Adept showcased its SoftPic grippers and Quattro robots used for primary and secondary food packaging at Pack Expo in Las Vegas.
The company works with six primary packaging system integrators; JMP Engineering (Canada/US), Adaptpack (Australia), ScanStore (Denmark/Chile), MAR (Brazil), Euro-Cri (France) and Han Shin Power Tech (Korea).
Glenn Hewson, senior vice president global marketing, Adept, said consumer buying habits are changing, people want smaller packaging for on-the-go lifestyles and manufacturers want to build multiple products on the same line.
Food Modernization Act
Speaking to FoodProductiondaily, Hewson said a critical driving force in the industry is the Food Modernization Act.
“Labor savings are not enough now to overcome safety sanitation requirements, ie if I want to sell into the US, I have to meet the Food Modernization Act requirements and need automation to make it safer,” he added.
“According to the Act, no matter where you are, if you are selling into the US you have to meet standards only previously applicable to USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) for meat, poultry and dairy.
“Now if I am packing apples I’m under the same microscope. It’s working its way into the food processing industry.”
Hewson added the trend right now is for mobile robots getting involved in the whole packaging industry.
“We are starting to see the adoption of robotics in the primary food industry, where you handle the actual products like a chicken breast, or an apple. That’s a big opportunity for us,” he said.
“Robots are actually very inexpensive to operate. Most of our business is in Europe at the moment. Our number one market for food is in France, packing anything from marzipan, to cakes, even sardines. We also do a lot of work with Nestle.”
He said Quattro is a USDA accepted Delta robot used for meats and poultry, fruit and vegetables and secondary packaging like clamshells, boxes and cartons.
The next phase for the industry he said is rolling out food specific products for robots. For flexible manufacturing, Hewson is seeing a trend in companies wanting to eliminate distribution centres.
“Companies are looking to make mixed cases on the same line so they can roll off final packaging and a robot cartons it to the secondary packaging,” he added.