Farming is no stranger to automation, but many agriculture-related jobs actually demand a soft touch in handling delicate fresh foods hence the need for robots to work closely alongside humans and animals.
Collaborative robots or cobots from Universal Robots are making dramatic inroads for those applications, giving agriculture and dairy operations the benefits of optimized production, increased competiveness, and the opportunity to free the skilled labor for more appropriate tasks.
Collaborative Robots in Milking Cows
GNE Farm Equipment is using collaborative robots to reduce the labor costs of milking cows, which is helping the company address a decade-long shortage of qualified milking staff. The cobot from Universal Robot automates the labor-intensive task of manually disinfecting cows’ udders before and after being milked, it also offers dramatic improvements over traditional robotic approaches.
This automated milking system requires a robot with a camera and spray system. When triggered, the cobot send a six-foot-long pipe with the sprayer under the cow to apply the disinfectant.
The collaborative robot is moved in place on a small pallet jack thus taking up no more space than a human when milking. The system includes on-board storage for the robot computer, disinfectant storage tank, pumps, valves, and controls.
It needs only a 120V hookup (not 240V or 480V as required for the traditional large robots) therefore it can be plugged into any available outlet. The cobots from Universal Robots need no safety caging unlike the latter robots that required built-in safety features to stop the robot’s movement if someone enters the working area.
Similarly, if the robot happens to lose power, the lightweight, flexible spray arm automatically bends to avoid injuring the cow whereas a spring is loaded to return it to its original working position. The UR robot is also very easy for the dairyman to program using the touchscreen point and click application that simply moves the robot arm to the desired positions
No other robot on the market is currently able to offer this ease-of-use system. Since no specialists are needed for operation, the collaborative robots results in a faster payback.
Cobots are also handling delicate agricultural products
At Orkla Foods in Sweden, cobot works independently to pack vanilla cream bags into cartons while being part of a network that includes a carton erector, a carton sealer, and a filling machine.
The most important feature for Orkla Foods is that the robot is able to work flawlessly hence the company no longer needs supervision or extra support for it to work. It is also a major advantage that the collaborative robot does not require any safety guarding around it thus working safely alongside their employees. The payback period for the UR10 robot installed at Orkla Foods was only six months.
Similarly, Cascina Italia processes millions of eggs per day using a UR5 robot which improves flexibility and operational efficiency. The cobot relieves the workers from the strenuous tasks of preparing bulky packages for large-scale distribution and its fenceless operation allows the robot to work side by side with their staff on the production lines. The company now sorts four sizes of eggs based on weight to produce more than 220 commercial options in different formats, depending on the type of packaging that is required.
Collaborative robot solution is very useful for facilities such as Cascina Italia, as they previously experienced constraints on flexibility, available space and budgets for investment which in turn made the traditional robotic solutions a difficult venture to implement.
Collaborative robots are ideal in hygienic food processing environments as they can also operate around the clock during seasonal periods of high production, and be easily redeployed to new applications as needed.
Not only are the cobots affordable to acquire, but are also cheap to maintain as they do not have any traditionally added costs of programming and safety guarding. This makes them a suitable robotic automation option for the small and medium-sized companies in the agricultural sector.