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Special edition: Automation

‘Using robots to pick-up and pack food is starting to accelerate’

By Jenny Eagle+

09-Apr-2014

Pacepacker, which works with FANUC and Festo, and integrates robots for pick and place and palletising, is running a ‘Try Before You Buy’ trial at its Essex factory, UK, and has a free educational workshop in June.

Guests who sign up to the Open House robotics and automation event, will learn about the differences between Cartesian, articulated arm and delta-style robots and their application capability.

IP69K certified systems

Paul Wilkinson, business development manager, Pacepacker, told FoodProductionDaily the use of robots to pick-up and pack food products is ‘really starting to accelerate’.

He said one enquiry it received at the recent FoodEx exhibition at the Birmingham NEC came from a fish supplier to pick up raw product, which is testament to the growing interest for primary packing.

Also with the introduction of IP69K certified systems food manufacturers can overcome barriers to automation to integrate robotic applications onto their packing lines.

Awareness, cost effectiveness and confidence has increased in general recently and businesses are keen to reduce manual intervention to be more efficient,” said Wilksinson.

Also, with schemes like our "try before you buy" facility, we have been able to de-risk investments making the decision to commit easy.

Automation in general but especially pick and place will extend more and more to difficult, problematic areas and products that were not viable to invest in before.” 

Pacepacker integrates Festo's food robots.

Snacks and ready meals

He added Pacepacker works with clients from small cottage industries to large blue-chip companies including snacks, to ready meals and flour producers.

Enquiries range from low tech, low budget robot palletising through to high speed random pick and place systems.

One of the biggest challenges is fitting an automated machine in the space available. Trends always change in line with supermarket and retail requirements,” he said.

One of the latest trends is to use vacuum packs for meat rather than a tray with a film lid, requiring different robot end effectors for pick and place systems. Change in packaging has always been an evolving trend.”

He said the latest figures published by the British Automation and Robotics Association (BARA) 2013 Full Year Report claims the acceleration in the deployment of robotics by UK food manufacturers, reveals a 60% increase in food sector adoption in 2013 compared to 2000.

Award-winning

“The most recent demands from producers relate to food safety and the use of robots to improve hygiene during the manufacturing process,” added Chris Sumner, managing director, FANUC UK.

“Although IP67K certified robots have been commonplace for many years, the very nature of a robot arm, with its many crevices and less durable construction materials, has in the past prevented it from working in harsh food environments.”

FANUC has manufactured IP69K certified systems. Its LR Mate 200iD/7C articulated arm and M-2iA delta style assembly robot are both capable of operating in high-pressure, high-temperature wash-down environments, meeting individual Retailer Codes of Practice (COP) and the latest hygiene and product line integrity requirements set out by the British Retail Consortium.

Pacepacker has won eight industry awards in the last 24 months for its automation. Last year it won the Food Processing Awards 2013 ‘Top Technical Development’ award for its FlexaPac system, which is an automated machine that packs netted fruits. 

It also received the Smart Product Award at the EEF Future Manufacturing Awards for the FlexaPac.

Click here to register for the Pick and Place open house event in Essex in June 2014.

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