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The Role of Robots

29 March 2012

Ian Walker, general sales manager at industrial robot supplier KUKA Robotics UK, responds to some frequently asked questions about the role of robots in the food processing industry.

How much demand is there from food processors for robotic automation?
The demand in this sector is relatively high. Standard robotic applications primarily involve packaging and palletising although a big growth area is in packing operations.

What are the most popular applications?
Palletising is one of the most frequent tasks that robots perform in the food processing industry. They can be used to stack goods up to a height of 3 metres, recognise foods of different consistencies, sizes and weights, grip and palletise mixed or unmixed products, pack goods in stable layers separated by slipsheets and even operate in cleanrooms or in temperatures as low as minus 30ºC.

Is there scope for using robots in other processes?
Yes, almost any application! Robotic systems have even been developed for handling delicate products such as lettuce. The use of robotic automation is inexplicably low in the meat processing sector. Yet, there is huge potential for using robots for packaging and palletising tasks as well as 3D measurement and cutting of meat.

What are the advantages of using robots?
Robots are very versatile and can be easily integrated into existing or new production cells. They can offer improvements in production throughput as robots are not only able to work faster and longer without breaks, but also deliver better product quality as they achieve repeatable results. With easy clean surfaces and low maintenance requirements, robots are ideal for a wide range of applications from cutting and packaging meat to processing cheese and handling frozen foods. Unlike dedicated machines and systems tailored to a specific product, robots can be easily modified to meet future needs.

What are the challenges for robotic automation?
Customers expect faster cycle times and higher throughput rates without affecting the accuracy of the operation. The use of sensor systems and even simpler operator control of robots have a role to play here.

How is KUKA addressing these issues?
KUKA’s new QUANTEC range includes special palletising models, which are extremely fast thanks to their streamlined design and use of lighter components. They are available in three versions for payloads of 120, 180 and 240kg, making them suitable for a wide variety of tasks.

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