Robotics Trends in the Packaging Industry

by Lily Enzler

The future is now! What was once thought to be science fiction is now happening right in packaging production lines around the world. With an increase in consumer demands and tightening budgets, packaging companies have turned to automation to save money and increase productivity and efficiency.  Lights out manufacturing, the idea of a factory with little to no humans and therefore no need for lights, seems to be within reach with the advancements in robotics and automation. Read more to learn about 3 robotics trends in the packaging industry. 

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and Machine Learning

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning have been hot topics these past years with the rise of public-facing applications such as ChatGPT and AI assistants like Google Gemini and Microsoft Copilot. In robotics, AI is commonly used to process and analyze data from the robots’ sensors to adapt performance and more in real-time.  Machine Learning (ML) refers to the algorithms that learn from robotic data to make predictions and decisions. As the algorithm is exposed to more data, it makes more data-driven decisions. In packaging, there are hundreds of applications for AI-powered robots, from simple pick-and-place robots to automated quality control. In Pick-and-place applications, AI technologies use vision sensors to gather information and train the robot’s algorithms to detect and classify objects as well as understand the robot’s environment better. Allowing the robots to make inferences and complete the task faster. The sky is the limit with AI robotics as they are connected through the Internet of Things (IoT) and can not only utilize its own data, but also the data from the entire production floor. 

Cobots

Collaborative Robots or Cobots simply refer to robots that work alongside humans. There’s a huge increase in productivity and efficiency when humans work alongside robots as the robots complete difficult or tedious tasks while humans do the more complex tasks. Commonly pick and place robots and other robotic arms. In the past, humans working alongside robots was a safety concern as they were bigger, heavier, and moved faster than any human worker, the risk was just too great. Robots were guarded by cages that took up space on already densely packed production floors. Now, new advancements in sensors, AI, and programming have made it possible for robots to work side by side with humans safely. AI allows Cobots to respond to and learn human movements, making them safer while working next to humans. Cobots also include autonomous guided carts and vehicles that move around the warehouse.  

Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Automated Guided Carts (AGCs)

Alternatives to conveyor belts, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) and Automated Guided Carts (AGC) are autonomous robots, usually mobile, guided by software predefined routes. They can be as large as a forklift or as small as a wagon, allowing for a wide range of applications.  With new advancements in safety and AI, AGVs and AGCs are becoming more prevalent in warehouses for transporting materials, packages, pallets, and more. The AGVs and AGCs work side by side with humans with special safety sensors and programs to avoid collisions. Optical sensors trained with AI quickly identify obstacles, such as human workers, boxes, machines, and more to alter the AGCs path and avoid collisions. Using RFID and sensors stationed around the warehouse makes the AGVs and AGCs easy for workers and technicians to locate them. The real-time location data can be used to extrapolate productivity and efficiency statistics for managers to make data driven decisions for the production process. 

Your Robotics Integrator MFT Automation

MFT Automation is a proud Mitsubishi Electric Automation Diamond Solutions Partner. We integrate robotics into a variety of systems for complete packaging automation solutions. Ranging from simple pick-and-place applications to more complex packaging applications, we manufacture, design, and integrate systems for flexible and semi-rigid packaging. Specializing in 6-axis robotic arms, we work directly with customers to fit the robot to their application. Robots are available in ISO3 clean room, IP20, IP65, food grade, and chemical resistant versions. Payloads range from 1 kg to 20 kg with 150 mm to 1000 mm reaches. Contact us about your automation challenge! Call 1-651-427-1264 or contact us online.