Candymaker Combines, Simplifies Controls

Cama Handles Chocolates With an Integrated Approach That Needs Only One Controller for Three Delta Robots

By Jim Montague, Executive Editor

Chocolates might not seem especially delicate, but that's only because human hands are still unappreciated miracles of material handling. However, even with a sophisticated packaging machine, such confections are marked up or deformed easily. To ensure gentle handling, machine builders often use delta-type robots because they can pick up products precisely without interrupting production.

One of these is Cama Group (www.camagroup.com) in Lecco, Italy, near Lake Como, which has been manufacturing individual machines and complete robotic production lines for the secondary packaging industry for 30 years. Its robotic packaging lines are used for handling primary packaging, such as pouches, cups, cans and other containers in applications from picking through to palletizing foods, cosmetics and other consumer products.

Founded by cartoning veteran Paolo Bellante in 1981, Cama is now run by his children, Daniele and Annalisa, who joined the family business in 1994. They continued their father's mission after he died of cancer in 2004, but they've also remodeled the firm to meet customers' needs in the future.

The company's 130 staffers build about 150 machines and 40 integrated packaging lines per year for candy and baking companies worldwide, but mostly in the U.K. and France. Because every application is different, Cama reports, its design team has 30 engineers who collaborate with customers to design the most appropriate and cost-effective machine or line that will produce the best quality, most attractive package for their product with the least wasted material.

To meet requests for simpler and better coordinated robots and controls, Cama's packaging and robotics divisions recently collaborated to build a loading machine that can employ up to four of its delta-type Triaflex robots. Instead of using one controller per robot, Cama was able to integrate them all and perform load balancing with just one of Bosch Rexroth's combined motion logic and robotic control units. Because one Triaflex robot can run at 120 cycles per minute and a "multi-picks" gripper system allows simultaneous picking of several products, Cama's loading machine can handle up to 300 products per minute.

"Our new compact loading unit with three integrated delta robots allows us to achieve the speed our customer needed," says Daniele Bellante, Cama's CEO. "And we saved considerable space when compared to a solution consisting of delta robots connected in series, each with its own control cabinet." Besides using fewer robot controllers, Bellante adds, Cama also implemented modular, dual-axis drives from Bosch, which reduced cabling up to 40%, cut the machine's footprint in half, and shrank the control cabinet by 40%.

Because its single controller can control up to 16 kinematics simultaneously, each with a maximum of eight interpolating axes and up to four synchronous belts, Cama's loader doesn't require the usual communication interfaces between individual robot controls that traditionally are needed to ensure transmission of camera system information and to coordinate robot units to prevent collisions.