Integrating Robotic Automation Into EOL Operations

Advances in robotic carton and case packing technology are transforming the food packaging landscape. Image courtesy of Quest.

The Benefits of Robotic Carton and Case Packaging for Food Manufacturers

By Ryan Womble, Director of Sales at Quest

In today’s fast-paced food manufacturing industry, efficiency, precision and product quality are top priorities. As the industry continues to evolve, many manufacturers are turning to automation solutions to streamline their operations. One area that has seen remarkable advancements is carton and case packing, with robotic systems rapidly transforming the landscape. Let’s take a look at the benefits of transitioning to automatic robotic carton and case packing solutions, their return on investment (ROI), and why food manufacturers of all sizes should consider adopting this technology.

Benefits of the transition to automation

Automation, particularly in carton and case packing, offers a multitude of advantages over manual operations. Robotic systems serve as an excellent example of how this technology can revolutionize food manufacturing. Here’s why more food manufacturers than ever are making the shift.

Robotic systems use advanced vision systems to identify, locate, and track incoming products on the conveyor. This level of precision ensures consistent packing, reducing the risk of errors and product damage. Manual packing, on the other hand, is inherently prone to inconsistencies and inefficiencies.

Automation accelerates the packing process, leading to higher throughput rates. These systems minimize changeover downtime and can adapt to handle a wide range of products, making them an ideal choice for today’s diverse food manufacturing industry. Manual packing, while functional, simply can’t match the speed and adaptability of robotic solutions.

Replacing manual labor with robotic systems reduces the need for a large workforce at the end of a line. This not only leads to cost savings but also mitigates the challenges associated with labor shortages, absenteeism and repetitive manual tasks. Robotic packing solutions can operate around the clock with minimal supervision, increasing overall efficiency.

Robotic cartoning systems improve precision, using advanced vision systems to identify, locate, and track incoming products on the conveyor. Image courtesy of Quest.

The return on investment

The shift to robotic carton and case packing solutions represents a significant investment for food manufacturers. However, the return on investment (ROI) is equally substantial, making the decision a wise and forward-thinking one.

As previously mentioned, the automation of packing processes eliminates the need for a large manual workforce. This reduction in labor costs is one of the most immediate and significant contributors to ROI. In addition, there are long-term savings related to training, employee benefits and increased productivity.

Robotic systems can work nonstop, without breaks, holidays, or shifts, leading to a substantial boost in productivity. Their adaptability and reliability ensure that manufacturers can keep up with ever-changing production demands, ultimately translating to increased output and revenue.

By reducing the risk of errors and product damage, robotic packing solutions improve product quality. This not only saves money on scrapped or returned products, but also enhances the reputation of the brand, which results in increased sales and customer loyalty.

Many food manufacturers experience fluctuations in demand, especially during peak seasons. Robotic solutions can easily adapt to these changes, allowing companies to scale their production up or down as needed without significant additional investment in labor or equipment.

Robotic automation is more accessible

The benefits of robotic carton and case packing solutions are not exclusive to large-scale manufacturers. Small and medium-sized food producers can also reap the rewards of automation.

Even smaller manufacturers often face fluctuations in production volume. Robotic systems allow them to adapt to these changes without the need for a significant upfront investment in additional labor or equipment.

Regardless of the company’s size, product quality is crucial. Robotic solutions minimize the risk of errors and damage, ensuring that every item that leaves the facility meets the highest standards. Embracing automation can set small and medium-sized manufacturers apart from their competitors, enabling them to compete on a level playing field and secure a stronger position in the market.

Investing in automation is not just about short-term gains. It’s a strategic move that ensures long-term sustainability and the ability to adapt to industry changes and future demands.

Where to start?

In a rapidly evolving industry, where every advantage counts, robotic solutions represent the path forward for food manufacturers seeking to stay competitive and thrive in the future. However, with the rapid growth of robotic automation, it can be difficult to find the right solution with so many options. Four primary factors to consider when picking a robotic packaging system are price, footprint, speed and usability.

The role of cost in the realm of industrial machinery, especially robotic systems, is evident. Many food manufacturers hesitate, assuming that robotic automation is expensive and beyond reach. However, the reality is that robots are now more affordable than ever. A reputable original equipment manufacturer (OEM) will work closely with each customer to find a solution that fits their budget, offering fully integrated packaging lines and modular options that seamlessly blend with existing automation and manual processes.

Another challenge for robotic automation is the limitation of space. Although many food manufacturers lack the room in their facilities for large industrial machinery, a wide range of sizes in robotic case packing and palletizing solutions are available to fit most spaces.  These solutions are designed to integrate robots into facilities without requiring a significant sacrifice of floor space.

The rapid growth of robotic automation is due in part to its ability to help companies maximize speeds to meet demand. Different products may require different running speeds, and you need a solution that can handle all your stock keeping units (SKUs) at the right pace. Robots not only operate at faster speeds than humans, but also work 24/7 without breaks or downtime.

Common misconceptions

One common misconception about automated machinery is that it’s challenging to operate. While machine interfaces vary, many OEMs focus on making them easy to learn and operate. For example, leading robotic integrators will employ operating software that allows operators to edit product patterns and create new ones for tasks like primary food loading and filling, case packing, and palletizing. All this can be completed on a user-friendly touchscreen.

Robotic automation has proven its value as the go-to technology for food manufacturers of all sizes. To identify the ideal robotic system for your needs, the initial step involves thoughtful consideration of the factors mentioned earlier and partnering with an OEM that is committed to collaborating directly with you.

About the Author

Ryan Womble is the director of sales at Quest. Quest is a manufacturer of turn-key industrial automation equipment focusing on robotics and vision-guidance serving highly demanding markets such as food, beverage, and dairy. Their application-specific software products simplify system setup, streamlining configurability and ensuring high flexibility. As an award-winning FANUC Authorized System Integrator, they bring their diverse product knowledge to each application to optimize customer outcomes. They also offer full system integration utilizing equipment across the ProMach family and more. Learn more at www.questindustrial.com.

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