“We wanted 50 per cent more throughput but we got more.”- Muntons
Robotic automation is gaining traction in packhouses around the UK. About time you might say. However, as has been reported, there have been a number of reasons for the historically slow takeup.
A genuine concern exists over the technical capability of the business to handle robotic automation. Other key issues are related to health and safety and maintenance issues.
However, in truth, robots are not new at all. They have been operating successfully in factories for over 2 decades. There are many robot manufacturers out there and I cannot think of any of the major manufacturers that does not make a reliable robot. New Robots are reliable regardless of manufacturer. There are differences of course. Brillopak only works with Robots that offer very strong health and safety software control attributes clever but simple programming software and comprehensive remote access.
But that is not the issue. Think of a robot as a human hand. The hand needs to go to a position or series of positions to fulfil a task. Simple enough one would think. However, in order to fulfil that task once it is in position, it needs a tool in its hand in the same way a carpenter needs a saw or an electrician a screwdriver. And this is what makes a good robot case packing system or a bad robot palletiser system.
If one looks a failed installations in the past, It is rarely the robot that stops working, it is usually the robot hand, or end effector as we call it, that is either of insufficient quality or flexibility to do the job. It is also typically the area on which the purchaser spends the least time or challenge.
At Brillopak we used to build a lot of robot heads for third parties. I can remember one company buying several components for a new robotic system from Brillopak but buying the robot head from another company because it was half the price. The trouble was that on installation, this head kept puncturing the bags of product causing waste and line stoppages. A year later we were asked to replace the existing head with our own. My point is simple. The client did not really research the robot head. The assumption was that it would work. The robot system cost £125,000.00 and the head £8,000.00 but without a fully functioning robot head that met the needs of the application, the system was not a viable investment.
To my mind, the real skill in robotic packing and palletising is to be able to develop, build and adapt robot heads that are appropriate for the task in hand. The more flexible the head, the more likely the robot system will meet your requirement now and into the future. The robot itself is not the issue.
So, if you are thinking of automation now or in the future, I recommend that you look at what the robot has in its hand before you check its identity.