As assemblers continue to integrate packaging into their production lines, many engineers are turning to other industries for insights into ways to increase flexibility and efficiency.

For example, systems integrator Skinetta German Packaging Technology (Ottobeuren, Germany) recently developed a robot-based packaging system for Cederroth International AB (Upplands Väsby, Sweden) that offers a number of possibilities for those doing other types of assembly.

The system, which employs a series of robots from ABB Inc. (Auburn Hills, MI), is used to package a number of different bottle types in a range of orientations. Skinetta built and tested the system at its manufacturing facility in Germany, then shipped and commissioned the system at the Cederroth plant in Sweden.

As a first step in the process, the bottles arrive randomly on a feed belt after being processed at a labeling station. A six-axis IRB1600 robot from ABB then picks up the bottles with a vacuum gripper and places them in trays or positions them upright on the belt of a film-wrapping machine. The robot is synchronized with the speed of the belt, and a conveyor-tracking feature allows it to pick bottles on the fly, improving throughput and productivity.

Once a particular bottle group is complete, the system wraps it in film, and the bundle enters a shrinking tunnel. A labeler then marks the group, and a long-reach IRB6600 six-axis robot places the bundle on a pallet with the label facing outward. The robot also places cushioning boards between bundle layers as necessary, an operation made possible by its 3.2-meter reach.

Because the robot uses a vacuum gripper and the boards are somewhat porous, engineers knew the gripper would sometimes pick more than a single layer of cushioning. Therefore, they programmed the robot to tilt each board approximately 15 degrees before placing it so that any extra boards would drop back into the bin.

In operation, the system has proved to be extremely reliable, running two shifts per day, six days a week. In addition to accommodating more than a dozen different bottle types, the system has the flexibility to accommodate additional bottle designs in the future.

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