The technology focuses on problem areas for automated handling including meat in batter, packaging poultry meat (breasts and thighs), dough and chocolates, such as decorated pralines.
Soft, hard, sensitive surfaces
Speaking at Anuga FoodTec 2015, Dr Knut Franke, Central research platform, robotics, DIL, said the challenge lies in the shape and weight of the processed product and its properties (soft, hard, sensitive surface).
“There are several advantages against conventional grippers such as the grab technique which is more flexible to the various product characteristics and the grip strength,” he said.
“Unpackaged foods need technical and hygienic suitable technology but most industrial applied gripper systems for food handling and are not sufficiently flexible to react to the natural variability in shape, size and consistency of food products.
“Vacuum grippers for example, present the risk of sucking liquids or oils into the vacuum system which could lead to bacterial growth.”
AiF project 404 ZBG
According to Franke, the elastomer gripper incorporates bending fingers made from a soft, stretchy material.
On one side of the material, the finger remains sturdy and less elastic compared to the other side so that the pressure of the fingers on the interior can bend. If the pressure is reduced, the finger detracts.
The project is funded by the German Ministry of Economics and Energy, via the German Federation of Industrial Research Associations, (AiF project 404 ZBG). Scientists are currently in talks with a company to manufacture the robot and said it will be available on the market next year.
“The elastomer grippers offer higher product protection and take food safety aspects into account better than before,” added Franke.
“The fully enclosed design is hygienic without any voids or openings and there are always new opportunities for quality maintenance and hygienically safe handling of sensitive products by robots in the food industry.”
“Higher product safety and the reduction of costs through flexible automation is of great interest. This is especially true in terms of decreasing availability of labor in Germany.”