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Automatic handling of packaged biscuits with Piab’s vacuum technology

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Piab suction cups and vacuum pumps in gripper system for packaging created by Tecno Pack SpA

Using Piab's piGRIP® suction cups and piCOMPACT®23 SMART vacuum pumps, Tecno Pack SpA has designed and built grippers able to handle pick and place applications in a plant of a leading international confectionery company.

Tecno Pack's packaging line picks the biscuits and packs them in flowpacks - the primary packaging - and then inserts the flowpacks into a cardboard box – the secondary packaging. 

The process is characterised by different types of flowpacks containing biscuits, and different carton sizes, which vary according to the size of the flowpacks.

Piab solutions are used for the secondary packaging. To handle these operations, Tecno Pack's plant is equipped with a robot station with four flexpicker robots.

The flowpacks arrive in a disorderly manner on the conveyor belt where they are scanned by a vision system and then picked up in the correct orientation by the robots. These place them on the compartments of a parallel conveyor for insertion into the cardboard box, which is then closed and labelled.

Each robot can use different types of grippers with 1 or 2 piGRIP® BGI25 suction cups. The grippers are interchangeable depending on the flowpack formats to be picked. To reduce downtime for format changes, the grippers feature a quick-release interface. The grippers are positioned on the wrist of the flexpicker and are very light. This is due to the piCOMPACT®23 SMART vacuum pump that drive the grippers being remote-controlled and located on the upper structure of the robot. This makes the robot much more powerful. In addition, the vacuum is independent and autonomous: for each gripper with 1 or 2 suction cups there is a single pump. No multiple gripping is carried out. Gripping is carried out one at a time, with multiple releases into the case. In terms of cycle times, in the robotic area equipped with four robots, 500 flowpacks are picked-up per minute, i.e., 125 pieces per minute per robot.

Giuseppe Facci, Mechanical Project Manager at Tecno Pack, says about the performance of the system: "The piCOMPACT®23 SMART pump guarantees fast and repetitive pick-up and release times thanks to the integrated control valves and vacuum switches. At the same time, the piGRIP® suction cups provide a reliable and secure grip. Another big advantage is the modularity of the system and the ability to quickly change grippers according to flowpack format." On the cooperation with Piab, he adds: "The type of suction cup was specified directly by our customer, a leading international confectionery company, which only works with premium suppliers. As for the vacuum generators, we relied on the advice and experience of Mr. Vladimiro Marconato of F.lli Bono, an authorised Piab distributor, who guided us in our choice”.

The piGRIP® is a unique configurable suction cup concept with individually optimized parts for gripping, lifting and height compensation. Packaging small bags like the flowpacks in this application into cartons is the specialty of Piab’s piGRIP® suction cups that have particularly soft lips to hold on to the changing surface of a bag. Thereby, they allow secure and quick moves enabling fast automated processes.

piCOMPACT®23 SMART is a configurable vacuum ejector based on COAX® technology with integrated controls, developed for robotic handling applications. It is ideal for medium to large vacuum systems, e.g., for loading, sorting, transferring, and unloading various materials. It features an optimised design for maximum reliability, versatility, high flow rates and short cycle times.

Piab’s vacuum generation technology COAX® minimizes energy consumption, while offering a secure and fast grip due to its high initial vacuum flow. COAX® ejectors are up to twice as fast as other ejectors and deliver three times more flow than a conventional vacuum ejector with identical air consumption. The pump unit can deliver high performance even with low or fluctuating supply pressure. This was proven in independent comparison tests at the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU in Dresden. These tests have shown that the Piab ejectors require significantly lower compressed air to achieve the same output compared to ejectors from other manufacturers. Accordingly, their use reduces the cost of providing compressed air and thus the total cost of production.

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