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7 Perfect Usecases For Robot Grippers In Food Production

Robot grippers and their fields of application

The tools of a robot are one of the main aspects in automation. Especially the food industry is a new field, which poses many challenges for the selection of the right gripper. Therefore, we have prepared a guide to show them the latest task areas and the grippers needed for them.

Introduction

The robot gripper is one of the robot’s main operating elements. It is used to grip, centre and orient the workpiece or load. In addition, on complex models of robot grippers, it is possible to use the grip and feedback. The basic requirement for a robot gripper is a secure grip and light weight as the maximum payload will also include the gripper weight. The design of an industrial robot gripper can be very complex. If the gripping force is too low there is a risk of the load being dropped, if the grip is too high it may crush the object and consequently damage it. Heavy objects must be moved further away from the axis of the gripper to minimise the large torsional forces that act on the robot’s grip.

Typically the grippers for industrial robots are individually designed for each project and the gripper unit is changed when a load size is changed. The most common gripping device for an industrial robot is a pneumatically operated clamping mechanism. Less common are hydraulic or electric grippers. The latter enable the gripper to close to the desired intermediate position.

Types of Robot Grippers

For every production task, the company engineers select the right solution and the way the robot picks up the product – mechanically, with vacuum, with suction cups, etc.

 

A distinction is made between:

Vacuum suction grippers are probably one of the most popular today, especially for automated palletising processes. They use vacuum suction pads to lift and move products. These grippers are most effective when only the top of the package is accessible. Ideal for use with corrugated boxes. They are also excellent for handling many types of pallets.

Fork grippers are suitable for heavy and irregularly shaped products (non-standard packs, sacks, boxes with lids, etc.). The rows of forks in the forks gently pick up the products. And carry them to the desired location with minimal distortion.

Clamping grippers are generally used when vacuum grippers are not suitable due to design or packaging complications. For example, when you need to handle products wrapped in plastic film and placed on a substrate. These grippers are ideal for palletizing thin-walled packages of various shapes. They can achieve high handling speeds and better restraint of products.

Magnetic grippers are indispensable for handling products made of ferrous metals.

According to the type of magnet used, these grippers can be roughly divided into:

  1. Grips with permanent magnets;
  2. Electromagnetic grippers.

Electromagnetic grippers – grips with permanent magnets. Combined grippers are especially suited for palletizing when several operations need to be automated. For example, if a robot is required to pick up a pallet and/or place decking sheets between product layers in addition to moving the product. In this case the most frequently used grippers are vacuum grippers and vacuum fork grippers. As the names suggest, they combine the properties of the two types of gripper.

Each of the above industrial robot grippers has its own advantages and will be most effective for the job.

Industrial robot grippers come in many shapes, so it is the job of the designers to develop grips that are best suited to the individual object. The task of designing a gripper for a robot is simplified if the industrial robot works with objects of the same type, but it is also possible that the robot has to operate with objects of different shapes and weights, for example, on the sorting lines.

In such cases, universal grippers are developed, supplemented by artificial intelligence systems with self-learning functions. Each time the robot succeeds or fails, it becomes smarter, more accurately selecting a gripping place for a similar object in the future.

 

The robotisation of industries is not a tribute to fashion. In today’s industrialised world, the introduction of industrial robotics enables efficient development in a highly competitive environment. With the latest technology, companies of all sizes are getting highly efficient and flexible production, increasing its reliability and versatility.

What robots do in the food industry?

Companies in the food industry are actively using robots. The value of food automation is expected to rise to $2.5 billion by 2022. In this article, we have 7 tasks in the food industry that robots are successfully solving.

Food production can be divided into two stages: primary processing of food raw materials and secondary processing of products.

1. Primary processing of raw materials

The primary processing includes the preparation of food for marketing or further processing: cleaning, sorting, cutting, packaging. Until recently there has been very little use of robots in this step.

 

Produce varies greatly in size, weight and shape, making it difficult for robots to operate. However, manufacturers have long since come up with sensitive and soft grippers, enabling machines to handle raw food.

2. Sorting fruit and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are difficult to handle with robots because of their size and shape. Also they are very easy to damage. For these reasons, humans are usually employed in these applications. However, recent technological developments are changing this situation. Soft Robotics has introduced a flexible gripper that can even handle individual lettuce leaves.

 

Another example is the Lacquey gripper, which uses a spatula to pick up soft fruits and vegetables.

Universal robot sorting vegetables by soft clamping

3. Robotic cutting

Cutting is simple and easy to automate. Even a food processor can quickly slice most foods. But for more elaborate and complicated cutting, such as seafood, humans were usually required. In recent years, robots have appeared to cut fish, capable of detecting and removing carcass imperfections and cutting fillets beautifully.

4. Recycling products

Robots have been used in the sorting of finished products for a number of years. However, their range of applications is increasing.

5. Product sorting

You may already be familiar with the high-speed delta robots used for moving food around on the production line. This is an example of sorting in recycling. It differs from the process mentioned above because here food is more uniform in shape and size. Homogeneous products are much more suitable for robots, so they are actively used in such operations.

6. Cake decoration

Cake decorations made by a robot look very beautiful. The process involves using a 3D printer-like robotic arm to create the delicacy. Unifiller’s Deco-Bot robot can decorate moving cakes on a conveyor belt.

 

The machine is also capable of slicing the cake beautifully – the Katana robotic cutter cuts out pieces of complex shapes using pressurised water.

7. Cooking pizza

Some high-end food companies are afraid of robots. Their management fears that the products will lose signs of being hand-cooked. However, pizza maker Silicon Valley is showing how robots can prepare human-looking food. Their pizzeria uses two robots: a delta robot to apply tomato sauce and an ABB arm for baking. The system isn’t fully automated yet, but in the future the company will entrust the entire cooking process to the robot.

Advantages of robot grippers:

Main advantages

About our Company

The main purpose of robots is to increase productivity through the speed and reliability of robots, to use machinery without interruptions or weekends around the clock, and to improve product quality. But in order to perform its production functions, the robot must grasp, move, and process the parts of the manufactured product. The robot itself is the vehicle for the devices that are used to grip or process the parts. The gripper systems for robots are the working tool, located at the end of the robot arm. It is their design that determines the functionality of the robot, and their quality that determines the speed and accuracy of the work performed.

 

Our company produces custom made grippers and grippers for robots according to customer specifications. Based on the required functionality of the robot production cell, we select from a comprehensive range of off-the-shelf products, or we design your own gripper or gripper for your robot.

 

Designing robot cells for the specific production process ensures maximum efficiency and speed of production processes. We produce:

In recent years we have developed tailor-made solutions for our customers, including hygienic design, detectability and quick grip adjustment in one EoAT device. Special silicones and a simple design without any connections or lubrication allow hygienic handling of foodstuffs and easy cleaning of the device. The flexible structure guarantees gentle handling of sensitive items.

 

Our company designs and manufactures industrial robot grippers individually for each project. They are thus perfectly adapted to the loads to be handled and exhibit maximum productivity. Contact us and we will design the perfect robot gripper for you.

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