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Pacepacker shows food manufacturers how robotic efficiency is done

Leading food manufacturers and retailers, including Frederick Hiam, Huntapac Produce, Bakkavor and Produce World flocked to Pacepacker Services’ educational workshop in mid-June to see how new innovations in pick and place robot technology could improve their production output and efficiency.

pacepacker workshop

Attendees from the food industry including Produce World Frederick Hiam Huntapac Produce saw robots picking and placing a variety of wrapped and unwrapped foods

Leading food manufacturers and retailers, including Frederick Hiam, Huntapac Produce, Bakkavor and Produce World flocked to Pacepacker Services’ educational workshop in mid-June to see how new innovations in pick and place robot technology could improve their production output and efficiency.

Essex-based Pacepacker, who designs, manufactures and integrates state-of-the-art automation solutions predominantly for the food industry, displayed eight systems valued at over £1million. Working equipment from partners Festo, FANUC Robotics UK, UPM Conveyors and Vuototecnica Vacuum Technology demonstrated typical product handling, assembly and packing scenarios.

For existing and future customers, the event provided a unique opportunity to see the largest selection of robots used by the food sector. “We wanted to increase the industry’s awareness of the three different types of robots, the Cartesian, articulated arm and delta robot,” said Pacepacker’s managing director Dennis Allison. “Because of the broad type of solutions Pacepacker offers, we are able to give impartial advice when it comes to the technology required for an application, the workshop also clearly demonstrates our customer vision ‘to unburden and free potential’.”

Driving down manufacturing costs

With efficiency high on every food manufacturer’s agenda, the educational workshop highlighted the benefit of automating sites. “The supermarkets, particularly the big ones, are noticing a shift towards the likes of Aldi and Lidl.” Observed Dennis. These European discounted food retailers are winning shoppers, which is starting to hurt the larger rivals. To help tackle this, many are pledging to lower food prices, which mean they need to drive down manufacturing costs. Automation plays a huge role in increasing everyone’s competitive edge, from retailers to suppliers. That’s certainly a key driver for the customers we support, particularly ones that manufacture a large volume of their own-branded food.”

Addressing energy efficiency

The workshop showed visitors how automation can improve energy efficiency, including novel options for food manufacturers with tighter budgets. Attendees were shown a full Cartesian system constructed by Pacepacker using Festo components. Working pneumatic and electric models were loading punnets of blueberries and pots of dips into retail trays. This illustrated the energy efficiency of pot swapping using a more basic pneumatic application. Whereas the high speed loading of fruit punnets using an electric variant revealed the importance of accurate positioning and flexibility when manufacturing space is at a premium.

Full wash-down specifications that meet food hygiene standards

The Cartesian cell on display incorporated a conveyor engineered from a special food-grade HMWPE plastic supplied by another Pacepacker partner – Berkshire-based UPM. “This conveyor allows customers to maintain the highest levels of hygiene to comply with full wash down specifications and to offer FDA approved materials in the conveyor construction for food contact applications,” explained Roy Fowler, UPM’s sales director. “Automation of product handling at the end of a line, prior to despatch to the customer, minimises labour content, resulting in increased efficiency.”

Also focusing on hygiene was FANUC Robotics UK, Pacepacker’s strategic partner of over 15 years, who showcased the M2 pick and place delta robot, one of only a few IP69K certified systems on the market that can withstand high pressure wash-downs. This demonstration helped to verify why so many food manufacturers are turning to delta robots. Capable of processing 120 cycles per minutes, the speed efficiency is one aspect. Equally, with the IP69K certification, the delta robot can handle unpackaged and raw foods, including placement into trays and assembly operations.

robotic packer arm

With a reach of 91mm LR Mate 200iD 7L handling single root vegetables

How vacuum technology works

The latest robot arm and end effector technology incorporated the most popular form of pick and place solution, a vacuum gripper from Vuototecnica. Jonathan Plumb, Vuototecnica’s director was on-hand to explain how vacuum valves adapt to the products: “Where more vacuum is required, a pump or even a high air-flow pump can be specified. Vacuum handling is ideal for products such as yoghurt pots since it minimises contact and potential damage, but equally the pack provides a secure seal with the gripper.”

Potato loading illustrates high-speed capabilities

FANUC’s M-710ic articulated arm was used with 1kg potato polybags, creating a true-to-life double and triple picking potato loading scenario using an integrated servo-driven system. This showed the high throughput speed that is attainable when placing produce into trays and containers. Once picked up from the conveyor, the potatoes were fed into the cell and picked up either singularly or in multiples.

Likened to the size of a human arm, the LR Mate 200iD 7L is a six-axis robot with a reach of up to 911mm and attendees viewed it handling root vegetables. A successor to FANUC’s LR-Mate200iC, a new slim arm design was engineered to minimise interference to peripheral devices. This means it can operate in much narrower spaces than traditional robots. In pick and place applications, it is 35% faster than its predecessor and has been specified to work with a diverse range of produce.

John Rainer, regional sales manager at FANUC Robotics UK, believes the educational workshop helped raise the awareness of companies that have yet to work with Pacepacker and triggered new ideas for efficient automation. “For those who are already working with Pacepacker,” he said, “they could see that investment is being made into a sustainable business. If nothing else, it helps to instil that sense of confidence.”

Dennis Allison believes that the day achieved all of its objectives: “The people we invited had a reason for coming – they either have an application or they’re thinking about an application. Ultimately, we wanted to demonstrate the many ways in which pick and place technology can improve their facility, which I’m confident we did.

For customers unable to attend, Pacepacker is in the process of expanding its ‘Try Before You Buy’ facility to include £250k of pick & place technology. This enables manufacturers to de-risk their automation project and run system trials before placing an order with the award-winning company. Most of the technology show cased at this event will also be on the Pacepacker PPMA stand Hall 5 Stand C50.

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