They have been used for some time in automatic milking sheds. Now pick and place robots are becoming more common in dairy production environments, explains FANUC.
DUE to the recent rise of smaller dairy snack foods and a larger number of pack variants (such as different flavoured yogurts in a shelf ready multi-pack), FANUC is experiencing an increase in enquiries from the dairy industry for pick and place robot handling systems.
“Until recently there has been an overriding belief that robotics are more suited to industries that require a higher payload rather than the more delicate nature of many dairy products, such as yogurts, fine cheeses or individual tubs of dips. What was once deemed a task best performed by hand can now be picked up by the more flexible robots on the market today,” said FANUC’s Regional Sales Manager, John Rainer.
Simple movements in dairy
Inherently, product movements in the dairy industry are less complex than other food sectors, highlights John. “If you are moving a block of cheese or packs of yogurts, a simple application that’s easy to configure will suffice.” FANUC says it is well-aware of the challenges and is helping to plug this important gap in automation efficiency for dairy producers.
Mindful of hygiene and food safety, the FANUC LR Mate 200 Series is a popular choice for dairy manufacturers. Suitable for picking up yoghurts, butter and cheese and collating in boxes or trays, this servo-driven robot is IP67 rated as standard, with an optional upgrade to IP69K to withstand harsh pressure washing. Providing assurance to manufacturers and packers that individual Retailer Codes of Practice (COP) and the very latest hygiene and product line integrity requirements set out by the British Retail Consortium are being consistently met.
Anatomy of a robot
With a six-axis articulated arm, John likens the LR Mate to the size and reach of a human arm. “It is the most compact of all articulated arm robots, making it ideal for small cells and direct machine installations, which are commonplace in dairy environments.” Easily capable of packing in excess of 80 packs per minute, the six-axis system can tilt, twist and rotate single or multiple products with ease. Because of this dexterity, several of the models can even place products under a lipped edge deep box. Weighing just 25kg, it can be mounted on a floor, upside down, on a wall, or at an angle.
The LR Mate range offers a low payload of between 4kg and 7kg. Manufacturers can select a short, standard and long arm, with a reach of between 550mm to 911mm. “Generally speaking, the longer the reach the wider the scope of applications,” says John.
End effectors for different pack sizes
Another emerging requirement is having the scope to handle a variety of pack variations. To meet this need, over 15 different end effector tools in gripper, vacuum, magnet and clam-shell style are available. Whether you are picking and packing tubs of dips, packs of butter or netted bags of cheeses, flexibility is important. “Dairy manufacturers can select interchangeable end-effectors, which add to the flexibility. The fact that you can move a robot to a different application as production needs change is very appealing, especially when there are so many product variations in the ever-evolving dairy market,” adds John.
ROI and robotics
Naturally, return on investment is a huge factor to consider and may have contributed to some past resistance by dairy producers and packers. With the price of robotics coming down, John also feels that increased take-up can be equally attributed to improved processes of design and specification. “Above all, it is about considering the lifespan and longevity of your investment, ensuring you have the right tooling for the product, and the right robot for the output and payload required. Of the 5,000 FANUC robots built per month, many are stock items and available for quickly delivery to help manufacturer’s fulfil the demands of a retailer contract. And to put minds at rest relating to service and upkeep over a long life span, FANUC provide a 25 year parts availability guarantee, including obsolescence avoidance solutions.”
• Five FANUC pick and place robots are on display at the PPMA Show, 30 Sept – 2 October, NEC, Stand C50. Delta style and articulated arm robots, including IP67 and IP69K certified systems, will perform food packing and palletising tasks at the show.