Vision and Robotics: What’s Coming

March 11, 2012
Vision is becoming a more attractive element of robotic packaging applications.

Ted Yeigh, director of sales for Vancouver, Wash. based machine maker Columbia Machine (www.columbiamachine.com), says that vision systems are used more for the upstream applications than for palletizing because robots for palletizing “are dealing with fairly homogeneous packages in known positions and known orientations.” Still, vision systems have become more affordable, he says, and “equally important, the controls have improved and become more affordable too.”

Newer controls permit signals to be processed faster, Yeigh says, enabling the relevant equipment to react in a more timely fashion. This is driving the demand for vision systems.

“More challenging applications like container unloading or mixed load palletizing could also drive demand,” Yeigh adds. “I would agree that you will see more applications including vision solutions in the future.”

Along with faster computation, packaging machine users and OEMs can also expect better vision recognition algorithms, according to Adil Shafi, president of Advenovation Inc. (www.advenovation.com), Brighton, Mich. His firm specializes in software for vision-guided robotics, and he says to expect better filtering algorithms “and more powerful computation libraries in open source or from proprietary suppliers.”

Leo Petrokonis, packaging industry business development manager for the global OEM team at Rockwell Automation (www.rockwellautomation.com), Milwaukee notes that “We’re seeing our robotics partners providing cameras that plug directly into robotic controllers, making vision integration much easier and often times more affordable.”

This, Petrokonis says, continues the move toward simplified control, for not only is it increasingly possible to replace robot and packaging line controllers with a single unit, but now the separate vision system controller can be eliminated as well.

Bill Alexander, packaging business development manager for Beckhoff Automation (www.beckhoffautomation.com), Burnsville, Minn. mentions a sometimes-overlooked reason why vision is becoming a more attractive element of robotic packaging applications: “Modern machine vision technologies are advantageous to the OEM because they simplify the packaging machine design by eliminating requirements for pocketed product in-feed conveyors and form guides that orient the product on picking conveyors.”

This, Alexander says, also adds to the flexibility to adapt to different pack patterns and case sizes on the same machine — a flexibility that end users are increasingly asking their packaging OEMs to provide.

>> Click here to read Automation World's feature "Robots in Packaging: The Integration Imperative".

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