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Packfeeder pairs XTS with delta robots to sort bottles with automatic format changeovers

June 29, 2021
The intelligent eXtended Transport System handles efficient and highly flexible bottle unscrambling in the most demanding packaging applications

Headquartered in Barcelona with a global presence for sales and service, Packfeeder has developed a family of highly automated, robot-supported systems for unscrambling and positioning bottle-shaped containers. Such machines are frequently used in the cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food, household cleaner and chemicals industries where products must be filled into bottles. Since its founding in 2002 by Tomàs Mulet, Packfeeder has focused on innovative machine concepts with significant added value for end users. A good example of this approach is the Spanish company’s new bottle-sorting system, Pickfeeder, which was developed with help from Beckhoff, according to Packfeeder CEO Ferran Martínez.

“Having innovation as a basic objective requires technology partners that share our vision, which is one of the reasons why we are working with Beckhoff to master such a technological challenge,” Martínez says.

The Pickfeeder machine series uses the eXtended Transport System (XTS) from Beckhoff to implement a highly flexible machine concept that is ideal for the most demanding sorting jobs in packaging with virtually no changeover effort (Figure 1). By leveraging the highly flexible XTS, the new Pickfeeder family of machines can sort bottles of various materials and vastly different sizes and shapes without mechanical modifications to the production line. The use of XTS in combination with delta robots eliminates the need for specially shaped parts normally needed for each individual bottle in a standard machine and enables the Pickfeeder’s automatic changeover functionality.

Figure 2: With its individually controllable movers, the XTS delivers the ability to switch to different bottle formats quickly and easily. Source: Packfeeder; Ivan Raga, photographer

Integrated systems deliver high process efficiency

Depending on the performance requirements, the Pickfeeder bottle unscrambler can be configured with up to four delta robots for a broad spectrum of sorting applications (Figure 2). The combination of four-axis delta robots with the mechatronic XTS makes the bottle unscrambler extremely versatile with optimized throughput, very gentle transfer to the exit conveyor and automatic format switching.

The machine’s most important innovation, Martínez explains, is the separation of the infeed area where bottles arrive lying down from the outfeed area where bottles are placed upright on the exit conveyor. This separation was made possible by the XTS as a central machine component.

“Conventional systems perform both of these steps with robots. Using the delta robots only to grab the prone bottles, on the other hand, allows us to use smaller and less expensive robots while still leveraging their speed to the fullest,” says Martinez. “XTS is the ideal solution for accepting the bottles from the robots and handing them over upright and perfectly synchronized to the conveyor for transfer to the next machine. This prevents bottles from being positioned incorrectly or tipping over. Another benefit is the ability of XTS to be mounted in a diagonal position, which makes the system particularly compact and straightforward.”

Figure 3: Packfeeder CEO Ferran Martínez (right) and Beckhoff Spain Sales Engineer Lluís Moreno stand in front of the unscrambler machine and its easy-to-use multi-touch control panel in portrait orientation. Source: Packfeeder

On the Pickfeeder machines, the flexible XTS employs the GFX guide rail from HepcoMotion and a Packfeeder-developed gripper. This innovative combination of technologies forms a universal solution that can handle a broad range of containers irrespective of their shape, material, color and fragility. In addition, any format changes within the filling line are easily handled via the Beckhoff multi-touch control panel. According to Packfeeder, this capability represents a huge advantage over mechanical unscrambling systems, which require several components to be switched out for each format change.

A focus on flexibility

While increasing the operating speed of each robot was an important objective of the Pickfeeder project, the main focus was on the ability to switch formats automatically. “The daily operations of our partners and customers demand maximum machine flexibility in order to accommodate the endless container variations in terms of geometries, colors, materials, textures and refinements,” Martínez explains. “The successful launch of the Pickfeeder series has met the expectations of our customers with the additional benefit of optimizing the relationship between throughput rate and floor space requirements.”

For example, the Pickfeeder Single 100, the smallest model with only a single robot, achieves an output rate of more than 120 bottles per minute. That’s a great improvement over conventional systems that offer 70 to 80 bottles per minute, says Martínez.

Figure 4: The XTS accepts the prone bottles from the robots and transfers them to the output conveyor belt perfectly synchronized and in an upright position. Source: Packfeeder; Ivan Raga photographer

The high degree of flexibility that XTS provides makes the intelligent transport system ideal for this application, as well as many others across industries, says Lluís Moreno, sales engineer at Beckhoff Spain (Figure 3). “Packfeeder appreciated from the start the flexibility of the XTS and the benefits of PC-based control for the entire machine,” he explains. “We foresaw the huge potential for Packfeeder’s bottle unscramblers in our first meeting. It was our clear goal to close this gap that existed in the packaging market with a machine that could unscramble random bottle sizes and shapes with exceptional flexibility.”

Industrial requirements are changing so rapidly these days that no one can ignore concepts such as Industry 4.0, support of lot-size-one or setup changeover times approaching zero. “The Pickfeeder series was developed from the start with these requirements in mind, and the intelligent XTS transport system made it possible for these concepts to become reality,” says Ferran Martínez. “This successful combination has expanded the capabilities of Packfeeder’s bottle unscrambling technology considerably (Figure 4). We haven't been able to achieve such a major increase in a machine’s efficiency and flexibility in a long time.”

Aleix Vives is sales manager at Packfeeder. Contact him at [email protected].

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