Competitive pressures on packaging and logistics have led to new requirements for robotics. How are they being met? Robotics Business Review recently talked with Yan Banducci, senior product-line manager for industrial robots at Adept Technology Inc.
What is Adept’s interest in packaging and logistics?
Banducci: Adept has a portfolio of industrial and autonomous mobile robots, vision-guidance technology, and application-development software. We also provide cost-effective robotic systems and services to enhance speed and productivity in markets that include manufacturing, assembly, packaging, and warehouse/logistics.
How are the needs of the packaging industry changing?
Banducci: The rate of product turnover is increasing and driving demand. For example, when you go to the grocery store, the packaged goods that you buy regularly are constantly changing as producers continue to fight for consumers’ attention on the store shelf.
The introduction of new products, as well as packaging redesigns of existing products, are effective ways to attract more attention from consumers. Or to put it another way, the product lifespan is decreasing. There’s a need for more speed and flexibility in terms of production, packaging, and delivery — robots are increasingly able to handle that change.
To keep pace with the competition, our packaging customers require automation systems that are compact, flexible, and easy to deploy. Adept’s newest packaging system, the Hornet 565 parallel robot, provides an easily scalable solution capable of handling multiple products while minimizing product changeover time.
How are robotics suppliers meeting these demands for speed and flexibility?
Banducci: One thing we see in this rapidly evolving world is an ease-of-use model. Integrators and end users put in equipment that they must be able to use and reuse for a variety of products. Each product’s lifespan could be less than two years — maybe even down to weeks. With seasonal demands and macro-level demand trends, packagers must be able to reconfigure their lines quickly.
Robotic automation is an ideal solution for this, as changing products only requires a simple software configuration, whereas traditional automation often requires a complete change of packaging equipment.
Easily adaptable robots and software tools is a new development. Robots can be preconfigured for multiple products in an offline environment, and the actual product changeover is accomplished with just the push of a button at the operator level.
We’re also seeing small-batch runs of different products. Once the packaging robots are programmed, switching between products is easy. Product changeovers previously required a high level of technical knowledge with regard to the equipment.
Ease-of-use software is really where the most advances have taken place. Robots used to need a dedicated automation engineer. In today’s world, line configuration is taken to a level where an everyday operator can change products.
Adept’s ACE PackXpert software simply asks a series of questions, and the user then can test with 3D emulation in a virtual environment before going live on actual hardware.
Vision is another technology that has come a long way. Just like with cellphone cameras, machine-vision capabilities have improved by an order of magnitude from five to 10 years ago. They?re higher resolution and higher speed, enabling more accurate applications with higher throughputs.
Adept just released a new packaging robot; how is it unique?
Banducci: Robots have come a long way in terms of cost, reliability, and being more compact. In the case of our Hornet 565, the controller is integrated into the robot itself. Not only is the robot more compact, saving floor space, but it also doesn’t need a separate control cabinet or cables.
The Hornet allows for a higher density of automation equipment with its compact footprint, and the unique integrated controller further reduces factory floor-space requirements and simplifies cabling and installation. We are always striving for more compactness and simplicity on the robot hardware side.
The Hornet also features a hygienic design that minimizes contamination risks, including a standard IP65 rating and corrosion-resistant materials for easy washdown. Adept’s Hornet 565 includes integrated high-speed conveyor tracking, powerful vision guidance, and easy-to-use software created specifically for the packaging market.
What’s on your wish list of technologies to develop?
Banducci: We’re talking to customers, trying to remove barriers to automation. There’s the technical challenge of understanding what it’s capable of, plus the expertise to install and use packaging and logistics systems.
With Hornet, we’ve done quite a bit of that by integrating controls into the robot to simplify deployment. Our PackXpert software has gone through iterations driven by customer feedback. We’ve added tools like a standard UI builder.
For a touchscreen operator interface, it’s easy to configure what’s on that screen. This brings the required level of expertise to operate that machine down to pushing buttons rather than requiring each operator to also be able to reprogram the entire system.
The software also easily integrates multiple robots, powerful vision guidance and inspection, and an industry-leading conveyor tracking capability.
How is the Internet of Things likely to affect warehouse automation in the near future?
Banducci: In terms of industrial robots, IoT is a way to tie them into other systems. For Adept, all our robots have had Ethernet connectivity for the better part of a decade. All are remotely controllable, and all are capable of tracking lower-level details. We’ve already been aggregating data from our robots, which is available in our software.
With the increase in IoT devices, data from the robots can now easily be combined with other elements of the packaging system to provide a holistic view of the entire the packaging line.
More on Industrial Automation and Adept:
- Omron to Acquire Adept Technology for $200 Million
- Mobile Robots Become Essential to Competitive Logistics
- Research Report: Industrial Automation Technologies Converge for Advanced Manufacturing
- RoboBriefing Podcast: Mobile Robot Capabilities, Industrial Impact, and ROI
- Productivity Chases Humans Out of Warehouses
- Adept Technology Sells $8 Million in Shares, Gets Distributors
- Techmetics Places $1 Million Order for Adept’s Lynx
How is packaging automation being adopted in other parts of the world?
Banducci: Globally, Asia continues to lead the robotics industry’s growth. We unveiled the Hornet robot in July 2015 at the China International Robot Show (CiROS) in Shanghai. The system was well-received, as it leverages Adept’s experience in robot design with an aggressive price point designed for emerging markets.
We also have packaging customers in Europe and the U.S. looking to upgrade to the latest robotic technology, and with the improved performance of the Hornet, a customer’s return on investment is typically less than 24 months.
Editor’s note: For more information on Adept’s Hornet 565, visit this page.