The Path to Cutting-edge Packaging Automation

Advancements in automation, both machine and software, are moving manufacturing toward a smarter factory. With this expansion come such challenges as determining return on investment, finding skilled labor and internal resources to assess automation needs. 

Many consumer packaged goods companies rely on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and technology provider partners for troubleshooting, maintenance training, design and modification, installation and start-up, staff training and overall expertise. It is, however, critical that the two foster strong partnerships in order to overcome automation challenges, implement low maintenance design and improve the reliability of packaging and processing machines.

According to PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, current automation levels in the packaging and processing industries are at 64% for automated equipment and 21% for semi-automated. Their data shows that although COVID-19 has impacted automation plans, manufacturers recognize that that they can improve operations and the broader enterprise by expanding automation strategies and components.

Some of the tools in place driving the future of automation include the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and integration as more machines have data acquisition capabilities and the expansion of robotics in areas such as secondary packaging and palletizing. Additional drivers include incorporating artificial intelligence and predictive analysis used for maintenance.

Pick & Place Robots

With automated packaging systems, baked goods manufacturers have to be certain that the sensitive products are not only packed quickly, but also very carefully. Thanks to the use of robotics, new standards in terms of production reliability and quality can be achieved in the packaging process. Ultimately, improved efficiency, speed and flexibility are also reflected in higher profitability. Baked goods manufacturers can now produce more cost-effectively, expand their production and product range flexibly, while asserting their position in the market.

Schubert’s state-of-the-art pick & place robots are well known for performing this demanding task reliably and efficiently. The image recognition system developed by the Crailsheim-based family business ensures a precisely targeted grip, while the robot tools specifically engineered for each product ensure that neither soft croissants nor fragile pieces of cake are damaged. The highly advanced pick & place technology, in conjunction with Schubert image processing, also ensures that only flawless products make it into the packaging and to the customers.

The modular system makes Schubert packaging machines extremely easy to expand. This approach brings more flexibility to the machine configuration and to the entire packaging process. This applies not only to automation with pick & place, but also to Schubert’s flow-wrapping machines. With the Flowpacker, the packaging machine manufacturer offers an integrated machine solution that enables an exceptionally high degree of flexibility. This technology fully integrates packaging in flowpacks into the packaging line and also enables the use of recyclable flowpack films through the various sealing processes. Feeding to the Flowmodul unit is also solved with pick & place robots. And this is why the compact flow-wrapping machine is especially interesting for companies with limited space.

Soft Robots

John Young, General Manager for the Asia-Pacific region, EU Automation, also offered us some insight on the current trends that can be seen in the packaging industry, especially regarding automation.

“Packaging, especially in the baking industry, requires a great amount of care and precision. Many manufacturers have automated their picking and packing process, using robots to handle products in a fast and safe manner. When packaging products, these robots must handle fragile objects with the correct amount of force — holding items firmly enough to grip them, but gently enough so that the item isn’t damaged,” said Young.

“Conventional, hard robots are rigid, metal and used for repetitive, heavy duty tasks that involve little adaptation. Soft robots, however, are silicone or plastic robots powered by air pressure that manipulate their actions to fit different applications. Soft robots differ from conventional automation as their silicone covered tentacle grippers can grasp objects that a bulkier counterpart would struggle to handle,” he added.

You can read the rest of this article in the Summer issue of Asia Pacific Baker & Biscuit magazine, which you can access by clicking here. 

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