Packaging is one application in any industry that would tire out humans fast. For starters, it is an activity that is performed repeatedly over a long period. Packaging robots are crucial in many industries and more so the food industry.
Food packaging applications cover three stages of the packaging process. These stages are:
- Primary packaging
- Secondary packaging
- Tertiary packaging
Packaging tasks are easy to automate at the packaging stage because the products are uniform. However, tasks earlier in the food supply chain are not easily packaged. Food and agriculture producers have introduced automation with robots even if tasks are difficult to automate.
Applications in Food Packaging
The food industry is possibly one of the most competitive and also requires high levels of sanitation. Packaging robots in the food industry perform a wide range of tasks. In this article, we look at some of the major food packaging applications they undertake.
1. Raw Food Packaging
During the primary packaging stage, packaging robots take raw or processed food and wrap it. The size and shape of the wrapped packages depend on the food products to be packaged. This lack of uniformity makes some food products difficult for the robot to handle.
Raw foods are not as easy to grasp as processed ones as they are not uniform in size. Also, some processed foods are quite delicate. Lettuce, for instance, can get crushed in a robot’s grip.
2. Pick and Place Applications
Food processing machines produce and place food products randomly. Pick and place robots are designed to simultaneously recognize, line up, and position the product. Pick and place robots can easily grasp processed food products with a gripper because the products are uniform.
Palletizing is a tertiary stage that involves picking packages and getting them ready for shipping. Human workers do not find this task exactly thrilling. Palletizing robots easily and precisely load the packages on pallets. This application is a popular robotic application in the food industry.
4. Depanning and Denesting
Removing foods from a pan can be complicated. If you have tried to remove a cake from its pan, you understand how tricky depanning can be. Depanning robots pick whole trays of baked products with special depanning tools. They then grasp the baked products using vacuums or small pins.
Denesting robots remove empty packages from stacks for depanning one to place baked products inside. These two robots work together to carry out the mentioned packaging applications. This makes for a smooth transition from one application to the next one.
Boxing is a secondary packaging function that involves taking and placing products in boxes or cases. The products are usually sealed and cannot, therefore, be contaminated. Hence, automating boxing applications becomes easy.
Collaborative robots (cobots) are best suited to carry out secondary packing tasks. These include the handling of delicate food products. They are also designed to manage products that are not easy to grasp and are flexible. Hence, they can be programmed to handle multiple applications.
Warehousing involves storing goods to be distributed to retail outlets later. Large companies may need to buy or rent extra space to store their products. Packaging robots help to get such products that are needed in bulk to be ready for transport and storage.
Additionally, automated warehousing boosts the competitive edge, especially in the food and beverage industry. Transporting food products that have been palletized can be very involving. Robots help to make things easier.
Many food producers have fully embraced packaging robots and are reaping the benefits. More are signing up and the food industry could be fully automated in a few short years. You do not have to own a large food production facility to experience the benefits of packaging robots.
Collaborative robots are perfect for medium and even small food production companies. They are designed to handle delicate products and can be adapted for a variety of applications. Besides, they are ideal for companies that do not produce large volumes.