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Robots raise food packing efficiency

By staff reporter , 21-Dec-2005

More state-of-the-art robot arms will soon be packing cheese in Lincolnshire, the UK, providing more evidence that robots may cut costs and provide a viable alternative to outsourcing for manufacturers.

Mitsubishi Electric Automation Systems said it was supplying a further two robots to a cheese packing factory in Lincolnshire.

The RV6SL six-axis robots, to be supplied and developed under contract by UK group TEC Manufacturing, should be ready to go after Christmas and are capable of working 16 hours per day for six days every week.

Tony Jones, TEC's managing director, said each robot could do the work of four people on a packaging line, enabling firms to cut costs and freeing workers up for other tasks in the dairy requiring human intelligence.

The firm said the robotic arms can work at speeds up to 9,500mm per second, and were happy packing and handling a range of different cheeses. The RV6SL can also lift up to 6kg and reach beyond 900mm.

Jones said the robots' flexibility and ability to handle a range of products was also a big advantage for manufacturers.

TEC's latest supply deal is an example of how robots are becoming more popular in the food and drink industry.

Jones said earlier this year that there was a level of interest in robotic and automated solutions never seen before in the food industry.

He said this trend might help to curb the flood of firms, including food and drink producers, switching production facilities from the UK to low cost countries, such as those in Eastern Europe.

"The exodus was at its height say two or three years ago and many people were predicting the total demise of manufacturing in Britain. But we noted that the most switched-on companies were not so enamoured with the idea of trying to co-ordinate operations halfway around the world.

"They had the same cost pressures as everyone else but preferred to invest in on-site automation so that they kept all their activities physically close together."

Jones added that the price of robots had reduced significantly to make them more economically viable for food producers.

Yet, the food and drink industry still has very few robots compared to other industries.

And some jobs, such as spotting bad or botched products on the production line, are still performed more accurately by humans.

The RV6SL six-axis robots have cameras attached so that human employees can check products and the robot's positioning.

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