Dispatches from Emballage in Paris

Robot benefits impossible to ignore, says food packaging industry specialist

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Robot benefits impossible to ignore, says food packaging industry specialist
Food and beverage industry robots offer productivity and cost savings that the industry cannot ignore, according to French end-of-line packaging machinery specialist Cermex.

Speaking to FoodProductionDaily.com after a seminar on robot applications in the food and beverage sector at the trade event Emballage, north of Paris, the company' communications manager, Jean-Marc Passemard said that their speed, precision, simplicity and flexibility could make a vital contribution to some companies.

"Robots will lift productivity and lower costs by removing the loading funnel that slows throughput,'​ he said. In his seminar presentation Passemard explained how the introduction of robots had helped champaign producer Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin boost glass bottle handling rates up to 8,500 bottles an hour.

In addition to speed, robots' ability to work to a high level of precision can also lead to improved product quality and deliver simplicity and flexibility that other machines cannot match, said Passemard.

Barrier layers

For example, the champaign producer uses robots to introduce the load into the case and to insert barrier layers precisely with packages. "The benefits of precision are that the producer avoids scratching the products,"​ he said.

It also avoids the need for additional mechanical loaders and their maintenance. "The same robot that can pick and place can also grab flat boards or insert barrier layers with ease."

So one robot can remove the need to buy, install and maintain a range of specific modules formerly needed for packaging collation, layer insertion, palletisation, case packing and tipping.

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin installed Cermex's AN Gantry Packer and WB45 Wrap Around Case Packer which includes two FANUC robots to do the product collation.

As well as short-term producitivity and cost benefits, robots offer manufacturers greater flexibility to accommodate new industry trends, said Passemard. "Today a company may be dealing with cartons but in five years' time, its customers may ask for tubes and then the company will have to deal with tubes. With robots, the manufacturer can rebuild the line in much more flexible and cheaper way. But with a mechanical solution, the manufacturer would have to change all the machines."

But Passemard acknowledged that robots are not suitable for all food and beverage industry applications. "Robots are not suitable for every application; for example for highly complex or sophisticated formats,"​ he said.

Greater accuracy

Cermex's SD Case Packer was one of only seven new machines at the show to win a Pack Innovation Award. The 6-axis delta robot can replicate movements which are close to the arm and hand movements, according to the Pack Experts Commitee. "Greater accuracy will improve item loading and unloading, will help to control the positioning of products in the transport cases, as well as case filling, and will therefore help to optimise case sizes,'​ according to the judges' citation.

Meanwhile, the number of robots installed by French industry in 2008 climbed by 5 per cent to reach 50,400 units compared with the year before, according to information published by the trade association SYMOP.

The food and tobacco industries accounted for 12 per cent of robot sales in 2008 while the automotive industry accounted for 51 per cent of sales.

By far the most common application of robots in French industry was handling, accounting for 50 per cent of the total, followed by welding at 30 per cent.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging, Smart Packaging

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