Fold it, seal it, tape it, box it, pick it, place it — automate it. No, these aren’t Daft Punk lyrics, but the separate processes that Finland-based Orfer Oy needed to automate to speed up its packaging operations. However, automating these processes without expanding on factory floor space was no easy feat. For a new design of a fully automated packing machine targeted to the food and packaging industries, Orfer needed a robot that offered fast and accurate handling and that could integrate with a vision system to track and pick parts from a moving conveyor.
Finland-based Orfer Oy innovates, engineers, and manufactures robotic material-handling systems for a range of industries. The company’s existing BoxCell system uses a Toshiba Machine TH650A SCARA robot from TM Robotics to pack products into plastic or cardboard boxes. Orfer Oy has worked with TM Robotics since 2004 and depends on the Toshiba Machine robots from TM Robotics.
Orfer’s newest system — the ORFER BoxCellPlus — expands on the BoxCell packing cell with the ability to open flattened boxes, fold the flaps, and seal the bottom with tape and then fill the box with products — all in one automated packing cell.
However, before manufacturing this new product, the robot at the heart of the BoxCellPlus needed to be easy to use, with components for reliability and low maintenance. For the design of the BoxCellPlus, Nigel Smith, CEO of TM Robotics, helped Orfer define the robot specification based on the reach, payload, and cycle time requirements for food and packaging applications.
Smith assessed Orfer’s needs and ruled out a six-axis or spider-style robot. With this in mind, Orfer standardized on the Toshiba Machine TH650A high-speed SCARA robot for the BoxCellPlus.
While Toshiba Machine SCARA robots can handle payloads of up to 20 kilograms, the TH650A payload of 10 kilograms is designed for food packaging. This allows a variety of products to be picked, while supporting a variety of tool configurations.
“A company that has multiple sizes of chicken products may need a gripper capable of picking up the one-, two-, or five-kilogram family pack,” said Orfer’s Mäkelä. “A single gripper for these products requires a number of components, all of which need to be considered when looking at the robot’s final payload. The 10-kilogram payload of the TH650A gives our engineers plenty of flexibility to design their end-of-arm tooling.”
Orfer also considered the Toshiba Machine THL series SCARA robots, which achieves its efficiency with smaller motors and lighter components in the arm construction. TM Robotics was able to help the company evaluate the two robots and make the best decision for the BoxCellPlus application.
Orfer’s designers chose the ceiling-mounted option for the TH650A robot so it could be placed above the conveyor rather than using the standard floor mounting to the side. This allowed them to minimize the overall size of the BoxCellPlus while maximizing the robot’s ability to access products coming down the moving conveyor and place them into the box.
The TH650A robot’s ability to place parts accurately within 0.01 millimetres was enhanced with an extended Z shaft of 400 millimetres that enables parts to be placed deeper into the box.
Due to its modular structure and adjustable control system, the BoxCellPlus can be integrated into factory or warehouse management systems. As part of an automated packing system, the BoxCellPlus can be fed from conveyors from a weight-checker, labelling machine, or a vacuum packer. The robot also interfaces with vision systems, which can be used for inspection and to send coordinate data to the robot to pick parts from a moving conveyor.
Orfer is able to pass along the advantages of the Toshiba Machine robot in its new BoxCellPlus system, including faster, more accurate processing, smaller size, and lower cost.
“Our customers could use multiple machines to erect boxes and fill them, which could take up as much as 50 percent more space on the production floor,” said Mäkelä. “With the BoxCellPlus, both of those functions happen in a smaller space and at as much as 15 to 25 percent lower cost than using multiple machines.”
Mäkelä concludes, “Toshiba Machine robots have excellent product-handling capabilities, and have proven to be reliable, durable, and maintenance-free. And we can always count on the fantastic service and support from the TM Robotics team.”