By now, you’ve probably seen the 8 second sandwich lidding showdown – showcasing the speed and precision of robotic sandwich making against traditional production methods (if you haven't just click play in the opposite box!).

Of course, we knew the robot would be more efficient than the humans – we programmed it that way - but we didn’t know this footage would expose so many additional benefits of future robotic programmes going forwards.

The original purpose here was to compare the pace of the robot versus a traditionally manned production line. Both versions - man and machine - lidded a total of 6 sandwiches within the 8 second timeframe, however the manual process required two people to complete the same work as one robot. One robot, which incidentally costs less than the annual salary of those two staff.
Through further interrogation of the the manual production line, we were able to identify a number of additional inefficiencies for which we can look at developing solutions to eliminate.

Working from right to left, I’ve pulled out a number of areas we can look to improve upon:

    • Staff on the righthand side placing the ingredients with an additional staff member to balance the distribution.
    • A portion of the filling overhanging the base, requiring the lidder to neaten and thus increase process time.
    • The “press” of the sandwich to ensure the lid is securely positioned.
    • Waste on the conveyor which will be discarded.
These all add cost to the manufacturer, distributor and ultimately the person at the end enjoying their BLT.

So how can robotics and automation help improve these less efficient processes?

Firstly, looking at ingredient placement – with a highly intelligent machine vision system, and some very advanced software programming, we can develop an ingredient placement delta robot in the same pitch size as the lidder, which is capable of accurately placing the right amount of ingredient in the exact necessary position whilst on a moving production line. The accurate placement is highly challenging – ensuring no overhang of the filling requires the highest level of technical skill from our robotics and machine vision specialists. This solution would overcome both challenges number 1 and 2 above and is already well under development.

With regards to the “press” of the sandwich – looking at the robot footage, you can see that the lid is accurately positioned on the base of the sandwich and no push is necessary, final alignment check and compression of the sandwich occurs within the next phase of the process – ultrasonic cutting. Some ultrasonic cutters, such as those designed by Millitec, feature high speed aligners to make extra sure that the sandwich is precisely where it needs to be and in the correct orientation. On entering the cutter, the full sandwich is compressed then passes through an ultrasonic blade, ensuring a perfect sandwich of two halves.

Finally, let’s talk about waste – waste is a completely unnecessary cost in any production environment, particularly in food where we need to be using as much of the prepared ingredients as possible. We can see on the manual production line that there is a small amount of ingredient on the conveyor which could have been transferred from a glove or dropped when configuring the sandwich. Once again, an accurately programmed robot with a well-designed end effector could reduce the opportunity to drop ingredients on the belt.

Of course, there are still challenges to be faced when considering robotics within these roles. As designers, we need to ensure a way to get all usable ingredients out of their containers, we need to teach our robots to accurately identify different ingredients and pick up precisely the correct amount, we need a range of end effectors which are capable and flexible to the needs of the different ingredients, and of course, we need to keep all options highly cost effective. The ultimate aim of introducing robotics within food production is to improve production efficiency and reduce costs, and at Millitec, our designers are working hard to ensure all machinery built keeps this in mind – Efficient, Impactful and Industry Changing Automation.