It is sometimes said that there are no guarantees in life, but such ambivalence has little place or use at companies like Feige Filling GmbH—a well-established German-based manufacturer of high-speed machinery used to fill various types of containers with toxic or hazardous liquids.
Automating such as potentially dangerous filling processes by nature requires some iron-clad guarantees—not only that the right materials are put in the right place in the right amounts, but also a guarantee of optimal worker safety during such operations.
A little over a year ago, the company addressed this monumental challenge by developing a breakthrough, robotics-based filling technology making optimal use of the advanced machine vision technology supplied by Cognex Germany Inc., a subsidiary of the Natick, Mass.-headquartered automation technologies group Cognex Corporation.
Called RobotFiller, the system incorporates an ABB model robot with a four or six-jointed arm—equipped with the In-Sight 5401 camera and PatMax machine vision software—to locate the different container stoppers for filling, even when they arrive in many different positions on the pallet.
One of the RobotFiller system’s most important functions is to locate the stoppers with screw closures on the drums.
Because the stoppers are typically arranged off-center at the edge of the drum lid, they tend to be in a different positions on every delivered pallet—rendering the task of safe and rapid opening, filling and closing of the drums impossible without a high-precision, high-performance vision system.
Using the Cognex-developed PatMax technology—designed to ensure high-precision location of objects using pattern-matching technology to read and recognize an enormous variety of patterns—the In-Sight camera enables the RobotFiller to perform these tasks quickly and reliably, according to Feige automation technology manager Alex Frank.
The RobotFiller springs into action once the stopper is selected by picking up the proper tool to remove the screw closures of the drums and put them down on a tray, after which it changes tools and grips the filling valve to suit the filling job at hand—all without operator intervention.
“This is a very innovative step for the future of automatic filling of large containers on pallets,” remarks Frank. “Without human intervention, RobotFiller can switch different filling valves and tools for further processing fully automatically—considerably accelerating the filling process.