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10 Packing Jobs That Cobot Vacuum Grippers Can Do

Alex Owen-Hill
by Alex Owen-Hill on Oct 17, 2019, 11:02:00 AM

Manual packing can be arduous and inefficient. A cobot with a vacuum gripper can improve the productivity of packing, but it can't do every job.

 

Despite the rise of packaging automation, manual packing is still very common in many businesses. But, manual packing can be an arduous job and is often inefficient.

However, according to Packaging Today magazine automation alone is not always the best solution. A combination of both manual and automated packaging (known as co-packing) can be more effective. Manual packing is better for those more personal packaging jobs whilst automation tends to be more efficient overall.

Automation is not always easily accessible for all businesses. A common drawback is that some automation equipment can be restrictively expensive. Collaborative robots combined with vacuum grippers provide the perfect middle ground.

There are some tasks that cobots and vacuum grippers will excel at. Other jobs may still require manual packing.

The traditional job of a packer

The job of a packer involves much, much more than just putting products into boxes. There is a huge range of tasks that make up a packer's job description.

Common packing tasks include:

  • Placing or pouring products and materials into packages.
  • Assembling boxes and other packages.
  • Marking and labeling products.
  • Inspecting and measuring materials and products.
  • Recording product and ordering information.
  • And more…

Some of these tasks are well suited to robotic packaging with a vacuum gripper, others are not very easy to achieve with a robot.

5 Jobs That a Cobot With a Vacuum Gripper Can't Do

Cobots can achieve a huge range of different tasks but they are not best suited to every packing job.

Here are some jobs which are better when performed by a human worker or another type of automation technology:

  1. Decide what is the best type of packaging to use — Cognitive tasks, like designing packaging, are currently beyond the capabilities of robot programming. Leave the decisions up to the humans.
  2. Moving packages to a customer's vehicle — It's technically possible to design a cobot system which transports and loads products into a vehicle (e.g. with a mobile cobot).
  3.  But, it's probably not the best use of cobot technology at the moment.
  4. Use complicated hand tools to package/seal — Cobots can use hand tools with custom end effectors, but grasping a tool with a vacuum gripper is not going to work well.
  5. Clean containers — A common task for packing operatives is to clean containers before they are packed. A cobot with vacuum gripper could be used to clean, but there are often more efficient automation options for cleaning.
  6. Deal with extremely diverse, unexpected products — Thanks to their flexibility, vacuum grippers are a great option for handling unexpected products. However, they have some limitations. If your products are extremely diverse (e.g with different heights, surface types, etc) and not known beforehand, the system may struggle to handle them.

If a task looks impossible with a cobot, it's often possible to achieve it with a bit of lateral thinking. However, it makes sense to pick tasks which are known to be well-aligned with cobots and vacuum grippers, at least for your first few packing applications. As we'll see below, there are many of such tasks!

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10 Packing Jobs That a Cobot With Vacuum Grippers Can Do

In general, vacuum grippers are very well suited to packing tasks. There are far more packing jobs that are achievable with a cobot and vacuum gripper than those that are not possible.

1. Pack products into boxes

The quintessential cobot packing task. Vacuum grippers make it very easy to pack boxes with products of varied sizes and shapes. As vacuum grippers work best when they pick items from above, they are very effective for stacking.

2. Inspect products

A common task for human packers is to inspect products as they are packing. Cobot inspection is possible by using an additional inspection machine (such as a camera with robot vision). The cobot just needs to hold up the product to the inspection machine before packing it.

3. Weigh products

Another way of inspecting products is to weigh them. This is very easy to achieve if you are using a cobot which has an integrated force sensor or you have a force sensor attached. You can use the data from the force sensor to record the weight of the products.

4. Remove defective products

Inspection whilst packing is a great way to improve the quality of products at this vital final stage of processing. If the robot detects that a product is defect, it can remove the product from the line, and either discard it or send it back for reworking.

5. Load products into processing equipment

Many options exist for automated packing (e.g. wrapping machines, strapping machines, bagging machines). A cobot with vacuum gripper is a very good way to load products into the machine for processing. The cobot doesn't have to the whole packing job itself!

6. Assemble packaging

Some types of packaging need to be assembled before they are used (e.g. boxes, cartons, tubs). A cobot combined with a vacuum gripper can be a great way to assemble the packaging before use, assuming that the material is compatible with the vacuum gripper.

7. Seal containers

Containers and boxes usually need to be sealed before they are shipped. This is a job that can be done with a cobot in two ways. One option (which doesn't use a vacuum gripper) is to adapt a sealing tool as a custom end effector. A second option is to use the robot to tend a sealing machine.

8. Count Products

A simple task for any robot is to count the number of products that it packs. This data can be used both to measure the productivity of the cobot cell and to ensure that the correct number of products go into each package.

9. Sort products

Human packers often package various products at the same time, sorting them as they do. This is also possible with a cobot and vacuum gripper. For example, with a robot camera you can sort products by appearance. With a force sensor, you can sort products by weight.

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10. Palletize products

This final job is one which has long been done by robots. Palletizing involves stacking products onto a pallet for final shipment. For more information about this job, check out our article Why Vacuum Grippers Are Really the Best Option for Robot Palletizing.

It's clear — if you're still doing packing jobs manually, you should seriously consider looking at a cobot with vacuum gripper. It really is the best combination for packing tasks.

 

What packing tasks do you currently do manually? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or the DoF professional robotics community

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Alex Owen-Hill
Written by Alex Owen-Hill
Alex Owen-Hill is a freelance writer and public speaker who blogs about a large range of topics, including science, presentation skills at CreateClarifyArticulate.com, storytelling and (of course) robotics. He completed a PhD in Telerobotics from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid as part of the PURESAFE project, in collaboration with CERN. As a recovering academic, he maintains a firm foot in the robotics world by blogging about industrial robotics.
Connect with the writer:
http://alexowenhill.co.uk/

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