Canadian Packaging editor George Guidoni discusses the future of robotics after the 2018 PACK EXPO show.
November 22, 2018
No two packaging trade shows are ever exactly alike, especially when it comes to the highly dynamic and ever-evolving PACK EXPO series of packaging industry showcases produced by the venerable industry group PMMI-The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.
But if there’s one thing you can safely count on, it’s that you will always see more robots on the latest PACK EXPO show floor than at the previous edition of the event—performing a far more diverse array of
tasks than the straight-up carton palletizing or high-speed picking-and-placing of various objects fed into the robotized workcells.
Nothing really says automation without actually saying it as emphatically as a robot going about its business with unerring precision and unwavering dedication, and seeing hundreds of these marvels of industrial automation drawing hordes of show visitors to the exhibitors’ booths is really a sight to behold. This evolution of robots from their one-time status as packaging oddities and curiosities to packaging necessity did not happen overnight, of course, but it has been greatly accelerated in recent years with the rapid development of new-generation collaborative robots (cobots), whose human-like appearance and movements remove a lot of intimidation from human-machine interaction in the workplace.
Not surprisingly, forward-looking CPG (consumer packaged goods) manufacturers can’t seem to get enough of them these days.
According to PMMI’s timely recent report titled Automation in CPG Companies, cobots are expected to account for 34 per cent of all industrial robotics sales by 2025—representing more than a tenfold jump from their current share of the market.
Although their use in packaging at the moment still lags behind other manufacturing applications, “Of those that are embracing the technology to address workforce and efficiency, an overwhelming 86 per cent report an increase in productivity,” according to the report’s findings.
“Within that 86 per cent, nearly one in five users indicate significantly increased productivity,” PMMI adds. “From an ROI (return-on-investment) point of view, 78 per cent report that whether it be a decrease in labor costs or an increase in output, cobots directly increase their company’s earnings.”
This growing acceptance of cobots in the workplace is driven primarily by rapid advances in AI (artificial intelligence) technology that frees up robots from tightly enclosed and closely-guarded workcell environments to allow them to work in close proximity to their human counterparts.
“From integrated vision capabilities to mimicking human kinematics, to the utilization of simple teach pendants, today’s cobots are equipped to help CPGs fill labor gaps, maximize a smaller footprint and mitigate worker safety and product contamination risks,” says Jack Uhl of the Consumer Products Group for Yaskawa America, Inc.’s Motoman Robotics Division.
In other worlds, it’s no longer a question of why invest in robots, but rather why not? Yes, the times they are changing indeed, one great show at a time.