How the Robotics Technology Revolutionizes Packaging

The future is here: Robotics technologies have entered and changed the processes in numerous industrial sectors including packaging.

Robotic technology has long overcome its state as the driving force within science fiction novels and movies. Nowadays, robots are used and improved daily. Healthcare is among the industries that already today profit from this technology with surgeries being performed by robots or automated robot systems that deliver food, drugs and other clinical supplies.

Also the packaging industry is very open-minded and eager to try out new things, when it comes to innovative technologies. Artificial Intelligence has been gradually established within packaging production and also robotic technologies have played a role for a long time.

Robotics – Then and Now

Especially food and beverage packaging underlie numerous heavy rules and restrictions that couldn’t be met for a long time by robotics. This has changed! With the costs of raw materials and pressure from retailers rising, robots are becoming attractive options in the packaging sector. Concrete numbers show that almost a third of food processing operations and almost all food packaging operations make use of robotics technologies.

Originally, robots were used for tasks that are impossible, dangerous or really difficult for humans. The first digitally operated and programmable robot was built to lift and handle hot pieces of metal as early as 1961. In the packaging industry, these tasks include, for example, heavy lifting – palletising and packing.

Today, the technology has advanced so far, so that robots can pick and place randomly arranged foods and with that accomplishment can play a role in primary, secondary and tertiary packaging.

Why Choose Robots?

Machines outrun people in terms of speed, accuracy and consistency. While these are rather obvious advantages, flexibility is one that’s not immediately associated with robots. But with ongoing improvement in this area, robots can help boost the performance of packaging facilities.

Roy Fraser, the global product manager at ABB, says about robotic technologies in the packaging industry:

“It really comes down to making companies more competitive by increasing the efficiency and the production flexibility. This is why the majority of people that buy their first robot come back and buy more. A robot doesn’t need a holiday, it doesn’t need a coffee break, and it always turns up to work on time, and to be quite frank those are significant efficiencies for a company.”

The company’s main product is called YuMi, a so-called collaborative robot or ‘cobot’. Learn more about their human-robot-collaboration here or check out how YuMi folds a paper aeroplane in this video – because being a robot is not just about getting work done. 😉

The Future is Now

With robots entering our daily lives more and more, people get suspicious of course. One of the most widely spread fear is that robots will steal our jobs. We’ll see what the future will hold in this respect, but what we know already now is that, when robots relieve us of monotone tasks, this means an increase in higher skilled jobs. So no, we’ll most certainly won’t be jobless – we’ll just be doing different jobs!

Roy Fraser’s goal is not a shift from manual packaging to a robotic driven automation, but he’s looking for co-work:

“The robot and the human can be working in very close proximity without fencing and the robot behaviour is intrinsically safe when working with a human. That reduces the complexity, it reduces the space that the robot takes up for that function in the factory, it means that people can work with robots directly, and you can actually do collaborative work with the robot.”

We’re curious what the future in the packaging industry will hold for robotics technologies. What do you look forward to or fear most about this development?