We asked our seasoned staff: Is a robot always necessary for case packing or secondary packaging applications? Here are responses from 3 different department perspectives: applications, engineering, and sales!
No, a robot is not necessary for all packaging applications and is not the best solution for every project. They are an attractive option, however, making robots commonplace in plants today. A big reason for this is due to the fact that a robot can be redeployed to a totally different line if its original line happens to be shut down. A custom, traditional packaging machine in this same situation would more than likely be unable to be reused elsewhere. Customers like the flexibility that the robot arm may offer when looking forward into the future.
A robot is not necessarily required for secondary packaging applications but may have some benefits. For top load applications, a multiple servo axis pick-and-place can be just as effective as a robot for loading common products into a case that have similar pack patterns. Typically a robotic system will be more flexible when it comes to various pack patterns and loading methods.
If a product needs to be loaded in such a way that a unique approach angle of the product is required to fit it into the case, a robot can accomplish this much easier than a more conventional type pick-and-place. With today’s push into flexible packages, this is sometimes the requirement for this type of package, which tends to make a robot a better choice for these types of applications.
Pack pattern changeovers can be accomplished with a traditional, multi-axis pick-and-place but more change over points and change parts may be a requirement. Conversely, a robotic system is likely to have an “auto change over” process for different pack patterns, making the system more intuitive for a machine operator to work with.
Major determinants of traditional vs. robotic package are the product type and desired pack pattern(s). Generally speaking, “Yes, other equipment can fill the need”. Systems integrated with robots can be configured to significantly reduce the number of change parts required, which also leads to decreased changeover time. Robot tooling can be configured for multiple tasks and/or feature auto-change to accommodate a variety of pick configurations or package patterns.
The consensus is… it depends! The key is to partner with an experienced packaging automation company that knows the right questions to ask and can help guide you to the solution that bests suits your application.
And sometimes a hybrid approach that can marry traditional techniques with robotic technology is the answer. But that’s a post for another day!