TAUNTON, Mass. – Harpak-ULMA, which develops packaging line solutions for food, medical, bakery, and industrial products, today announced it would integrate collaborative robots developed by Universal Robots into its connected bakery packaging solutions.
Automation challenges for bakers include a wide variety of product sizes and forms, including raw or baked, or wrapped or unwrapped, as well as delicate products that require extra gentle handling, the company said. Variations in products determine how a product is picked and placed, posing these challenges to traditional robotics technologies. “Cobots introduce cost-effective bakery automation for product movement and palletizing efforts since they can work with even the most fragile products of virtually every size, shape, weight and form,” Harpak-ULMA said in its announcement.
Cobot demand rising
John Weddleton, automation product manager at Harpak-ULMA, said cobots are gaining ground rapidly with his customers. “Cobots combine fast setup, easy programming, redeployment flexibility and amazing safety characteristics, with an ability to handle even the most delicate packaging chores,” Weddleton said. “We’re seeing an aggressive upsurge in demand from our customer base since there really isn’t anything else on the market that provides such a cost-effective solution to repetitive, menial production tasks.
The company said it plans to include cobots as part of its demo line at the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) and PackExpo events in Las Vegas. “You really have to see them in action to appreciate how much of a game changer they are,” said Weddleton.
Harpak-ULMA already offers several automation solutions in the bakery space, including integrated inspection and quality control systems, weighing, and labeling options. In addition, it provides a complete process to pallet packaging automation for some of the largest U.S. bakery producers. The company said while most major bakery producers have significant automated packaging investments, “the delicate manual dexterity required for some product movements continues to hinder production throughputs and challenge traditional automation/robotic solutions.”
“Our philosophy embraces disruptive automation technologies that make it possible for customers to leap-frog their competition in throughput, quality, and total cost of ownership,” said Kevin Roach, president of Harpak-ULMA. “Cobot integration allows producers to maintain safe and clean operations while operating at higher speeds and overcoming staffing challenges that hamper productivity. We intend to make it easier for customers to leverage advanced automation hardware and software to overcome their toughest productivity barriers and deliver unfair competitive advantage.”
The company recently announced it was collaborating with Rockwell Automation to provide Allen Bradley industrial control systems as their platform of choice for smart, connected packaging solutions. The partnership also opens up technologies from Rockwell’s partner, PTC, to integrate augmented and virtual reality software aimed at field service processes and to alleviate chronic labor skill set and turnover issues, the company said.