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Consumer Goods/Appliances and Food & Beverage Consumer Goods/Appliances and Food & Beverage

Material Handling Material Handling

Vacuum Gripper System Meets Increasing Demands for Handling Packages of Varying Shape and Size

POSTED 04/16/2004

The use of robots for placing products in containers, transferring those containers between different stations in the packaging lines and palletizing them is becoming increasingly prevalent in all industries.

Robots, with their ability to use a variety of end-of-arm tools [EOAT], provide the high-speed ‘‘pick and place’‘ palletizing ability needed to meet ever-increasing packaging demands for flexibility and productivity, replacing other slower and potentially error-ridden methods.
According to Salh Khan, President, AIDCO International, manufacturers of consumer products are increasingly making products in every imaginable shape, material and size - ‘‘the lighter, easier to use and more visual impact, the better!’‘ And he should know, because AIDCO is a manufacturer of conventional palletizing equipment and a KUKA robot system partner integrator that designs and makes mechanical and vacuum EOATs to grip and move product packaging of every size and shape for many types of manufacturers.
To address the demand for flexibility and productivity, Aidco developed, for its RoboticStarR bulk container depalletizing and palletizing system technology, an EOAT which utilizes PIAB's VSG 3010T vacuum technology to easily lift and move a variety of containers using a single tool.   The company's challenge, according to Salh Khan, was producing a system that delivers maximum flexibility within a small footprint.  He said, ‘‘We had to design an EOAT  that can handle many different products, instead of just one size. Most often our customers have as many as 6 different shapes that need to be handled at once, so the design criteria is tough. Soda and Wine containers, for example,  - just think about all the different sizes, materials and shape of bottles and cans the major brands utilize, as compared with the old 12 ounce bottle six packs that used to be their only option.’‘
PIAB teamed with AIDCO finds the solution
AIDCO needed to incorporate a technology solution into their RoboticStar® that could provide flexible positioning and exceptional handling stability.  RoboticStar® was being shown at Pack Expo 2003.  It is a PC and PLC driven and programmable robotic system designed to help case pack and palletize plastic and glass bottles, kegs, aluminum cans, and their accompanying corrugated cases, plastic crates, wooden pallets and other containers  Coincidently, a vacuum gripper from PIAB, called the VGST 3010, was also being showcased at Pack Expo at the  PIAB booth. The VGS 3010 took hold of Aidco's imagination.
The company's VGS 3010’‘ Gripper,’‘ featuring DURAFLEXT suction cups and a patented COAXT ejector technology, was specifically designed to be able to handle a wide range of products, including corrugated boxes and containers, sheet metal, glass, wood, plastic, and a variety of small assembly parts. This is the type of versatility that AIDCO was looking for in their partnership with PIAB.
‘‘The VGS 3010 'Gripper' met all of our needs for speed, ease of use and flexibility,’‘ Salh Khan relayed.  ‘‘Changing conditions and package configurations are no problem with this system, because the position of the gripper can be easily changed. With its modular construction, the VGS 3010 eliminates the need to use multiple EOAT to handle material that changes size or position.’‘
The VGS 3010's suction cups are made from specially developed polyurethane named DURAFLEX. These cups, 50-60 of which attach to the robot head, adhere to many surfaces and can even grip porous leaky materials and coarse, uneven or curved surfaces.
‘‘The DURAFLEX suction cups are better than other cups.’‘ said Salh Khan, ‘‘Used in conjunction with the VGS' stabilizer, the cups allow for safe and stable lifting. They are particularly good for handling items such as plastic, glass and aluminum containers, corrugated boxes, boards and sheets.’‘  The system also features PIAB's COAX technology, a patented ejector technology based on a multi-stage concept for creating a vacuum with compressed air. COAX integrates the internal components of a multi-stage vacuum pump into a vacuum cartridge. The result is a smaller, more efficient, more reliable and highly flexible technology that allows users to design a modular system.
‘‘One of the main reasons for using ejectors like the COAX system in the packaging industry is that they are so easy to control,’‘ continued Salh Khan. ‘‘The pump starts to produce the vacuum flow immediately when the pressure valve is turned on, and the flow stops right at the point that the compressed air is shut off.
‘‘The weight and the small size of PIAB's air-driven pumps is another key benefit - to both AIDCO and our customers. The system is very easy to install and maintain, with all parts being accessible and interchangeable.’‘
PIAB comes through in the paint
One of the AIDCO's customers currently using the RoboticStar® and its integrated PIAB Vacuum Gripper System is a well-known producer of paints and coatings. Before the robot/vacuum solution was being utilized, this manufacturer was hand-palletizing cartons after each case was sealed, an arduous and physically demanding task that was taking place three shifts a day, seven days a week. Today, thanks, to AIDCO and PIAB, this company is experiencing less operator-related and OSHA issues and higher line throughput at a much lower cost.  And they have the flexibility to better meet the needs of their big-box retailer customers, who often request fast supply order changes from one type or color paint to another.
Whether AIDCO's RoboticStar® is being used to pick up and palletize paint cans, or aerosol products, or glass bottles, or even egg cartons, the end result is always a custom-built solution that meets their customers' unique requirements.
Clearly Salh Khan and his team are very glad to have PIAB's vacuum technology as a key part of his company's RoboticStar® package.   ‘‘It's quite a challenge coming up with solutions for handling all of these different materials, shapes and sizes,’‘ concludes Salh Khan.  ‘‘Having the flexibility of PIAB's VGS 3010 as part of our offering has made it much easier for us to design and integrate tools for our robots that rise to the challenge and handle the toughest applications.’‘
About PIAB
Located in Hingham, MA, PIAB is a global leader in developing innovative vacuum technology used in automated material handling and factory automation processes. The company's vacuum pumps provide fast and accurate control, so essential to the packaging industry where production rates are steadily increasing. For more information please visit www.piab.com.
AIDCO INTERNATIONAL provides customized solutions for worldwide customers. In  business in Adrian, Michigan over 25 years, their focus in packaging is on the manufacture and integration of Depalletizing, Palletizing, Case Packing and Case Stacking/Denesting systems for the food, consumer products and beverage industries.  For more information please visit www.aidcoint.com.