Innovating Picking and Placing: Delta Robots

Behind the Factory (HDR)

Innovating Picking and Placing: Delta Robots

In the world of automation, innovation often arises from a blend of necessity and imagination. The story of Millitec’s HDR machine, a revolutionary addition to the realm of Delta robots, is no different. In the early 1980s, a visit to a chocolate manufacturer sparked the initial idea, but it was the dedication and persistence of Millitec’s engineers that transformed this vision into a new reality.

This blog post takes you behind the scenes of the inventive process, revealing how the concept of a Delta robot evolved and adapted to meet the stringent demands of the food industry. From the basic principles of Delta robot design to the intricate development of an AI-powered vision system, follow the journey culminating in Millitec’s cutting-edge solution for enhancing efficiency and hygiene in food production.

The history of delta robots

Professor Reymond Clavel
Professor Reymond Clavel (Source: Google)

In the early 1980s, Professor Reymond Clavel and his research team at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland created the delta robot, a parallel-arm robot. The idea for this invention came about during their visit to a chocolate manufacturer when a team member imagined a robot that could carefully place pralines into their packaging. Hence, a delta robot was created. This innovative robot revolutionised the food industry as it could handle small and light objects perfectly and quickly, which was an essential industrial need at the time. Over time, delta robots have undergone various changes and now have different configurations. They are commonly utilised in the food industry for material handling but have also found applications in other sectors, like surgery.

What is a delta robot?

Delta Robot Kinematics
(Source: Wikipedia)

The basic design behind the Delta robot is the use of parallelograms. Delta robot is a parallel robot designed with the use of parallelograms to restrict the movement of its end platform to pure translation, enabling motion in the X, Y, or Z axis without rotation.

It consists of three middle-jointed arms extending from the base to a triangular platform, with actuation possible through linear or rotational actuators. The lightweight arms result in low inertia, facilitating high-speed operations. Delta robots are commonly used in various industries, often referred to as spider robots due to their arm design and are prized for their speed and acceleration advantages over other industrial robots with motors in the arm.

Delta Robots’ limitations and Milltec’s solution

One of the main problems with delta robots is their lack of mobility, traditionally, delta robots are installed in fixed locations within the production environment. This limitation presents a real challenge for adopting these systems in the food manufacturing industry, where one of their highest concerns is guaranteeing a very high standard of hygiene all the time. This requires any automation machinery (including robots) to be portable in order to be taken to the cleaning station, sometimes multiple times a day. Millitec’s engineers saw this difficulty as a challenge and came up with an ingenious design for a mobile delta robot, which after half a dozen prototypes, managed to finesse it into the perfect robot it is today.

Testing HDR Lidding Robot

In order for delta robots to operate correctly and ensure food production quality and safety, accurate detection of a wide range of food elements/ingredients (e.g. bread, cucumber, tomato slices) whilst identifying possible errors (e.g. wrong position, missing filling) on assembly conveyors is essential. This is normally accomplished by the robot’s vision system, Millitec’s early prototype delta robots started by using off-the-shelf standard laser line scanner camera systems, which can only detect the shape of simple objects (e.g. bread slices) for robot end-effectors (hands) to operate.

vision system
HDR’s 3D Visioning System

Millitec soon realised that these types of systems weren’t a suitable fit for the mobile delta robot application and soon started a search for an advanced sensory system that could operate in real-world factory environments, allowing for complex conditions and challenges, e.g. various lighting, positioning, food overlapping and variation in size, shape, colours and textures. After considerable consultations with specialists in the field of industrial vision, it became apparent to Millitec that there was no off-the-shelf solution for their problem, and it became clear that the best solution for this problem lay within the field of artificial intelligence.

Made in the Midlands 2023 Food and Drink Award
Millitec and Loughborough University received the MADE IN THE MIDLANDS 2023 FOOD AND DRINK AWARD

This led Millitec to team up with researchers from the Robotics and Artificial Intelligence lab at Loughborough University, working alongside AI and machine vision experts Prof. Baihua Li and Dr. Mohamad Saada, who spent two years working alongside Millitec engineers to design, develop and produce a state-of-the-art machine learning based embedded vision system, that was later deployed into Millitec’s flagship Hygienic Delta Robots.

HDR Lidding roble
Millitec’s HDR Delta Lidding Machine

This one-of-a-kind vision system enables Millitec’s own hygienic delta robots to perform highly intelligent tasks in real-time, enabling it to high-quality food production through the accurate detection of a wide range of food elements and ingredients. This ability can match and outperform that of a human to distinguish products in various lighting and production conditions. Another feature of this system is its ease of use and rapid deployability, where a delta robot can be transported and deployed over a production line in a matter of seconds by any of the production staff. Another problem that was eliminated by this intelligent system is the need for a traditional production line encoder to read the speed. This, in turn, eliminated the speed reading problem stemming from encoder wheel slippage due to food debris.


In conclusion, Millitec’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of food automation has led to innovative solutions in Delta Robots, addressing critical challenges faced by the food industry.

While Delta Robots offer numerous advantages, their traditional lack of mobility posed challenges, particularly in the highly hygiene-sensitive food manufacturing environment. Millitec’s engineers addressed this limitation by developing a mobile Delta Robot, perfecting it through multiple iterations.

In summary, Millitec’s innovative Delta Robot solutions, combined with their cutting-edge vision system, represent a significant step forward in addressing the challenges faced by the food industry. These advancements not only improve efficiency and hygiene but also demonstrate the power of collaboration between industry and academia to drive innovation.

Further Reading

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