Going Soft With Robotics

By Jonathan Wilkins

One of the first robots to make several human-like motions, the mechanical knight, was designed in 1495 by Leonardo da Vinci. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) invented Kismet, the world’s first sociable robot. Over the years, the packaging industry has looked towards these humanoid robots for inspiration in optimising productivity in the sector, leading to the creation of soft robots.

Here Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director at industrial automation equipment supplier EU Automation, explains the differences between hard and soft robotics and their application in packaging. 

In manufacturing, automation is embedded in the factory assembly line and completes repetitive, laborious tasks. However, some sectors require robots for more delicate tasks that have previously relied on the work of the human hand; a movement that designers programme soft robots to mimic to create more fluid movements.

Soft or hard robots?

While manufacturers still use hard robots in mass production, there are some jobs that require more precision. Conventional, hard robots are rigid, metal and used for repetitive, heavy duty tasks that involve little adaptation. Soft robots, however, are silicone or plastic robots powered by air pressure that manipulate their actions to fit different applications.

Soft robots differ from conventional automation as their silicone covered tentacle grippers can grasp objects that a bulkier counterpart would struggle with. The robot can estimate the dimensions of the object using cameras and sensors, allowing it to adapt its movements from the data to pick up objects and package them.

Food handling

The potential of soft robots has led to some food manufacturers using this technology in their packaging lines. Soft robots can grasp and pack produce without causing damage that conventional robots would cause.

Online food retailers use soft robots to pick food for deliveries. Its automated warehouse uses robot pickers to ensure efficient handling of delicate foods. An air pressure controlled robotic arm carefully grasps produce, with less risk of creating waste, as the softer materials used in these robots prevent bruising of produce, unlike metal robots.

US food manufacturers, Taylor Farms, also uses soft robots to package its produce. Gripper end attachments on the soft robots handle delicate fruits and vegetables without damage.

Soft robots are versatile as manufacturers can program them to work with different product specifications, unlike conventional robots that can only do specific tasks. Soft robots also function without electricity, meaning that they can safely be washed, which eliminates ergonomic risks, making soft robots beneficial to food manufacturing plants.

Robotic technology has drastically changed since the design of the mechanical knight. If manufacturers fully invest in the development of adaptable, soft robots in packaging, it may go on to greatly benefit the food industry.  

For further information contact:

Jonathan Wilkins, EU Automation

Unit 3, Parker Court, Staffordshire Technology Park, Stafford, ST18 0WP

Telephone: +44 (0) 845 521 3088

www: http://www.euautomation.com

e-mail: jonathan.wilkins@euautomation.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/euautomation

About EU Automation: EU Automation stocks and sells new, used, refurbished and obsolete industrial automation spares. Its global network of preferred partner warehouses, and wholly owned distribution centers, enables it to offer a unique service within the automation industry, spanning the entire globe.  It provides worldwide express delivery on all products meaning it can supply any part, to any destination, at very short notice.

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