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Photonics Spectra
Nov 2001
Brent D. Johnson, Senior News Editor

Pepperidge Farm has been using robotics for various manufacturing applications since the 1980s and has 85 robots in its production lines. However, most products are still hand-placed in paper cups from moving conveyor belts, and the cups hand-inserted into bags. A crew of eight to 12 people can bag as many as 800 Milano sandwich cookies per minute.

Dave Watson, director of engineering at Pepperidge Farm, said the company wanted to increase production capacity and throughput. Combining the ABB Flexpicker and Adept Technology's AdeptVision controller enabled a 50 percent increase in packaging capability: 1200 cookies per minute. The initial $3.2 million investment in the system amortized in three years and had an internal rate of return of more than 20 percent.

The cookies are baked on a band oven, and a robot sandwiches them. The cookies then split into two production streams, with seven robots for each stream. Paper cups are de-nested and loaded into a traveling carrier chain. Two Panasonic GP-MF602 1/2-in. CCD black-and-white industrial cameras on each robot characterize the oblong cookie and determine its orientation.

The system also inspects the cookie to determine if it has been sandwiched properly or is broken or chipped. Out-of-tolerance cookies pass through the system into the scrap bin. Robots load the good cookies into the paper cups, four on edge and one on top.

Watson said company engineers decided to use the Adept controller because they had experience with the device in other applications and saw no benefit in changing. In addition, the technical staff was familiar with Adept's system.

He said the company may explore systems that have greater flexibility to perform different packing patterns for a variety of cookies.

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