Saturday, April 22, 2006

Kiwi Packer With Soft Touch

By Graham Skellern

The robotic arm spies a kiwifruit on the moving lane and lunges, picking up the small, tender fruit and placing it softly in the tray.

The arm, which has a vacuum cup instead of fingers, won't blemish any of the valuable gold kiwifruit - and it packs nearly three times faster than a person.

The automated ABB FlexPicker went into commercial production at Seeka Kiwifruit Industries' Transpack Packhouse near Te Puke late last week. The robot was built by Swiss-based engineering multinational ABB but Seeka, in conjunction with Fruit Handling Systems of Hastings, developed the operating methods to integrate it into the production line.

Alan Mobley, Seeka's manfacturing engineer, said the FlexPicker made a big difference in packing the single-layer trays.

These trays, which typically contain 30 kiwifruit, make up 45 per cent of the production in the packhouse and are the most time consuming because the pointed gold variety can only be packed one way.
He said the FlexPicker won't replace people - it just makes the packhouse more efficient and increases the throughput.

The robotic arm, which has a reach of 900mm, packs a single-layer tray of 30 kiwifruit in 17 seconds - an experienced person takes 45 seconds to fill the tray.

It can work faster but Mr Mobley is satisfied the robot is operating at a speed that doesn't damage any fruit.

The robot has three arms that are connected to electric servo motors at the top and a soft silicon vacuum cap at the bottom.

It is programmed to track and locate both the empty trays and the kiwifruit as they move along the conveyor system. The robot fills the tray while it's still moving.

Hi-tech Flexpicker eases the load - Bay of Plenty Times - Apr 20 2006 11:00AM - localnews


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