Collaborative robot reaches out to dairy industry

By Hal Conick

- Last updated on GMT

Brent Bartson demonstrates use of the UR3 to DairyReporter.
Brent Bartson demonstrates use of the UR3 to DairyReporter.

Related tags Robot Dairy product

Universal Robots has reached out to dairy manufacturers at this year’s International Dairy Show in Chicago with its line of collaborative robots.

The line, which includes the UR3, which can lift 3kg, the UR5 (5kg) and the UR 10 (10kg), can work side-by-side with humans in production facilities.

Each of the robots can be easily moved across facilities and lines while plugging into a 120 volt outlet.

“The robot can be readily moved and plugged in somewhere else,”​ Cynthia Kradjel, area sales manager, Universal Robots, told DairyReporter.

“Workers can then show robot what motions are required for the next job.”

Less costly, more efficiency

Traditionally, robots have been a costly expenditure that most food companies saw as too bulky for adoption, Kradjel said.

“They were single-use installations that required engineering, software and manpower to get going,”​ she said.

“We introduced the collaborative robot, and the key is that due to the force and speed and technology we have, we’re able to [have the robot] work side-by-side with humans. The robot is doing tasks that are very repetitive.

“We’re just delving into the dairy industry. One of the main things we’re doing at the show is presenting the concept to people to see where their imagination leads.”

One company, Orkla Foods, is using the company’s robots to lift sacks of cream in a packaging application.

Kradjel named another company using the robots to line up yogurt cups, put them into a sleeve and package them in a tray.

Robotic farming

In a press release from Universal Robots, GNE Farm Equipment owner, Gerard Niessink, highly recommended the UR robots:

"A dairy man with no prior programming experience can operate a UR robot by using the simple point and click system. No other robot on the market is currently able to offer this ease of use system. Since no specialists are needed for operation, the UR robots results in a faster payback. With the available bank lease programs there is no money out of pocket for the dairy man.”

“It’s an on-demand, ready-to-use robot​,” she said. “That’s the reason we’re at this show …We thought we’d let the end users look at it. It’s almost like the robot is in your hands. You don’t need to go through all this high level programming and caging.”

Robot in action

Programming the robot is seemingly much simpler than others on the market, according to Brent Bartson, who works as technical support for Universal Robots in the Midwest.

He demonstrated this to DairyReporter at the IDFA International Dairy Show, passing over a large, tablet-like device that controls the robot’s every move.  

The device is attached to the robot’s main computer, which allows users to see and adjust its movements on a screen. With the push of a button, the robot can be stopped and manually or virtually adjusted for precision in the process.

“Let’s say this is dispensing yogurt,”​ Bartson said. “We have a dispensing head on here that would work with a conveyor and dispense into three containers. You can program the starting point, the move the robot to two other containers. It pulls back between each … We’re trying to make the robot a tool that’s really simple to move.”

In the end, the user can simply push play and watch the UR3 go to work, air-dispensing into three different yogurt cups.

This operation can be expanded as well for larger operations, Kradjel said. It can also be decreased or moved to an entirely different task.

“Once it’s in place it’s a fairly easy matter to keep current with whatever today's demands are,”​ she said. “It gives them the ability to more quickly adapt.”

Kradjel said these robots started working in the "low-hanging fruit"​ industries, such as medical equipment, but the company wants to expand into food verticals, such as confectionery and snacking. 

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