Robots are becoming safer, smarter, more flexible and moving upstream
Gone are the days when robots could only be found in end-of-line palletizing applications. Advanced robotics and automation are making their way upstream bringing benefits such as added flexibility and increased safety. As diversifying packaging demands increase the proliferation of stock keeping units (SKUs), there is a greater need for flexibility on the line that, thanks to technological advances, can be met by robotic technologies. Additionally, more stringent protocols stemming from regulations such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) challenge manufacturers to proactively upgrade operations to eliminate opportunities for product contamination and increase worker safety while improving productivity. With these and other demands to contend with, the processing and packaging industries are taking automation and robotics to new heights and implementing the next generation of tools to measure risk and efficiency along the way.
In 2014, the ‘Trends in Robotics Market Assessment,’ released by PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, noted that “despite the internal challenges manufacturers face to justify the use of robots and the challenges OEMs face in designing robotic solutions, both demographics see robots moving upstream in the packaging and processing line as the technology becomes more affordable.”
In many ways reality has caught up to the prediction. Even PMMI’s report noted that 75 percent of end users employed robotics at some point on their manufacturing lines by 2014, compared with only 20 percent in 2008. Two years later, industry professionals continue to see this momentum.