By Milane Haboon on March 19, 2020
The food processing and handling industry present unique challenges to end-of-arm tooling (EOAT). How you handle meat and poultry is different from how you handle baked goods, dairy, or fruits and vegetables. This is the number one challenge many food producers are facing today–finding a solution to solve for product and SKU variability. The truth is, not all automation solutions are suitable for food processing and handling. To welcome the growing demand for food automation, food processors require an end-of-arm tool that can accommodate varied SKUs and products, quicker changeovers, and food safety.
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There are several end-of-arm tooling solutions you can choose from to automate your operation. One common EOAT is the vacuum-based system. Vacuum EOATs are suitable for most applications handling already packaged and protected products, utilizing suction cups to grip smooth and flat surfaces. The advantages are that they’re multi-purpose, easy to install and have the ability to handle a wide variety of products. This system is suitable for crates, bottles, cans, and pallets. It has a gripping power that remains constant offering excellent handling and lifting. However, vacuum systems run on an open system. This means air and debris from the environment get sucked up into the tool and can clog the system. While this may not affect non-food products, vacuum EOATs cannot be ingress protected and therefore they are not a good fit for food handling.
Check out this video and see how a vacuum-based system can potentially attract bacteria and cross-contamination when handling food products.
Rigid grippers are another popular end of arm tool. This gripper system is suitable for industrial applications such as pick and place, assembly, and machine tending. They can pick and place items with a firm, solid grip, and can withstand many cycles. They can actuate pneumatically or electrically. Electric grippers are best suited when clean environmental conditions are required such as medical and pharmaceutical applications. Usually, with rigid grippers, the fingers and components that come in contact with the product need to be custom-designed to pick the product. This means for every product, a customized design is required for each pick. Rigid grippers can successfully grasp a product as long as products don’t vary. However, they can maintain a firm hold on products at high speed, they’re in danger of causing products to slip or worse, crushing delicate items if there’s no proper calibration. Squished marshmallow Peeps? No, thank you. Learn more about how we’re able to automate marshmallow Peeps with this case study.
A Soft Robotic gripper runs on a closed pneumatic system which means sprinkles, crumbs, or frosting won’t clog any internal places. Our gripper technology, mGrip allows for safe food handling and is adaptable enough to handle the variability of different shapes, sizes, and weights. By leveraging patented material science and air actuation, the gripping system conforms to the shape of the product in real-time without a sensor, complex vision, or numerical computation. Our soft grippers can cycle 3-4 times per second and are designed to keep up with the speed of all industrial robots. From soft, delicate marshmallow Peeps to flaky, buttery croissants, we can pick it! Our grippers are easy to build, fast to deploy, and most importantly, comply with the world’s strongest food safety requirements including; FDA CRF Title 21 Regulations for food contact, EC 1935/2004 Regulations for food contact, and GMP where all components have full traceability and processes to reduce risk. Why are these requirements so important? Because keeping food sanitary is safe for everyone.
There’s no question that food safety tops the list of concerns, especially when choosing an EOAT as these devices have direct contact with food products. By choosing the right EOAT solution, you can meet the goal of food safety and help prevent high-cost food recalls and of course, waste. To avoid this, consider a food-safe solution to support the growing demand for food production.
Our gripper technology enables us to pick and place varied food products using just one gripper. There is unlimited flexibility for building an EOAT that best suits your production needs. Because of this, we can now automate repetitive tasks with no downtime for faster, cleaner, and more efficient operations. Robotic automation brings a level of increased productivity, safety for employees, and to reiterate food safety. Download our Food Safety Market Brief to learn more.