CHICAGO — As costs decline for implementing robotics, even small to midsize consumer packaged goods companies are beginning to see the value in automating operations, according to PMMI’s 2017 Evolution of Automation report. Exhibitors at the Pack Expo International trade show here last week concurred.
Consumer packaged goods (CPG) businesses are relying on robots of all types, said Keith Kersten, marketing communications group manager at Omron Automation. This includes collaborative robot arms or cobots, and Omron plans to introduce one by the end of the year.
The Omron TM series cobots are designed to integrate with other Omron equipment, including its mobile robots and controller hardware. The cobots include a built-in intelligent vision system for pattern recognition, object positioning, and barcode identification.
Depending on the specific model, the cobots have maximum payloads of up to 14 kg (30.9 lb.), joint ranges of 155 degrees to 270 degrees, and a maximum speed of 1.4 meters per second (3.1 mph).
“You need cobots, pick-and-place robots, SCARA robots, and mobile robots in the warehouse today,” said Kersten at Pack Expo. “It’s about helping people with productivity; it’s not about replacing people.”
The entire supply chain for consumer packaged goods couldn’t function with the speed that end users want without robots, he added.
There simply aren’t enough people, and people can’t work as efficiently as robots to fill the demand, which continues to grow along with e-commerce, Kersten said.
Consumer packaged goods and cobots
Cobots are getting much of the attention because of the continued growth of Universal Robots A/S and new providers entering the market. The Odense, Denmark-based company sold its 25,000th cobot earlier this year, and it is still growing at strong double-digit rates, said Stu Shepherd, regional sales director for the Americas at Universal Robots. UR cobots were on display at more than a dozen booths at the show.
At the same time, cobot provider Rethink Robotics filed for bankruptcy earlier in the month. Though they said they couldn’t comment on Rethink specifically, Kersten and Shepherd said the bankruptcy filing was not indicative of a slowdown of the demand for cobots.
Cobots are popular in many consumer packaged goods applications because they can be added easily, Shepherd said.
CPG users might even bring different components through a narrow opening and then reassemble a cobot inside the facility, because many are older and have spaces that don’t easily allow for the addition of larger, more traditional robots, he added.
“E-commerce is exploding. With the low unemployment rate, our robots can help meet the need for the additional packing and palletizing,” Shepherd said. “We can have a cobot installed and running in less than a day.”
New products from Universal Robots
Among the systems that Universal Robots is offering for consumer packaged goods shops is the XPAK ROBOX. The new box erector is developed by XPAK and powered by UR. It enables packagers to randomly erect any box in their suites on demand without changeover.
The XPAK ROBOX includes a UR10e cobot arm that picks a flat box from one of two magazines, squares the case, folds, and seals the bottom flaps with 2-in. tape.
Additional magazine and custom box conveyance options allow the XPAK ROBOX to integrate seamlessly into any packaging environment, according to Universal Robots.
The UR10e is the largest cobot in Universal Robots’ new flagship line of cobots, the e-Series, displayed for the first time at a Pack Expo. The e-Series adds built-in force/torque sensing, safety feature, and improved precision for faster integration in a wider range of future-proofed applications.
“The e-Series strengthens the core principles defining collaborative robots: fast setup, easy programming, flexible deployment, safe operation, and a quick ROI,” Shepherd said. “End users with complex applications and diverse or uncertain future needs will benefit from the e-Series platform and our unique UR+ ecosystem knowing that their investment will be able to grow with them as their needs change.”
Universal Robots’ cobots are designed to work with an expanding portfolio of certified UR+ plug-and-play end effectors, software, and peripherals.
Among the newer solutions is the collaborative palletizer PalletiZUR from ONExia Inc., a regional distributor of Universal Robots. The PalletiZUR features a UR10e cobot arm, a graphical user interface, drag-and-drop pallet array building, the ability to switch between two pallets, and remote programming via USB.