Robots with ‘3D Vision’ may Enable Automated High-Speed Pick and Place Robotics Solutions for Packaging Application  

Research Title: Robots with ‘3D Vision’ may Enable Automated High-Speed Pick and Place Robotics Solutions for Packaging Application

Research Category: Conveyor System

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Researchers: RTS Technician Team
Location: RTS Flexible Systems, United Kingdom

Research Details

Robots with ‘3D Vision’ may Enable Automated High-Speed Pick and Place Robotics Solutions for Packaging Application

A PIONEERING 3D vision-based robot automation solution for product handling and end-of-line picking and packing, developed by leading systems integrator RTS Flexible Systems, is promising to bring breakthrough applications in packaging automation.

The new system, founded on RTS´ unique, modular PixCellTM software, will enable automated high-speed pick and place robotics solutions for new and challenging packaging applications, for example gripping of complex shapes and profiles, picking variable heights, enhanced inspection and defect rejection, measuring volume and mass, and picking products individually from a random arrangement from a variety of in-feeds.

“This is an exciting development for end-of-line packaging processes,” said David Bradford, Managing Director of RTS Flexible Systems. “Advances in technology mean we can deliver applications which have been difficult for conventional 2D technology. Solutions will often depend on individual products and processes, but are likely to offer manufacturers opportunities to significantly improve throughput and raw materials yield.”

The ability of 2D vision-guided robotic automation to generate the position and orientation of products is well established, and generally works on greyscale, colour or line-scanning vision systems as a means, for example, of enabling quality inspection and defect inspection. Because the 3D system can process the x, y and z co-ordinates of the product it can also, for the first time, accurately gauge the height, depth and surface contours of a product to be processed.

The technology has enabled the RTS team to successfully demonstrate picking of products with unpredictable or variable heights, e.g. natural food products or baked products, to high tolerances without damaging them.

Unlike 2D technology which relies on contrast, 3D-vision enables picking based on the product´s profile, so it enables inspection and picking of transparent or semi-transparent products such a vials or syringes and the opportunity to pick from a random feed or pile, e.g. from products in a bin.

The fine surface contours of a complex product shape - which can be confusing or invisible to a 2D system - have been profiled in 3D so that the robot can identify the position and orientation, so that a label can be then be applied on an indented surface area.

Quality inspection is enhanced because a 3D system can detect the depth of a surface defect. So for example, a 3D system could be set up to reject baked products with air pockets or sinkage outside a certain tolerance, whereas a 2D system would normally only be able to select on the position and size of a defect.

A technology development team at RTS, which has been involved in robot application advances for nearly 20 years, has collaborated with SICK UK to use 3D vision technology using a laser-based triangulation technique to capture the profile and shape of the product as it enters the robotic cell. A single camera is set at an angle on the axis of an object moving along a conveyor. This camera is integrated with a laser vertically above the object. As the object moves through the laser line, the camera builds up a series of profile ´slices´ to create a digitized 3D image which follows the surface contours.

RTS is a well-established supplier of integrated automation systems. As a bespoke supplier it can combine the best available robots and vision systems with other machinery as required such as, conveyors, flow wrappers or checkweighers. The key to integration is RTS´ unique modular approach based on its proprietary software, enabling product data to be processed and communicated to the picking robots as well to being integrated with production line in-feed and out-feeds to ensure line-balancing and process. One key strength is in robot co-operation, essentially enabling robots to collaborate together to assemble a package of products. The robots ´talk to each other´ and work together ´as a team´ to produce the desired result.

About PixCellTM Software
FlexVisionTM is a new development of RTS VIPTM (vision integration platform) software and a key component in applications where the product position and
orientation needs to be tracked at high speed before being picked and packed by multiple robots. This highly configurable machine vision product has many
applications in volume manufacturing where products need to be located, identified, or inspected at high speeds.

PixCellTM comprises a family of high speed robotic work cells with integrated machine vision for use where products need to be located and picked at high
speed. PixCellTM software combines the power of FlexVisionTM with intelligent product distribution schemes to enable multiple robots to co-operate in high
throughput applications.

Developed as a complimentary downstream product to PixCellTM and aimed at applications where wrapped products can be collated, picked and packed into case or cartons at high speed.

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