You need your products packed into a case… seems simple enough. You also likely have numerous SKUs on your line, containing different products, varieties of products, case counts, pack patters, or case styles, right? If you’re like most of our customers, you probably also want to limit downtime from changeovers, have limited floorspace, and are on a tight budget…
Very quickly, packing projects can become very complex. And, while Pearson Applications Engineers are experts in understanding the pain points, goals, and specifications of manufacturers and distributors, they must consider a multitude of factors before creating a solution that meets your needs. In many cases, they have to prioritize requirements and weigh tradeoffs between competing specifications. Some of the most common considerations our team takes into account when working to bring your optimal solution to fruition are outlined below, aimed to give you a better understanding of Pearson’s process and the information we’ll need from you to ensure we hit the mark.
Robot Type and Count
The size, weight and primary packaging of products, case sizes and styles, and the rates needed on a line are critical factors in determining the best robot types for the job. Very commonly, designers will utilize concepts from previous projects handling similar product types and modify them as needed to work in new scenarios with similar specifications. Robot types typically fall into three categories: delta robots, articulated robots, or specialty (commonly Scara) robots.
Generally, Delta robots are ideal for handling lightweight products at high rates of speed, but lack in reach and range of motion compared to other robot models. Articulated arm robots have the highest payload, greatest reach, and greatest range of motion. Articulated multi-axis robots are best-suited to applications with heavier products or larger/deeper cases. Scara-style robots can handle small, lightweight products using horizontal movement and have limited reach, often used for pattern forming.
The number of robots is determined based on the required rates – and of course, assuming there is a large enough space for the footprint of the solution, and the funding to support it. Engineers may consider using a larger robot with elongated tooling in order to achieve throughput volumes if they’re working with space constraints or a tight budget.
Pearson Designers use a combination of tools for detailed analysis including FANUC and Allen-Bradley simulation software like iRPickPro, HandlingPro, PalletPro, and Emulate 3D to ensure robot reach and cycle times are achieved.
Solutions are also evaluated for longevity based on use. Pearson Packaging Systems, Engineers will match the robot type to the application to meet requirements in order to get the most life out of the solution, while also allowing wiggle room for any re-engineering work that may be necessary and as a way for customers to have more flexibility in the future.
Product Orientation & Pattern Forming
How will the packing cell receive products? If the products are coming downstream in random/non-uniform orientation, the application will likely require vision and line tracking to identify the location and/or orientation of the products so the robot can know where to pick them. Vision and line tracking can also recognize colors and shapes/logos on products to determine the receiving orientation.
Additionally, if you package into retail-ready/display cases, or require vertical pack patterns, Pearson offers different methods to get products received in horizontal/lay flat position upright into cases, including a rotating bucket, robot-held case, and catcher’s mitt option, depending on other aforementioned factors (i.e. packaging type/material/weight, speed, number of SKUs, etc.).
Under the right circumstances, mechanical tools or conveying can be used to rotate or group/collate products in preparation for picking, but robotic pattern forming typically provides far greater flexibility with less maintenance and part wear over time.
Another critical element when designing robotic packers is the end-of-arm tooling. Vacuum is the most commonly-used type of tool as it’s flexible in accommodating a multitude of product shapes and packaging types so long as there is sufficient surface area. Clamp tools work well for rigid items like plastic bottles or items with lids susceptible to popping open.
Product variation and number of SKUs on the line also critically influence the cell design. As a rule of thumb, solutions offering the greatest flexibility to run different product types with minimal changeover requirements are always the preference. Multi-functional or self-adjusting tools are used whenever possible, but more commonly tools must be swapped out to accommodate recipe changes. If you have the budget, automatic tool changeover may be a great option. It eliminates the need for operators to manually change out tooling, and generally yields less downtime from the process.
Space allowances – or lack thereof – are often one of the most challenging elements of a robotic packing line. Unless you’re opening a brand new facility, pre-existing machinery, stationary elements like columns, mezzanines, etc. almost always drive the layout of the packing cell as designers must get creative working around things or within a limited footprint. Product and case accumulation can be challenging to accomplish when space is restricted, and often impacts the type of conveyors that are incorporated into the solution.
If only resources were limitless… but they never are. For this reason, our sales team will work closely to understand your budget at the start of the project so we don’t propose a solution that’s entirely outside of scope. As part of Pearson’s collaborative design approach, designers work closely with you throughout the process to make adjustments along the way. It’s great when we’re able to provide the right solution on the first try, but it’s much more common that robotic packing designs are adjusted based on user feedback, whether there’s a need to cut cost or add a tremendously beneficial feature. Rest assured, we uphold high quality material and build standards, and won’t sacrifice craftsmanship or supply a sub-parr solution just for the sake of making a cheap sale.
The Pearson Packaging Systems Team will always strive to create the best solution for each unique application that comes our way by understanding your needs and priorities, referencing past Pearson projects, and using a multitude of tools to ensure the viability robotic design. Creative, collaborative mindsets, coupled with vast experience are the recipe for reliable, flexible solutions you can be confident in.
Ready to talk with us about the best way to automate your packing line? Contact us to schedule a consult.