Baking & Snack - February 2021 - 94

Left: Cobots don't
require as much
guarding as they
are built with
safety mechanisms
to prevent them from
injuring any employee
around them.
Apex Motion Control

Right: Robots working
ahead of a wrapper
can visually inspect
products then load
them into infeeders at
the proper angle.
BluePrint Automation

for the safe use of industrial-scale robots. Instead, it can
work safely alongside human operators.
Cobots continuously monitor their area of action or
workspace and stop immediately should an incursion
occur. Such capability comes at a price, however. These
robots typically run 10 to 15 movements per minute,
slower than their larger industrial cousins, because they
must be able to stop when they sense any interference,
according to Bill Kehrli, vice president, sales and marketing, Cavanna Packaging.
Martin Riis, director of sales and marketing, Apex
Motion Control, said sensors measure the force exerted
by the arm as it moves from point A to point B.
" If that force is interrupted, the robot will stop immediately on its own, " he said.
This opens applications such as loading and unloading of rack ovens, handling of raw dough pieces, manual
packaging of delicate baked items, stacking bagels or
decorating cakes - answering the needs of small- to
medium-sized bakeries, including those making artisan items. Most are designed as mobile units and can be
readily reprogrammed.
Robots of this sort are good for day-in, day-out tasks,
such as cake decorating, and they adapt readily to special orders, Mr. Riis said.
" These tasks normally require skilled labor, " he added.
" Our cobot has an easy-to-use interface that employs a
stylus and a tablet and can import art files to be created
on cake tops. "
Pre-oven applications will be the next major development. Mike Rebollo, southwest sales manager,
BluePrint Automation (BPA), predicted this is because
bakery products, especially artisan goods, involve handling techniques that previously could not be done by
a robot.
" Often, these products are unique and cannot be
handled by a mechanical solution, " he said. " A robot,
with special tooling, can handle these products like a
human hand would but often with more precision and
higher rates. "
Mr. Rebollo noted such uses as aligning dough balls
prior to the proofer and placing specialty products onto
the infeed of band ovens.

94 Baking & Snack February 2021 / www.bakingbusiness.com

Mr. Gunnell mentioned that integration of cobots
into processing and packaging lines make such operations more holistic.

Industrial grade
Bakers running line speeds of 200 to 2,000 pieces
per minute over the course of multiple shifts will find
industrial large-scale robots more to their liking,
Mr. Rebollo said.
Several vendors cited the handling of unwrapped
products as the biggest leap forward in industrial-scale
robots today. This capability is the direct benefit of advances in end-of-arm tooling and the ability to handle
multiple products.
" Handling of unwrapped products can include creating stacks of pancakes, waffles, flatbreads, pizza crusts,
tortillas and so forth, and then loading them onto the
infeed of wrappers or onto conveyors, " Mr. Rebollo said.
Vision-assisted search capabilities also enable picking
and placing unwrapped muffins, cookies, crackers, bars
and even assembled sandwiches to load them into flow
wrappers and clamshell packages. The next stages -
carton loading and case packing - can also be managed
by industrial robotics.
Advances in arms and end effectors play a significant
role in the systems, too.
" Letting go of a product is as difficult as picking it up, "
Mr. Gunnell said. " The machine has to be able to pick
up, move and release the product yet keep it under control. Control is just as important as speed to a successful line. "
Among key developments is the ability to handle delicate or odd shapes such as croissants.
" The challenge is to pick up different shapes, brittle pieces and/or delicate surfaces, " Mr. Gunnell said.
" Creativity in end-of-arm tooling is phenomenal. Also,
the advent of 3-D printing has allowed easier R&D of
arm and hand design, which reduces the cost of the finished machine. "
This leads to more capability from a single machine.
" We have articulated arms for robots with sufficient
dexterity, strength and intelligence to do both picking
and inspection tasks, " Mr. Finneran reported. " They


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