Thursday, April 7, 2011

Feed the Machine

Infeed speeds can affect productivity for both primary and secondary packaging machinery. Infeeds that fail to keep pace with the equipment’s production capabilities create costly unscheduled downtime while the machine waits for product, and speed is not the only concern. Improper infeeding will cause a high speed packaging machine to jam, which stops the system and potentially causes damage to the product or the machine. Feeding the machine with correctly-placed components at the proper input speed can be a challenge for packagers who use a manual process to supply the infeed.

To give an example of the expense that manual loading incurs, during a routine process evaluation, ESS Technologies, Inc., a designer, manufacturer and integrator of high speed packaging lines, reviewed a process for a prospective customer that required three personnel, on three shifts to orient and manually load product into a blister packaging machine at a rate of 10-14 cycles per minute. The total cost of personnel salary, machine downtime due to misfed product, and employee absenteeism caused by repetitive-motion injuries placed the estimated annual cost of operation at around $225, 000 per machine.

ESS Technologies, Inc., determined that one robotic loading system, complete with a FANUC robot, custom end-of-arm tooling, a product bowl feeder, a secondary orientation device and programming, would offer an ROI of under one year, allowing valuable human resources to be redeployed in other parts of the manufacturing process. In addition, robotic loading of the blister packaging machine allowed the machine to reach a production speed of 14-18 cycles per minute compared to 10-14 cycles per minute achieved by the manual loading process. The robotic machine infeed meets high speed input requirements and provides greater flexibility for product handling, providing a solution to keep packaging lines running at optimum efficiency while reducing labor costs, scrap and re-work.

A recent assessment by the International Federation of Robots that takes into account the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami effect on northeast Japan concludes with a positive outlook continuing for the robotics market, in spite of the chaos. Robotics offers a complete solution for the automation of primary and secondary packaging lines. As flexibility increases and the cost to install robotic systems decreases, more and more manufacturers can improve production speeds and reduce scrap and rework by incorporating robotic cells to handle machine loading and unloading. The dexterity and speed of today’s multi-axis robots has never been greater, making robotic loading a cost-effective means of keeping up with today’s high speed packaging equipment.