Equipment supplier Carle&Montanari-OPM has spotted a rise in the use of retail-ready packaging among confectionery firms in the US and claims picker cell robots allow great flexibility to pack pre-merchandized chocolate and candy.
The company has manufactured robot picker cells since the Eighties and around 90% of its business comes from confectionery manufacturers.
RRP packaging in the US
David Madison, sales director at Carle&Montanari-OPM USA, told ConfectioneryNews: “In the confectionery industry in the United States we are seeing a lot of retail ready packaging (RRP). So we’re doing displays with lids where you pull the lid off and immediately the product is ready for display.”
“It allows customers to put their product on the shelf in a very attractive, dependable presentation. The best face of the customers’ product shows to their retail customers in the best presentation. It’s all about sales.”
He said that a lot smaller companies, particularly co packers, still packed finished goods for delivery to retail customers manually because they could quickly changeover between products and deliveries for different customers.
“But today’s flexibility on robotics allows investment in the machinery because you can quickly changeover at a low cost.”
“The former machines were slightly more mechanical in nature. Today it’s very easy to do a changeover,” he added.
Today’s machines are more flexible
For example, the robots may be used to place pralines in assortment trays, then minutes later be employed to put wrapped bars into point of purchase displays. Or a confectioner may need to pack a finished product into large retail displays for club stores such as Costco or Sam’s Club and later put the same product into cases for vending machine customers.
“The vending operators don’t want all the packaging. All they want is product to put into their machines,” said Madison. “Today’s machines are more flexible, so we are able to adapt to new sizes and market trends very quickly.”
Speed, standardization and vision-guided solutions
Madison claimed picker cell robots were a relatively small investment and added that speeds had reached great heights.
"Speed is not an issue. We have robotic systems that have been running for years running 600 pieces per minute on very large candy bars and we are still able to run those speeds today but with a lot more flexibility," he said.
"We're seeing more and more flexibility driven towards vision guided solutions rather than capturing each piece and holding it. That allows the customer to literally do a changeover in seconds rather than minutes."
He said a big challenge for confectioners was standardization for robot picker cells that enable machine operators to learn one control platform that is suitable for multiple pack formats such as flow wrappers and twist wrappers.