Equipped with collaborating arms, sensitive sensors and cutting-edge safety technology, the autonomous lightweight robots will work hand in hand with the employees in future. Anuga FoodTec from 20 to 23 March 2018 in Cologne will inform the visitors about what opportunities this interaction between humans and machines will bring the production and logistics, both in the form of new products presented by the exhibitors as well as in the event programme. 

From super fast carton packing machines with an integrated Delta picker, through to the articulated arm robot with a load capacity of one tonne - the solutions presented on-site also offer everything needed to increase productivity and further push the automation in the direction of Industry 4.0. Among other things, special 'guided tours' and the forum on Resource Efficiency will also pick up on the themes automation and robotics. Click here for the event programme of Anuga FoodTec 2018

Robots are a key component of the fourth industrial revolution and as a central element of automation indispensable today. Up until 2020, the global stock of industry robots will increase from around 1.8 million pieces in the year 2016 to over three million, with an upwards trend - according to the latest forecast of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). "The rapidly growing offer of models extends the fields of application for industry robots and gives companies of all sizes the chance to automate their businesses flexibly," said IFR President Joe Gemma - good growth prospects for an industry that is striving to lend the classic industry robots increasing cognitive skills using intelligent technologies.

Humans meet machines

Many of the companies exhibiting at Anuga FoodTec are working on the Human/Robot Collaboration (HRC). Here, agile lightweight robots with up to seven axes that can move loads of up to 15 kilogrammes are implemented. They are less dangerous due to their low net weight and often slower motion sequences. The aim is for them to relieve their human colleagues by carrying out monotonous and ergonomically unfavourable tasks, by which no mistakes are allowed to be made. Typical fields of application are pick and place applications, the handling between different production steps or follow-the-line applications, where the robot has to precisely carry out a predefined path of motion, for example when cutting and portioning meat or decorating cakes. The challenge for food producers particularly lies in the optimal integration of the mechanical assistants into the production processes. This is made possible by automation platforms which unite high-precision mechanics, sensors as well as complex control and measuring technology in the tightest of spaces.

More safety thanks to sensory skin

The central distinguishing feature between the classic encased robot applications and the HRC is that possible collisions are part of the real scenario. The more intensively humans and machines work together, the stricter the safety regulations. In order to meet the high demands, cobots are equipped with complex safety packages. Torque sensors in all axes ensure that the robots are sensitive. In this way they can recognise people and obstacles in the environment and react to them in real-time. The cobots are additionally equipped with capacitive, optical and tactile sensors. If a person approaches a robot, it will automatically reduce its speed - right down to the safe stop. The TX2 touch by Stäubli is representative for this type. Here a touch-sensitive surface ensures that the six-axes robot stops when merely touched.

Ultra sensitive bionic grippers

Cobots are designed to take on tasks that up until now only the highest-performance grippers were able to master: the human hand. The engineers at Festo have let themselves be inspired by nature and have developed a gripper based on a tentacle. The Octopus Gripper comprises of soft silicon that can be pneumatically controlled. As in the role model, two rows of active and passively regulated suction cups are attached to the inside of the tentacle. If the gripper is impinged with compressed air, it bends inwards and interlocks gently around the respective item. The application of such flexible grippers is conceivable in places where a large number of drinking bottles or food is handled - for example in plants where different batch sizes have to be produced within the shortest space of time.

Live demonstrations of robotics

Until the cobots assert themselves big-scale, the food producers will profit above all from the established solutions that are on display at Anuga FoodTec. Robot companies, system integrators and suppliers of gripper and sensor technologies - they will all be flying their flags at the Cologne fair grounds. But solutions for efficient Industry 4.0 processes and smart factory scenarios are also under focus at the leading trade fair for the food and beverage industry. The special event Robotik-Pack-Line is the best example of the collaboration between first-class technology partners from different disciplines. Under the motto "Digital Robotics" the automatic line with a capacity of 80 strokes a minute will take over the complete packing process on-site - from primary, to secondary packing, through to the palletisation - including an inline leakage test and contaminant inspection. The theme robots in the food production sector will be addressed on the first day of the trade fair in the scope of the Resource Efficiency Forum (1:00 to 3:00 p.m.).