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The use of fixed industrial robots and mobile robot technology can help food processors can make significant savings on labour costs, according to robotics engineer David Pratt from automation technology company Omron.

Pratt was one of a number of experts who presented to food and beverage industry attendees at an automation solutions seminar held recently by Omron.

Last year, Omron acquired Adept Technology, a major US provider of intelligent robots, autonomous mobile robot solutions and services.

Omron president Yutaka Miyanaga said that the acquisition was part of Omron's strategy to enhance its automation technology.

"Robotics will elevate our offering of advanced automation," Miyanaga said at the time.

Adept has solutions that cater to both the big and small end of town, according to Pratt.

Adept was the first robotics manufacturer to introduce vision guidance in the mid-eighties, he says, and the company continues to innovate.

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3D simulation

Pratt pointed to Omron's 3D simulation tool Adept Ace which enables manufacturers to develop systems and see them operating virtually on a PC before they start building.

Adept Ace is an all-in-one software solution that features an integrated, point-and-click development environment for the product portfolio of Adept robots and controls.

The product is crafted on a software framework that has been designed to make it easy to entirely configure, program, and manage single and multi-robot systems, conveyors, feeders, vision, and device IO assignments, via a user-friendly, PC-based interface.

Adept Ace is free to download at adept.com.

Mobile robots

Although not yet released in Australia, Pratt discussed Omron's mobile robot range, which he says will become more prevalent in the future, as a way to save space and boost flexibility in factories.

He also discussed autonomous indoor vehicles such as the Adept Lynx Cart Transporter, which is designed to attach to movable carts and transport them from a pickup location to a drop off location.

The Lynx Cart transporter leverages Natural Feature Navigation to autonomously find a path through the facility without the need for any facility modifications necessary.

It is safe to operate in existing doors and aisle ways as it can sense and avoid people, fork trucks and other objects in its path.

Automation and robotics take centre stage

More than 40 food and beverage industry executives attended Omron's automation solutions seminar which was held at its headquarters in Silverwater, Sydney.

Omron's technology showcase included presentations from a number of company experts including Omron’s vision and sensor product manager George Nematian, who explained how new advanced visual inspection systems can avert product recalls that are both costly and damaging to a company’s reputation.

Safety engineer Irfan Munir discussed how industry can protect workers from harsh and dangerous environments by better controlling machinery. He also said companies should not wait to invest in safety.

Robert Lloyd, a senior automation engineer, explained why traceability has become an essential part of the food processing supply chain, and how “big data” and IoT (Internet of Things) enable products to be tracked from paddock to plate.

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