Equipment & Technology

Aurora rolls out cobots for palletisation

ABHR learns more about cobots, an emerging and rapidly developing technology that is increasingly being used for palletisation.

Industrial robots aren’t new – they’ve been in factories since the 1960s. However, while they are a blessing for productivity, they usually need considerable floor space and safety controls to keep nearby workers safe.

Collaborative robots, also known as cobots, typically require much less space and safety infrastructure to deploy. While they come in many shapes and sizes, the machines look like more conventional robotic arms.

Braden Goddin, sales and marketing manager at Aurora Process Solutions, said the technology is growing exponentially.

“They’re used across a vast range of applications in industry, but what we have been increasingly using them for is palletising,” he told ABHR.

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“Cobots can be quite easy to deploy in an existing packaging line, often without the need for fencing. This is thanks to a highly intelligent sensor and vision systems that detects objects or persons nearby and modifies its behaviour and movements accordingly.

“This creates a lot of opportunities for cost savings, as a cobot can occupy a similar footprint to a human operator, and don’t require extensive retrofitting.”

Cobots are designed to collaborate with humans in the workspace. If a person approaches a cobot’s work zone for example, it will reduce its speed and operating area accordingly instead of ceasing its task entirely. Some cobots receive these instructions in less than a millisecond, faster than a human brain can send a signal to the foot.  

They fill a gap in the bulk handling market for lower weight bags and boxes and small batch production. Goddin said the machines have a phenomenal capacity to deal with mixed products and can optimise the stack pattern for different shapes and sizes.

“Cobots can also be used pre-palletising to collate packaging, form bags and cartons, and orientate multipacks,” he said.

One of the key benefits of the cobot system is the mechanical and programming simplicity. They are designed to be set and forget systems, requiring minimal maintenance and intervention. If a component needs to be replaced, it can usually be switched out easily.

The user interface has also been developed for people with little to no prior experience. Easy to understand and learn controls are included, aiming to replicate the ease of use of a smartphone.

Non-technical staff can reprogram, change stack patterns, or add new actions to the cobot quickly and without the need for extensive training.

Goddin said the ease of use helps save time, reduces costs and makes onboarding new staff significantly easier.

“The development of the technology has been rapid. From a software perspective and mechanically, cobots are starting to handle higher and higher payload weights,” he said.

“It’s a great opportunity for small-to-medium enterprises that have been thinking about automating their processes.”

Aurora specialises in supporting small-to-medium businesses in regional areas adopt packaging automation. It provides them with the equipment needed for bag-filling, closing, conveying, palletising, and wrapping/hooding equipment. In particular, the business works closely with the grain, stockfeed, fertiliser, landscape products, sand and cement industries. 

Goddin said a key benefit for small businesses is the much lower investment required and ability to easily redeploy the cobot to other areas or tasks in the workspace.

The company works with the customer’s team to model return on investment from the proposed automation. If it ‘stack’s up’ then all parties have the confidence to move forward. 

“A great thing with cobots is that onsite trials and demonstrations can be done quite easily,” Goddin said.

“We can help them visualise exactly what the technology will look like, and they can see its capabilities. The main difficulty is getting the demo unit back,” he said. 

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