamless transition from digital to practical. 

Regarding our Sales process, Staubli sells its robots directly (no distributors) to ensure that the right robot is proposed for each project. To do so, we first technically qualify the project and ensure a robotic solution will be efficient. We then provide a conceptual study with technical details along with recommendations and comments from our Applications Engineering team. Using SRS, our AE team can create a virtual simulation and even perform a real test at one of our locations if the project requires it. Staubli also offers in-depth training on the robots for maintenance and software (online or in person). Our teams offer programming support also when needed. 

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