Software and vision system aid high speed packaging

Dean Palmer reports on a new software concept for high speed picking, packing and palletising applications, that improves productivity

A productivity-enhancing PC-based software concept has been developed that enables users to integrate multiple robots with conveying product transportation belts and vision cameras.

ABB Robotics' 'Pickmaster' software can coordinate the production of eight robots working with eight vision cameras simultaneously. Powerful process functions allow the production to be evenly distributed on all robots and the software even guarantees that all packages are filled after the last robot. If one robot is taken out of production, the system can still continue to run reliably with the slightly reduced capacity.

Henrik Knobel, product manager ABB Robotics commented: "The rapid spread of robot technology world-wide proves that robotised automation solutions are the key to higher productivity, better economics and higher product quality in production sites. Industrial vision technology provides a broad palette of ABB robots with 'eyes' to see where the part is located and accurately place them in precise positions, at the same time performing extensive quality inspection."

The PickMaster system also includes Cognex's MVS-8000 series vision technology. Knobel continued: "For ABB, it is crucial that Pickmaster's in-built vision technology is reliable and can be adapted easily to changing needs. ABB decided to cooperate with a company with long and documented experience of machine vision systems. A company which has a good knowledge and understanding of the whole production process in different industries. Cognex has been in the vision industry for 24 years, providing vision systems and support and developing software applications for cost efficiency and minimum failure," he added.

ABB used Cognex's Vision Library and PatMax was used for the flexibility ABB required. PatMax works very well, for example, in the inspection of the largest part of a consumer product or on naturally-formed products such as bakery goods, meat and fish.

Packaging applications range from high speed picking in primary packaging applications to palletising of boxes for final transportation. The high speed picking process is the place in a production site where products are packaged in their first format - often right after they have been produced or processed to its final form. This is the same for many types of food, whether it is croissants, slices of meat, fish, frozen or fresh food. In order to gain full flexibility, the products are arriving on conveyors in random order.

The vision system targets the products on the belt and can simultaneously make advanced quality inspections before the target positions are sent to one or more robots, which then pick them up and place them in forms, trays, boxes or simply in a pre-defined pattern. These types of systems have a very high throughput - 800 products per minute is not unusual. Reliability of these systems is therefore key, as even a 0.5% failure rate would result in 4 products per minute (240 products/hour) failing.