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Enhancing packaging productivity with cobots

14 September 2020

The use of collaborative robotics (cobots) in the processing and manufacturing of food and beverages can bring many advantages in terms of savings and efficiency for manufacturers of all sizes. 

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A good example is CLECA SpA, creator of the S. Martino pudding. The company has recently benefitted from higher productivity in its packaging department thanks to the use cobots. It wanted to improve its maintenance and shipping operations by boosting productivity of the entire packaging department at its main plant. 

Following a review of its packaging processes, the company made the decision to deploy a pair of Omron TM12 cobots at the end of the packaging line in a palletising application. Operators quickly noticed an improvement in working conditions, experiencing a reduction in repetitive operations – as these were delegated to the machine – as well as improved change-over times. 

The Omron TM12 cobot is equipped with an integrated vision system which is able to locate objects in a wide field of vision, while lighting for image enhancement ensures image recognition in almost all conditions. 

The vision system improves the reliability, uniformity and accuracy of the positioning of items. It also includes features such as pattern-matching, barcode reading and colour identification, allowing CLECA to carry out inspection, measurement and sorting activities at no additional cost or effort. The harmony between people and machines enables them to work side-by-side. 

The cobots needed to meet high safety standards to allow them to work alongside their human colleagues. Safety regulations require a project-based risk assessment in the design and construction phase of the cobot solution. This risk assessment helps CLECA comply with the machinery directive 2006/42/EC; the safety requirements of the technical standard ISO 10218; and the technical specification ISO/TS 15066. The cobots did not require protective fencing due to their integrated safety functions. The TMflow programming environment, employed by the cobots is based on flow charts which is said to offer application flexibility, allowing production processes to be quickly reconfigured. 

The cobots were also required to be operational quickly. This need was met, thanks to plug-and-play software, which makes the cobots ready for use immediately after they have been installed. 

Enhancing productivity
The introduction of cobots at CLECA coincided with the implementation of key automation solutions relating to Industry 4.0, including the connection and interface with the factory’s manufacturing execution system (MES). The integration of the collaborative cell and the machines present in the plant was made possible by the Ethernet communication integrated between the various PLCs in the plant. The increase in productivity and process efficiency achieved by using the cobots, combined with the reduction of indirect costs is expected to allow CLECA to achieve a return on investment (ROI) in less than a year from the start-up of the collaborative cell.

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