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Stäubli offers high-performance robotic solutions for food processing, packaging

By Alyssa Mitchell

HORGEN, Switzerland — Stäubli, a global mechatronics solution provider of connectors, robotics and textile machinery, is working to increase productivity for its industrial sector customers.

Photo courtesy of Stäubli
INCREASED FLEXIBILITY — Stäubli’s TX90 6-axis robot is an articulated arm with 6 axes for increased flexibility. The spherical work envelope allows maximum utilization of cell workspace. It can be mounted on the floor, wall or ceiling. The fully enclosed structure makes the robotic arm ideal for applications in harsh environments.
Photo courtesy of Stäubli
NEW DEBUT — Sebastien Schmitt, robotics division manager for Stäubli North America, stands with a TS2 SCARA machine. Stäubli debuted the new TS2 SCARA series in North America at the Automate trade show in Chicago last month.

Based in Switzerland with locations across the world and U.S. headquarters in Duncan, South Carolina, Stäubli’s global workforce of 5,500 employees share a commitment to partnering with customers to provide comprehensive solutions and long-term support.

In the food and beverage industry, where equipment operates at high throughput, frequent manual manipulation can compromise performance and hygiene, notes Sebastien Schmitt, robotics division manager, Stäubli North America.

“Automated solutions maximize efficiency by minimizing interruptions, increasing flexibility and eliminating the risks of contamination. That is why food industry customers need the highest-performing robotic solutions,” he says. “Our robotic arms are designed to handle all applications, from upstream processing to sorting, packing and end-of-line palletizing.”

Schmitt adds that automation projects in the industrial production of cheese make high demands on robotics, such as direct contact with unwrapped food, strict hygiene criteria and harsh cleaning procedures — all factors that have to be managed by Stäubli robots while not compromising efficiency, he says.

With such high demands for the food production environment, Stäubli initiated a 10-year cooperation with the European Hygienic Engineering & Design Group (EHEDG), Ecolab and dairy manufacturers that resulted in the development of the HE (Humid Environment) range, a high-performance and cleanable robot design for sensitive food industries. Stäubli says this food-grade version is unique and features the following elements:

• Removing oil, motors and condensation buildup from being sited above the product.

• Controlling oil expansion and cooling off that occur within minutes when operating at temperatures between 4 and 10 degrees Celsius.

• Avoiding any water retention areas on external surfaces.

• Eliminating hidden water retention zones (not directly accessible for washing and drying).

• Using material and surface treatments that give the best compromise between robot dynamic and resistance to detergents.

• Isolating electrical connections from the cleanable area.

Globally, the food and beverage industry utilizes the HE robots for humid environments, Stäubli says.

“Stäubli’s HE robotic arms have become the market leader thanks to their fully hygienic design, unmatched technical performance and ability to eliminate bacterial contamination risks,” Schmitt says. “This major innovation has revolutionized the food industry.”

HE robots also are suitable for applications such as waterjet cutting and washing, he notes.

Presently Stäubli utilizes the HE robots in several steps of the cheesemaking process, from cutting curd to handling cheese blocks, to primary and secondary handling and packaging cheeses, as well as a range of other applications, Schmitt says

Schmitt notes there primarily are three families of industrial robots — 6-axis robots, 4-axis robots, and pickers.

Stäubli’s TX 6-axis robots deliver increased dexterity and flexibility, he says.

“This range of robots is perfectly suited to numerous industrial applications in any sector,” Schmitt says. “The compact arm and large work envelope allow maximum utilization of cell workspace.”

The varieties of mounting configurations (floor, wall, ceiling) make it easier to integrate the robot into the production line, he adds.

Schmitt says Stäubli’s TX2 robots are the next generation of 6-axis robotic arms.

“This new line of robots is redefining performance with an ideal combination of speed, rigidity, size and precision. These collaborative robots have unique features that make them adaptable to all industries, including sensitive and complex environments, like cheese and dairy,” he says.

Stäubli also has developed a line of powerful 4-axis robots designed to meet the most stringent requirements in the food sector. These robots’ Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arms (SCARA) are useful in a variety of applications, Schmitt says. SCARA robots are made for high-speed handling. In the food industry, they typically pick from one conveyor to transfer to another or to load a case, he says, noting SCARA robots require robust mechanics, high repeatability and rigidity to maintain performance.

With 15 years of experience, first with Bosch Rexroth SCARA design and then with its own TS design, Stäubli recently debuted the new TS2 SCARA series in North America at the Automate trade show in Chicago last month.

