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Cobots in the AgriFood sector

Cobots are now being discovered by the food industry, where they are already carrying out a wide variety of tasks. From planting seedlings in greenhouses to sorting and packaging vegetables and fruit.

E-commerce; the home-shopping market is also influencing the food industry. The demand for smaller and more frequent orders results in a need for flexibility. Cobots can be easily switched over to a different task or a different product. This makes it possible to quickly respond to market demand.

Cobots were developed to support workers in carrying out repetitive tasks. Because usually no alterations to the shop floor are necessary, they can be deployed quickly. That’s why cobots are also ideal to respond to staff shortages or peak times.

Another advantage of working with cobots is the low risk of contamination when handling foods, where hygienic, sterile conditions are essential. In addition, cobots can work in environments that are less pleasant to work in for workers, such as cold rooms or spaces with MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packaging) machines. Cobots can operate in environmental temperatures between 0 and 50 degrees Celsius.

If stringent requirements apply to your production environment, a cobot can be adapted by giving it an enclosure made of stainless steel or with overpressure. Cobots can also be fitted with various covers, which enable them to be used in applications and spaces with even stricter hygiene requirements.

Repetitive actions are carried out by people on ‘automatic pilot’. Still, human hands generate a higher margin of error. Cobots will always carry out the same routine, which guarantees a consistent quality and reduces waste.

Cobots, EoATs and vision systems in the food processing industry

In the AgriFood sector, cobots are often supported by a 2D or 3D vision system. Processed foods often have a uniform size and shape, which makes it easier to handle them with a robot gripper: the product can be supplied to the cobot in a predictable manner. However, automated food processing machines often process products that are randomly oriented and distributed. Therefore a vision system is indispensable, especially when products need to be sorted or when they aren’t supplied to the cobot in a structured manner. A vision system gives the cobot eyes and directs the robot arm to the right position for picking up a product.

Vision systems are also used for reading bar codes or QR codes, after which the cobot can sort a product or carry out a quality check. The software keeps track of what they are doing, which gives you a precise insight into your productivity. This is ideal for tracing steps and traceability in the production line.

There is a wide range of grippers or EoAT (End of Arm Tools) available for cobots. Each product is unique: round, square, varying in weight, soft or hard material. Choosing the right gripper for your product can be a challenge. We can find you the right gripper and test it with your product. If necessary, we can make custom gripper fingers. This may be necessary when the shape of your product so requires, or when there are requirements regarding the material your product may come into contact with. Grippers are becoming more and more advanced. Some are even able to precisely measure amounts.

Do you have an automation requirement for your production line? Our production scan can provide an answer.