Control software opens markets for robotics in food packing

JUNE 4--CAMotion Inc. (www.camotion.com) has been participating in a "live" production-line trial of its automated tray-packing machine at the Newnan, GA, case-ready plant of Excel, a subsidiary of Cargill (www.cargill.com).

JUNE 4--CAMotion Inc. (www.camotion.com) has been participating in a "live" production-line trial of its automated tray-packing machine at the Newnan, GA, case-ready plant of Excel, a subsidiary of Cargill (www.cargill.com). The working "ProductPacker" system has been in place at Excel since December 15, 2003, and was installed as a joint commercialization project between CAMotion and Georgia Tech's Agricultural Technology Research program (www.gatech.edu), with support from FoodPAC (an element of the State of Georgia's Traditional Industries Program--foodpac.gatech.edu).

The system at Excel uses a robotic gantry machine to place weighed and price-labeled trays of meat into totes ready for immediate shipment to supermarkets. Cycle speeds as high as 60 trays per minute for up to 6-lb packages are provided. The design uses standard machine parts combined with CAMotion's digital controllers and software to allow accelerations of up to 7Gs while maintaining accuracy and repeatability. Operator menus in English and Spanish are provided on the software controlled system.

Jason Prince, project manager at Excel's Newnan case-ready plant, says: "Affordable automation solutions for these kinds of tasks are needed to keep our plants competitive and to help eliminate difficult manual tasks from the production process. The case packer has given us the opportunity to automate the task of placing product into the totes along with performing a final quality inspection on every tray using the inline vision inspection system. This has resulted in reducing the labor requirements on the line while ensuring that our high quality standards are met."

According to Gary McMurray, Georgia Tech's lead investigator on the trials, the CAMotion design performs at twice the speed of the original prototype. CAMotion's gantry robots incorporate software algorithms developed at Georgia Tech. The proprietary control software integrates digital controllers, machine vision, and control software to produce machines based on lighter and less expensive components. The result is an adaptable 'smart' robot at a price point below traditional machine designs.


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