The demand for food automation has increased significantly due to the pandemic. Food processors grappling with the shortage of labor, more rigorous food safety standards and greater competition are turning to robotic automation to address these challenges.
This customer produced a wide range of variably sized, freshly made dough balls that needed to be handled at high speed to meet process rate requirements. This customer had been working with a conventional method of material transfer for some time but wanted to decrease the machinery footprint in new facilities, as well as improve the accuracy of product placement. A critical requirement for success was to ensure that any new handling process did not leave tool impressions or other visible imperfections in the very soft dough while meeting the aggressive rate requirements. As a result, traditional vacuum and mechanical end effector technologies were unsuitable.
ABI LTD. designed and integrated a sanitary design, high speed, pick and place system utilizing Soft Robotics end-effectors which resulted in precise placement while also leaving no visible markings on dough balls. The system employs four, vision-guided, ABB IRB 360 Flex Picker robots with Soft Robotics bakery grade end of arm tooling to achieve a final production rate in excess of 70 items per minute, for a total per hour production of 4200 per robot.
Just Born needed a cost-efficient automated system that could fully automate the picking and packaging of soft, delicate marshmallow Peeps from the production line into retail boxes. It was important to ensure there would be no uptake of sugar crystals into the system, as the operation could not halt due to filter cleanings and any added downtime. A critical requirement was to find a system that could keep up with changing product mix, while keeping up with a high production rate. With all of these goals in mind, vacuum end of arm tooling was no longer an option.
Soft Robotics designed 3 different food-safe gripper configurations that Just Born could use to handle thirteen (13) SKUs. The closed-loop system eliminated Just Born’s need for manual packing. The soft gripping technology allows delicate marshmallow Peeps to be picked and placed consistently with a millimeter to spare, showing no marks or damages, and ensures ingress protection. Just Born has experienced a higher-than-expected return, and is able to produce 360 ppm on bunnies and other 2-D product and 450 ppm for single (3-D Peeps) chicks.