Robotics

Future-proof robot solutions for wide-ranging applications

Pick & place technology allows packaging processes to be automated extremely efficiently. This enables manufacturers to continue to produce cost-effectively even in light of current challenging market trends. To continuously improve the efficiency and flexibility of its processes, packaging machine manufacturer Schubert is constantly developing its modular robot technology. The latest system components are the T series pick & place robots. With the T4 and T5, Schubert systems can be tailored even more closely to customer requirements and performance levels. The new robots are already in use at an international confectionery manufacturer.

Pick & place is one of the most important packaging functions, especially in the food and confectionery sectors. Although other industries such as cosmetics also use pick & place applications. This is because where highly efficient yet flexible packaging is required, automation with pick & place robots is the solution ‘par excellence’. It is the only way manufacturers can achieve profitable packaging performance while meeting the increased demands for diverse product assortments such as mixed packs and changing packaging formats. This is especially important in fast-moving, consumer-driven industries. There is now an additional requirement for manufacturers: the pressure to use sustainable packaging materials. What is needed, therefore, are highly flexible and highly efficient packaging machines equipped with robotic technology that offers manufacturers long-term security in all these respects. Only then can machine performance be scaled, formats expanded as needed, packaging materials replaced with sustainable variants, and quality maintained at the highest level.

Schubert has developed another type of robot for its pick & place machines, the T series, which is based on the well-known Delta robot type.

Decades of experience in robot technology

As an experienced packaging machine manufacturer who has been designing and building its own robots since the 1980s, Schubert has a thorough understanding of industry requirements and develops its robots to meet the specific needs of the packaging industry. Versatile robot types can process even the most sensitive products. Individually designed and quickly replaced tools adapt to any product shape – also thanks to advancements in 3D printing. Pick & place systems can easily switch between plastic and cardboard trays. A virtually unlimited number of formats with or without trays can be accommodated in Schubert’s picker lines. In each line, an image processing system developed in-house also monitors product quality – in 3D if required. For those who also want to pack products into flowpacks, Schubert’s Flowpacker is a flow-wrapping machine with integrated pick & place feeding.

Over 700 picker lines with thousands of robots and tens of thousands of tools have been built in recent decades. Pick & place is clearly one of Schubert’s core areas of expertise. Nearly every product consistency has been previously processed: freshly baked, warm from the oven, frozen, already packed or ‘naked’, sticky, greasy, fragile or pressure-sensitive – the wide range of goods packed up until now guarantees customers reliable, gentle and highly efficient product handling.

The F4 robot remains a key system component: Its large working range at right angles to the direction of belt travel makes it especially suitable for wide or very wide product belts.

New T robots ensure top performance in the tightest of spaces

In addition to its proven F4, four-axis Scara robots, the packaging machine manufacturer has now developed another robot type for its pick & place machines: the T series. The design of the new T4 robots and their related T5 models is based on the familiar Delta robot type, but they differ <<significantly>> from other robots on the market with this kinematics profile. Their limited rectangular working area makes them ideal to deliver high performance in the tightest of spaces: up to six of the new four- or five-axis Delta robots can work simultaneously in a single TLM frame. With this robot density, Schubert can cover a larger working area within one sub-machine. This results in more output over a shorter distance, more flexibility in machine layout and, ultimately, more compact pick & place lines. This compact design represents a decisive advantage, especially when space on the production floor is at a premium. The T5 robot features a fifth axis that can be used to tilt and swivel products – ideal, for example, for pastries that need to be placed vertically into a tray. The additional arm movement increases flexibility in the packaging process and enables difficult processes to be carried out with outstanding efficiency and reliability. This ensures product quality even in the case of more complex machine processes.

As with Schubert’s F4 Scara robots, the new T robots work mostly in teams and can be scaled as required. With the different F4 and T4/T5 robot types, Schubert can now offer its customers the best solution for their specific projects. The large working area at right angles to the direction of belt travel makes the F4 robot especially suitable for wide or very wide product belts. This is particularly true for pick & place machines that only require a tray or carton conveyor on one side. All pick & place robots are equipped with quick-change tools, some of which are manufactured using 3D printing. Using the PARTBOX part streaming platform, Schubert customers can keep these format parts in stock as a virtual warehouse and, if required, reprint them themselves using a standard 3D printer via a certified print job.

The new T5 robot has a fifth axis which can be used to tilt and swivel products.

T4 robots in practice

The T series is already proving its value with an international confectionery manufacturer, for instance. There, a lightline Pickerline with T4 robots packs various types of pastry into trays. To accommodate the pick & place machine from the preconfigured lightline series in the limited available space, the machine builders used a 1,600-millimetre-wide product conveyor and integrated eight T4 robots into the line. In this case, the robots’ high performance density saves one metre of space over the total length of the line and delivers the desired output despite the limited space in the production hall.

For the fine biscuits with or without a chocolate base, a round suction cup is used to gently pick up the products. The T4 robots are capable of placing the biscuits safely and efficiently into the plastic trays, even in different configurations and counts. To ensure that only perfect pastries are packaged, a 3D scanner is integrated into the lightline Pickerline. It not only records the exact orientation and surface of the products, but also the height, with an accuracy of about 0.5 millimetres. Even pastries with a flawless surface are checked for the specified height criterion. This enables the system, for example, to determine whether the cream filling or sponge base is actually present in sandwich products. This improves process reliability and ensures that the quality of the confectionery remains consistently high. As the product portfolio is expanded, the confectionery manufacturer can easily produce new formats with other robotic tools. The changeover to more sustainable cardboard trays is also possible at any time with the lightline Pickerline, making the system a secure investment for the future.

At an international confectionery manufacturer, a lightline Pickerline with eight T4 robots packs pastries into trays.