Hans de Koning, PresidentIndustrial robots are revolutionizing the manufacturing floor becoming the mainstay to garner greater packaging line speeds, labor cost reduction, and increased accuracy and efficiency, as firms focus on total cost of ownership and yield from production lines. The need for less maintenance and higher MTBF (Mean Time between Failures) and the reduced MTTR(Mean Time to Repair) is further enhancing adoption of robotic systems when compared to ‘Hard Automation’ solutions.“Robots are getting faster, less expensive and can instill more external sensors taking productivity to a higher level,” says Hans de Koning, President of Flexicell. “We were formed in 1992 with the aim to incorporate robotics into packaging systems, offering more flexibility to the end user over the legacy fixed automation.” The company manufactures and installs robotic cells that integrate robotic and linear motion systems for performing a variety of packaging and material handling tasks, offering superior performance due to the use of highly developed controls platform.
According to de Koning, few years ago the biggest challenge in traditional packaging lines was twofold, price point and acceptance of robotics technology. “With features like multiple configurations and cost effectiveness, robots are at the forefront of providing the effective methodology much needed in the competitive economy,” he explains. “Tremendous effort has been made to standardize our designs, mechanically and electrically to maintain a competitive edge. Being vertically integrated helps us in meeting shorter delivery timelines and customization demanded by our customers.”
Flexicell's high-speed robotic pick and place systems provide a cost-effective method for product handling, including product transfer, carton loading, and case packing. “We use delta style robots to pick and place the products from conveyor to conveyor, from conveyor to the infeed of primary packaging machines such as cartoners and load products directly into cartons, tubs and cases,” explains de Koning. “We also offer robotic case packing systems providing an accurate way to gently pack your products for shipping.”
Tremendous effort has been made to standardize our designs, mechanically and electrically to maintain a competitive edge
The company assisted Smithfield with streamlining their new hotdog case packing and palletizing lines. Flexicell’s solutions included de-scrambling and orienting the packages, forming a layer of packages and transferring the layer into the case. In order to gain speed, Flexicell incorporated vision and line tracking methodologies, dealing with significant changes in payload by deploying the right robot for each action needed on the line.
Flexicell also offers a range of automated palletizing systems. They build a workspace for the robot, or ‘cell’, for handling the products where packages of the product are transported to the cell by conveyor. Once the packages are arranged, the robot palletizes them, moving them from the conveyor to a pre-determined pattern on the pallet and then to the next stage. The company has added AGV’s (Automatic Guided Vehicles) to support their line of palletizers—robotic carts are used to link the packaging cells together without the constraints of conveyors.
With more than two decades of experience in the robotic packaging equipment arena, Flexicell has transitioned into a true manufacturer of robotics technologies. Although the robots are bought off the shelf, the company’s in-house team designs, manufactures and amalgamates all the accessories around the robot such as conveyors, grippers, controls and safety guards. “Our ‘canned’ pre-engineering solutions are priced at 30 to 40 percent less than the usual custom applications,” elucidates de Koning. For the road ahead Flexicell aims to offer faster, less expensive robots with more external sensors, replacing motors.“In the days to come robots will become more mobile and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will become more important. We aim at offering smarter robotic techniques that can easily change-over to other products or can be redeployed,” concludes de Koning.