The UK manufacturer said that it has developed a 3D vision-based automated end-of-line packaging system, which incorporates its RTS PickCell software and enables product handling and packing. According to the company, its 3D based technology goes one step further than 2D guided-automation in that it can accurately gauge the height, depth and surface contours of a product on a conveyor line through profile capturing. David Bradford, managing director of UK-based RTS Flexible Systems told FoodProductionDaily.com that its 3D based system's design was informed by the requirements of a UK food manufacturer who sought a cost-competitive system that would automate its product surface decoration process. Profile capturing Bradford would not be drawn on the nature of the client's food business, citing reasons of confidentiality. However, he said the development of the system and testing phase involved collaboration with sensor equipment manufacturer, Sick UK, and the end result is a laser-based triangulation technique that captures the profile and shape of the product as it enters the robotic cell. "A laser-integrated camera is placed vertically above the conveyor track so that as a product proceeds through the laser line, the camera builds up a series of 'slices' to create a digitized 3D image of its surface contours," said Bradford. Bradford added that tests demonstrated that the marriage of a static 3D image with conveyor tracking enables the robot to apply even pressure on the surface of a product, enabling additional process applications such as decorative icing on cakes or other baked goods in a rapid but controlled way. Quality control He said that the 3D system, using the RTS software, means robots on a line can grip and place food products of variable heights without damaging them, measure volume and mass and also reject products that have defects such as air pockets, thus improving quality control. The software enables communication between multiple robots on a line in order to balance out the workload and increase flexibility and efficiency in the processing and packaging of a product, added Bradford. The manufacturer said it can provide custom designed systems, using the 3D vision-guided technology, to suit an individual processor's requirements and that the technology can be applied to a range of equipment from conveyors to checkweighers and flow wrappers. Cost competitive Bradford claims that in a climate of spiraling raw material and energy costs, robotics and automation offer cost efficiency for UK processors with a turnover of £20m upwards. "We see this technology paying for itself in two years following installation in that it offers labour savings and significant control over process, coupled with the fact that the robots are faster and more consistent than manual handlers, resulting in higher output for baked good processors," added Bradford.