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Anuga FoodTec 2012
  27th to 30th March 2012
 
Thanks to advanced gripper technology, robots are expanding into more and more areas of application
 
Robots are becoming more and more widespread. The International
Federation of Robotics has announced that 115,000 industrial robots were delivered worldwide in 2010. The figure is almost twice as high as in 2009, when sales were at a low point due to the economic crisis. Sales are expected to grow by 10 to 15 percent in 2011, and by an average of five percent in the following years. A total of 30,000 robots were sold last
year in Europe, with 13,400 of them sold in Germany alone. Although this
growth is largely due to the electronics, automotive, and metalworking
industries, the sector is convinced that the use of robots in the food and
beverage industry will continue to increase.
 
What are the advantages of using robots?
Robots are ideal for the flexible handling of smaller and smaller production lots
involving different sizes and shapes. In packaging applications, robots relieve
human beings from having to perform monotonous tasks, which is why they
have been increasingly used for such chores for many years now. The
availability of completely hygienic robot models ensures that it is no longer
problematical to use these machines in the processing and primary packaging
of hygiene-sensitive food. Here, chemical-resistant and easy-to-clean versions
of food-grade picker, SCARA and jointed-arm robots can exploit their
advantages for use in moist surroundings. At the same time, the most
important advantage of these untiring machines is that they minimise hygiene
and contamination risks in the interest of food safety. In addition, each
production step is documented and can be traced, thus ensuring a higher level
of quality assurance.
 
The right gripper for every application
However, there is still one problem that needs to be resolved: the interface
between the robot and the product. In addition to hygiene issues, food
products are often sensitive to mechanical handling and have very diverse
shapes with irregular surfaces. In order to tackle these problems, experts have, in recent years, simulated the human hand in various ways, as it is the most
versatile gripper in existence. Companies have also developed task-specific
gripper systems that are hygienic and easy to clean and that proceed with the
requisite care when handling products. In spite of this, these machines are fast
enough that the productivity increases resulting from the use of robots are not
offset by slow gripper processes. Besides mechanical grippers, there are also many systems that use vacuum technology. The focus here is on creating appropriate designs for ensuring optimum carrying capacity, compressed air consumption, tolerance to product residues (e.g. flaked off breading) and tolerance to compressed air leaks created when the suction surface isn’t completely covered. In addition to gripper systems made of stainless steel, the popular vacuum grippers also employ individually designed suction grippers made of silicone polymers approved for use with food. These suction grippers are used for any type of goods and their airflow mechanism causes them to deform in a predefined manner during the suction process. Such grippers can, for example, precisely attach themselves to irregularly shaped chicken fillets or legs and partially surround them like a mechanical gripper does so that the grip is secure despite the fact that only a weak vacuum is used. Modular systems are now offered for standard tasks such as the handling of predefined sequence of geometrically uniform objects. In these systems, the appropriate gripper tool can be put together from standardized parts and modified as needed.
 
Watch fresh meat being hygienically packaged
In 2012 Anuga FoodTec in Cologne will once again supply trade visitors from
the food industry with ideas and inspiration on how to use robot technology. In
line with the approach of offering not only partial solutions but integrated and
flexible technology concepts, the Robotic Pack Line special show will once again present a sample application that demonstrates the technology’s great
potential for the sector. This time around, the show will demonstrate the
hygienic handling of real fresh meat. In a complete production line, robots will
automatically take E2 bowls from palettes and check the fresh meat that the
bowls contain. A robot equipped with a hygienic gripper takes the pieces of
meat out of the bowls and places them in a piece of primary packaging (a tray),
which it then seals. After the seams of the seal have been checked and the
product labeled, a SCARA robot lays the finished pieces of primary packaging
in the cleaned E2 bowls, which are then automatically placed onto the palette.
Another section of the Robotic Pack Line will demonstrate a high-performance
secondary packaging process. Here, the trays are automatically removed,
checked, labeled and put into boxes. These boxes are then labeled as well and
placed onto palettes. The live presentation of the Robotic Pack Line in 2012
will be a world-first, which will only be presented in this way at Anuga
FoodTec.
 
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