Industrial robots in the food and drink industry
Cost effective, reliable and fast industrial robotsin the food industry have been the key factor in what TM Robotics sees as the sector’s automation revolution. Just as the automotive sector became heavily automated in the 1970s, so the first decade of this century brought with it a scramble amongst food manufacturers to invest in the most efficient and future proofed industrial robots on the market.
Amongst the best robot technologies for the food industry is the SCARA. SCARA stands for Selective Compliant Assembly Robot Arm or Selective Compliant Articulated Robot Arm – the two acronyms are both common and are entirely interchangeable
TM Robotics Ltd,
Industrial automation solution
What are SCARA robots?
This acronym is the key to understanding the advantages of a SCARA robot in the food industry. The first thing to recognise is the robot’s parallel-axis joint layout, which is compliant in the X-Y direction but rigid in the ‘Z’ direction, hence the term ‘Selective Compliant’. This offers enormous advantages in all sorts of primary and secondary packaging applications as well as a host of other pick and place functions. Secondly, the jointed, two-link arm layout is similar to a human arm, which is why the phrase ‘articulated’ forms part of the acronym. As a result, the robot can reach into confined areas and then fold back out of the way. This function is ideal for loading confectionary goods onto a tray for instance, or indeed loading or unloading any enclosed process station.
To illustrate the potential of robots in these kinds of applications, Michael Taylor, the chairman of CeNFRA, an independent and local Government backed advisory scheme said, “The food and drink processing industry is under real pressure and if UK processors are going to survive in the global marketplace, we will have to restructure our operations. We need to be multi-skilled, leaner and efficient. Robotic and automation solutions can increase capacity and bottom line profits.”
Why you should use SCARA robots in the food and drink industry
In the food and drink sector, this increased capacity and profit are normally obtained by using SCARA robots in either primary or secondary packaging. The range of gripper technologies and vision systems available means that the machines could be used to pick up food items of packaged drinks and transfer them into the primary packaging, pick up trays of goods and transfer them into boxes or transfer boxes into secondary packaging for shipment. The crux of the issue here is choosing the correct gripping device – one only has to think of the delicacy of an exquisite praline, or a fragile wafer to realise how gentle the hands of a robot have to be. Furthermore, providing they have the appropriate IP65 classification, there is no reason why SCARAs can’t be used in the manufacturing process itself. Toshiba Machine’s range of IP65 SCARAs and IP65 ‘hoods’ provide exactly this advantage.
When they are used in manufacturing or packaging, SCARAs offer a single low footprint pedestal mount which takes up very little valuable manufacturing real estate. However, if the space really isn’t available then ceiling mount versions are available. The insider’s tip here is to choose a model, such as a Toshiba Machine SCARA, that is available in ceiling mount as standard, because adaptations from other manufacturers can be costly.
Robot software is easy to programme, which means that machines can be re-trained when a line ceases manufacturing one product and moves on to another. The equipment is easy to install, meaning that downtime is minimised during the integration process. And, above all, the cost and potential return on investment (ROI) of the system is easy to estimate, providing you already know what your existing costs are.
The advantage of SCARAs over Delta
While SCARAs don’t have the speed of Delta robots, which are often used in food manufacture, they do have one significant advantage over such devices – cost! In financial terms, you can buy two SCARAs for the same price as a single, less robust, Delta. The two robots between them will offer the same, or greater, speed of food processing as the single machine and, on the rare occasions that a robot requires maintenance, two SCARAs offer you the option of half production – which a single Delta does not.
So, while the density of robots in the food industry is still not in the same arena as the automotive sector, it is increasing more quickly. The Government is investing in robotics, via NGOs such as CeNFRA, and most major corporations are investing in robotics. Perhaps it’s time that you joined the revolution?