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The Future of Robotics

Andrew Lightstead Last Updated on March 21, 2022, by Andrew Lightstead 3 mins well spent

Pick Up | Short insights from our automated food packaging specialists.

Author | Ron Fortman, Manager New Technology, PWR

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Key Insights:


| The need for speed, price and the size of the robots forced packaging machine builders to develop their own robotics

| The packaging industry is the most innovative and fastest growing markets for robotics with a projected size of $4,650 million in the year 2023

| Increase in demand, need for smaller equipment that delivers a higher throughput and a technology push for IoT and industry 4.0 solutions will change the essence of automation

Evolution of robots in packaging

The packaging industry has been an early adopter of robotics. In the mid 80’s it started with the introduction of the first robotic palletizers and top load case packers. In the early 90’s the first generation of vision guided robotics for pick and place applications appeared. Where most industries were using industrial robots from the large robot suppliers, the packaging industry decided to choose for a different approach.

For packaging a different breed of robots was needed. Where the industrial robots were designed for ultimate precision, high payloads and high mean times between failure, the packaging industry was challenged by speed, price and the size of robots.

The robot suppliers recognized the packaging market as a niche too small to develop specialized models for. As a result, an increased number of packaging machine builders decided to start developing their own robotics with the goal of having equipment fit for purpose. This came with a bonus of a higher added value on their projects.

The rest is history. Currently the packing industry, a highly competitive market having no dominant players, is one of the most innovative and fastest growing markets for robotics projected to reach a size of $4,650 million in the year 2023.

With the global increase of labour costs and growing demand of FMCG’s, demand for packaging automation and with it robotics, will continue to grow.

What developments will we see in the near future?

By looking closely at current market trends we can discover a couple of drivers that will change the essence of automation.

One of them is the increase in demand. At some point the global demand for automation will outpace the growth capabilities of the machine suppliers meaning they are challenged to deliver more machines with a slowly growing staff. To reduce engineering hours, the bottleneck of machine builders, the control of a robotic packaging line must be configurable rather than programmable. Also the HMI must allow commissioning engineers to set up a line quickly without the need of having deep programming knowledge. More user interfaces with functionalities and ease of use we know from consumer products will appear.

Another driver is the need for smaller equipment that delivers a higher throughput. To achieve this the line performance per square meter must go up and this can’t be achieved by simply increasing the speed. Pick & place speeds will get to a level where either the product gets damaged or a physical limit is reached.

One way to pack the pick & place robots denser than they are now is called close coupling. With close coupling connecting conveyors are eliminated having more functions within the same footprint. Now all machine functions are linked and depending and on each other. As a consequence the efficiency of the individual machine functions need to be improved significantly to reach a high overall line efficiency.

In addition to this, the current size of E-cabinets becomes an obstacle in a compact machine layout. More electronic components will be welcomed to get a higher protection so they can move away from the cabinet into the field.

In recent years there is a technology push for IoT and industry 4.0 solutions, however end users are in contrast reluctant to connect to a cloud server. This means all data communication has to be initiated from inside the firewall, therefore it is believed that on-premise solutions will grow in favor of cloud based solutions.

Besides the benefits of predicting potential down-time and maintenance, the challenge will be to turn all the data collection and processing into added value for the end user.


Connect with Ron Fortman on LinkedIn.

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