The project, part of the FP7 EU project PicknPack will be demonstrated to the public next year and can pack vine shaped tomatoes, ready meals and grapes.
DTI (Danish Technological Institute)
The Pick Pack Line consists of a thermo-former capable of forming plastic trays in a flexible way in a variety of sizes. Then a robot will pick out of the harvest container products and place them in the trays.
The food is quality controlled with X-ray, spectral cameras, 3D sensors and microwave sensors to determine all quality features. When the products are looking good in the trays, the top-seal will be applied with a printer and laser.
The same laser cuts the trays from one another. Depending on the quality of the packages, a cable robot with a flexible working area can stack the trays in crates.
Bart van Tuijl, technical researcher, Wageningen University, in the Netherlands, said the thermoformer is the first module of the line and produces trays using a plastic film that is heated in a mould. It is built by DTI (Danish Technological Institute).
“In the trays products, like tomatoes or grapes, are deposited. The assembly line will be able to handle different products of different sizes. Therefore, it is necessary to adjust the shape of the mould to the current size of the product,” he said.
“Nowadays in industry, a mould has a fixed composition. To exchange a mould in between handling different products is time consuming and the moulds themselves are very expensive. By making use of a composition of blocks from which the mould is made virtually any mould configuration can be assembled offline in a number of minutes.
“An automatic exchange station in the thermoformer exchanges the moulds in a minute so production can quickly be resumed.”
The project is funded by Europese Unie (Gr.no 311987) with co-financing of Ministerie van Economische Zaken.
'A competitive advantage in the rapidly changing marketplace'
It hopes PicknPack will give the European food industry a competitive advantage in the rapidly changing marketplace of the future, where customers demand more quality, choice and safety for lower prices.
The project will develop three types of modules that can cope with the typical variability of food products and the requirements of the sector regarding hygiene, economics and adaptability.
These are; a sensing module that assesses quality of the individual or small batch products before or after packaging; a vision controlled robotic handling module that picks up and separates the product from a harvest bin or transport system and places it in the right position in a package; and an adaptive packaging module that can accommodate various types of packaging with flexibility in terms of package shape, size, product environment, sealing and printing.
These modules connect to a multipoint framework for flexible integration into a production line that makes use of the capabilities of the modules.
The combination of modules will be with a user-friendly interface and all modules are equipped with automated cleaning systems to ensure hygiene.