Robots and Vision

March 5, 2010
Finding, reaching, grabbing, moving somewhere, dropping in the right place. Your hands and eyes coordinate perfectly—well, most of the time—to perform this feat.

But a human can only move so fast. And work so long. Automating and speeding up the process can be challenging. Robots have evolved from simple two-axis pick-and-place machines to sophisticated, multi-axis and sometimes high-speed grabbing-moving-dropping machines. When I first learned to program robots in the ancient days, you had to fixture the parts within a small tolerance in order for the robot to do the finding and dropping “in the right place” parts of the task.

Vision has always been a great match with robots—sort of the ideal “you’ve got chocolate in my peanut butter” routine. Once again, when I learned to program and install vision systems, you had to fixture the part repeatably in order for the vision system to find it. I’ve been at this so long, that I’m amazed at the technological advances that allow vision systems to find and orient parts on the fly and guide the robot in real time for accurate pick-and-place in fairly high-speed packaging lines.

Series Editor Greg Farnum did another great job finding some applications that reveal the continuing power of this combination in packaging lines. He also picked up some comments by a marketing person who wanted to defend his robot type—articulated arm, or what was known as 6-axis—against the onslaught of the newer, faster, Delta-type robots. His comments reminded me of the reason I have several members of the genus type “hammer” in my toolbox. Sometimes I need a claw hammer, sometimes a ball peen and sometimes a rubber mallet. You’ve got to pick the tool for the job. Putting some robot/vision systems in your packaging line “tool box” is probably going to be a good call.

Check out an Automation World video in which Editor in Chief Gary Mintchell explains why he’s excited about this year’s Packaging Automation Forum to be held May 4 at the Intercontinental Hotel just outside O’Hare Airport in the Chicago area. Visit

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