Make Way for Robots as Automated Packaging Gains Steam

The LocatorX Team

September 18, 2019

September 18, 2019

Robots are invading the Las Vegas Pack Expo next week (Sept. 23-25), as the yearly conference is introducing a new “show floor destination” called the Robotics Zone. 

According to the event website, the Robotics Zone will be a dedicated space that includes collaborative robot displays, interactive events, and discussions with leading robot providers. It promises the expected 30,000 attendees a chance to learn about and engage with the latest robot technology. 

Interest in robotic process automation is at an all-time high, and this is the latest sign of the times, as the nation’s largest consumer packaged goods (CPQ) organization goes all-in on robots. 

Automation in the packaging sector has been on the upswing for years. Packaging lines are more connected than ever thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart sensors, allowing for automated issue detection and line optimization. Fully automated processes such as robotic pick and place have increased efficiency and output.

Now, robots are ready for their biggest close-up ever. Thanks to the increasing accessibility of artificial intelligence (AI) programming, smart warehouses are being normalized across the globe. Advanced robots are performing tasks previously performed by humans, along the packaging line and among other places. 

The packaging automation market is rising at nearly 10% CAGR, and is estimated to reach around $70 billion by 2025. And robot developers are working overtime to make mass-producible, reliable machines to assist with automating.

In other words, the robots are coming.

Enterprise companies are lining up for the latest robotic assistants to integrate into their packaging plants. For example, the Pennsylvania-based producer of Peeps candy, Just Born Quality Confections, has adopted robotics processes in recent years to help package its billions of Peeps and other products. 

Italy is one of many countries feeding the demand right now; the market for automated packaging robots built in Italy is growing nine times faster than the economy as a whole. Clients include none other the largest packager on the planet: Amazon.

According to Forbes, Amazon has added tens of thousands of robots to its numerous fulfillment centers -- alongside 300,000 new employees -- since 2012. As the robotics movement pushes forward, Amazon may be the company to watch as far as breaking trends in packaging automation. 

But the upcoming Pack Expo may be the Super Bowl of sorts for robot developers, with a rapt audience CPQ companies planning a foray into robotic packaging automation, or those already involved who plan to accelerate their investment. 

Past events have welcomed 23 of the top 25 food and beverage brands to network, discover industry trends, and observe machinery in action in a 100,000 square foot area. This is in addition to thousands of other attendees across the spectrum of packaged products. The new Robotics Zone is an inevitable hit among attendees, and may become a yearly jumping-off point for the next several waves of packaging robots

So how exactly can robots fit into a packaging automation strategy? 

The following are a few of the motion capabilities that robots can now perform to add value to production lines, per Industrial Packaging:

  • Picking and placing — Identifying, aligning, and placing randomly placed objects from a conveyor belt
  • Depanning — Delicately but quickly removing items (e.g. baked goods) from origin containers (e.g. baking sheets) without causing damage
  • Denesting — Removing empty packages from a stack to prepare for filling with finished products
  • Boxing — Efficiently, rapidly boxing items to prepare them for shipping
  • Palletizing — Stacking items onto pallets to prepare them for shipping
  • Warehousing — Safety transporting fully loaded pallets

Increased capabilities are likely right around the corner, and next week’s conference may be a sneak peak as developers showcase their latest inventions.

Automation, like visibility and sustainability, will be on the lips of every CPQ decision maker for the foreseeable future. Packaging robots can assist with automation and increase productivity while reducing labor costs and safety risks. More and more, events like Pack Expo will be can’t-miss for showing off new robot systems that are within reach for companies not named Amazon. 

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