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FANUC Factory Automation and Robots for the Food Industry

FANUC is the number one in factory automation and robots. We have the widest range of robots available for a large variety of applications. Our international customer base is diverse, as we have provided reliable solutions for palletising, packing, material handling and material removal to a growing number of customers in packaged goods, food processing, and other industries like plastics, electronics, machinery and glass, to name a few.

Robots for flexible automation in the food industry

In today’s competitive marketplace, you need flexibility in your manufacturing processes in order to respond quickly to market dynamics. FANUC Robotics provides robotic solutions in Europe for the food industry. European food companies were quick to embrace robot technology when it came to secondary processes like palletising and later packing.

In these types of applications industrial robots, similar to those used in the car industry, were used to handle packaged food, replacing traditional machinery. "Investing in flexible automation using robots is the only way to keep our factories in Europe," says Bob Struijk, vice president of FANUC Robotics Europe. It allowed higher throughput and reliability in the end-of-line processes. The extreme high reliability of the robots allowed companies to save on maintenance costs as well as benefit from the substantial increase in up-time of the installation and lines.

Robots for fresh food production

Recent years have shown an enormous interest and growth in handling primary food: robots handling the raw / fresh product. The driving question here was: how to cut back on the rising labour costs while maintaining line flexibility? For robots to actually work in the food production and thus be in direct contact with any kind of food implies a compliance with local conditions in the food sector. Food can be characterised as a non-uniform product, not having clear standards, hence a show-stopper for robots.

Second is the hygienic component: are industrial robots suitable for use in primary processes? And, lastly, the environment within the primary processes is harsh: how are robots withstanding the various cleaning and disinfection processes?

In addition to the possible presence of salts, alkaline, acids, etc., just the simple fact of hosing down a robot with water under pressure will definitely put it out of business. Extreme high and/or low temperatures or fluctuations also play their part. At FANUC we work hand in hand with our local system integrators to bring home these solutions, supporting local industry with the latest technology.

Six-axis delta robot picker

At FANUC, being the world’s largest robot manufacturer, we have taken these items to heart and came up with a new way of looking at robot design. This has resulted in robots with smooth surfaces, adapted sealing, white body colour and epoxy paint, plastic covers instead of steel, and food-grade grease in the mechanical unit. While the introduction of articulated food robots was warmly welcomed by the industry, it demanded more. Increasing automation levels implies increasing output quantity.

While picker robots could achieve multiple picks per movement speed remains an issue. Next to articulated robots there is also the delta robot, also known as spider robots. They have been around for quite some time, finding their way easily into the food industry. While their use has been validated, they do break down regularly due to a lack of stiffness at high speeds and lack in many cases additional degrees of freedom. So for FANUC the most challenging area was certainly the development of a new delta robot, not with four axis but having six degrees of freedom with the appropriate supporting structure.

The FANUC M-3iA is a delta robot with full six degrees of freedom. It allows users to pick up food articles, and places it in any chosen way into a tray, blister or other carrier. The results are stunning: for the first time vegetables and fruits (for example) can be packaged in even smaller containers, in the desired direction. And all this is realised at speeds pertaining to delta technology.

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