For the first time, a SCARA robot incorporates JCS drive technology developed by Stäubli, Schmitt says. The main improvement in the TS2, he adds, is that it now encapsulates all cables in its base.

“The gearbox is housed in a hollow axis in the middle of the base, for example. This works better for our clients’ manufacturing environment, which is typically harsh, and where space is often an issue,” he says. “In the TS2, the quill can be protected with an optional cover affixed with special screws, and concealed connections can be housed under the robot pedestal. The completely redesigned 4-axis machines feature hollow shaft technology, which allows all the cables to be routed internally to create a revolutionary hygienic design for use in sensitive environments.”

The new line consists of four models — the TS2-40, TS2-60, TS2-80 and TS2-100 — to provide a solution for a wide range of manufacturing scenarios. With the 4-axis TS2-100, Stäubli has extended the working radius of the TS series (400 to 800 millimeters) up to 1,000 millimeters.

Compared to the previous TS models, the new TS2s also feature a more compact design, and each 4-axis machine can be ordered with an optional integrated tool changer. This allows the SCARA’s grippers and tools to automatically replace themselves, significantly increasing the uptime in certain applications, Schmitt says.

Tools or grippers also can be changed manually within seconds by means of a bayonet locking mechanism.

“All media and signal connections are automatic,” Schmitt says. “There is no external bundling of cables and no irregular contours, and the new TS2s feature a completely sealed housing. The TS2 offers the latest and greatest in hygienic design.”

He adds that the TS2-40 and TS2-60 share the same forearm, as do the TS2-80 and the TS2-100.

The TS2s also are modular, which reduces delivery times for the new SCARAs and saves unnecessary costs. All machines have the same robot pedestal that the series shares with the 6-axis TX2 generation, Schmitt says.

Meanwhile, Stäubli complements its offerings with the FAST picker TP80, also 4-axis, designed for high speed picking applications (sorting, aligning and packaging).

“These extremely fast robotic arms are designed for light parts handling operations and can reach speeds of up to 200 picks per minute,” Schmitt says.

Stäubli earlier this year introduced the third generation Fast Picker TP80 food grade version, a solution for sorting, positioning or orienting on the conveyor and loading a thermoforming machine, he adds.

Schmitt notes Stäubli’s diverse offerings for both primary and secondary packaging options position it as a total solutions provider for cheese and dairy packaging.

He adds that robotics solutions offer more flexibility in intense production environments.

“There’s an ongoing need to adapt packages, content, equipment, etc., and the flexibility of robotics allows companies to do that,” Schmitt says.

Robotics also offer unique flexibility to customize, he adds.

“Robotics allow flexibility of adding or removing things — they’re more adaptable and responsive to demand, and they bring added value to the consumer,” Schmitt says.

Schmitt adds HelMo represents the next level of man-robot collaboration, whereby robots mix with humans and work together with them or handle monotonous tasks on their own.

The new TX2 robot range with its CS9 controller is the key element for the HelMo system, he notes. HelMo is the new generation of high-performance mobile robot systems that work fully autonomously, with the ability to navigate a diverse array of working environments, gather their own materials and then carry out the work. The mobile robot system drives and navigates autonomously through its work environment. With its robust and spring-loaded drive unit, operation in almost every industrial sector is possible. No modifications of given floor conditions are needed, he adds.

From its European foundation more than 100 years ago, Stäubli continues to expand in the North American market. In addition to its main U.S. headquarters in Duncan, South Carolina, Stäubli’s Electrical Connectors’ headquarters are in Windsor, California, and the company has a sales and service facility in Querétaro, Mexico. Last fall, Stäubli also announced the opening of a new training facility and service center in Novi, Michigan. The facility provides support for Stäubli customers in all industrial sectors.

“Our training programs are designed and taught by Stäubli teams to help customers get the most out of their investment,” Schmitt says.

Stäubli’s training courses cover all aspects of robot use: line control, programming, robot and peripheral maintenance, software and more, Schmitt notes.

“Our sales engineers and application team will help validate a proof of concept or a final robotic configuration for customers’ production lines,” he says. “A live demonstration or CAD simulation can be used to confirm the feasibility of a project and maximize its full potential. Additionally, working with a network of skilled partners, we can give recommendations on system integrators and automation equipment suppliers to facilitate the development of customers’ turn-key solution.”

Looking ahead, Stäubli will continue to work on its solution design, as well as increasing access and ease of use for its customers — “being able to do things faster,” Schmitt says.

“We’ll also continue to work on the ability of the machine itself — being in a harsh environment but able to maintain maximum sanitation and efficiency,” he adds.

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