Can you automate packing operations that are intricate, time-intensive, and often better performed manually? You can indeed, according to one conveyor manufacturer. All you need is a little vision.

As assembly lines go, FlexLink’s conveyor system for a medical line in Italy is pretty state-of-the-art. Nevertheless, when the company decided to re-engineer its blister packing operation, an intricate and time-intensive job that was previously performed manually, it realised that it would need automation solutions combining compactness, dexterity and, above all, accuracy.

Having identified its needs, the company chose three products from FANUC: the LR Mate 200iD robot, the FANUC M-1iA delta robot and, most importantly, an integrated iRVision system.

The result has been an increase in productivity that now sees the assembly line produce a whopping 60 blister packs per minute, with the system capable of operating uninterrupted for three working shifts a day.

Andrew Armstrong, FANUC UK’s sales and marketing manager, takes us through how the system works:

“The first selection task is undertaken by the M-1iA delta robot. This model was specifically designed by FANUC to deliver accurate movements and handling of small objects at high speeds. With a work diameter of 280mm, it suits this particular application perfectly.”

The robot is presented with bulk quantities of product components, and uses its integrated iRVision system to pick up and quality check each piece. Imperfect ones are rejected, and remain on the conveyor to be discarded.

FlexLink’s engineering manager, Davide Zuffa, says: “Integrating the visual system eliminates the need to orientate objects as the robot finds them. It meant we didn’t need further conveyors and devices that would have made the conveyor system more complex and cumbersome.”

With the quality inspection complete, the delta robot places each product piece onto a middle conveyor, which is then presented to the blister-packing robot. Andy continues:

“The blister packing robot is the LR Mate 200iD robot, which undertakes the task with a customised double gripper. This enables it to handle and load two product pieces simultaneously.”

The unique positioning of the medical pieces complicates matters somewhat. The robot, therefore, is programmed to manipulate and fold each medical device, before pushing it delicately into the blister pack. The vision system then checks that the medical device has been inserted correctly, while also ensuring that it’s seated correctly within the blister pack. This guarantees a good seal, and eliminates the need for any rework.

“The system not only hosts two robots to better exploit the available space, but also achieves excellent performance levels in terms of speed and precision,” says Davide. “What’s more, should the product change in the future, the flexible nature of FANUC’s robots enables the design change to be managed and implemented easily. This ensures longevity of the engineering solution, and better ROI on capital equipment investment. Through our work with FANUC, we have created a flexible blister loading system with universal market appeal.”

Set your sights on an integrated vision solution

It’s not just assembly lines for medical devices that benefit from machine vision systems. Robots are also increasingly finding a place in applications for the food sector, such as pick-and-place, packaging and palletising.

Adding “sight” to a robot can expand its potential in all of these areas. The flexibility and intelligence of a robot with the benefit of vision enable high-level functions such as picking, inspection, bar code and data matrix recognition, and line-tracking. Essentially, it’s an automated solution with the ability to mimic the hand-eye coordination of a human, particularly in applications where accuracy is required, such as picking random products off a conveyor.

Integrating vision into the control package also allows food companies to incorporate features such as visual line tracking, a common requirement in the food industry, without the need for external PLCs. The vision system can identify the position of an object on the conveyor and pass this information to a robot further down the line, which can then pick up the product.

iRVision offers the most cost-effective vision solution for users of FANUC robots. It’s an integrated part of the robot’s controller, which means that you don’t need to factor in any additional integration costs. Essentially, it’s a plug-and-play solution that you can set up via FANUC’s iPendant Touch, which acts as the interface between the operator and the controller.

And if the concept of robot vision still seems confusing? You can always sign up to a FANUC training course to learn more about harnessing the solution for your own robots. For complicated vision applications, FANUC’s experts can advise on system set-up and lighting requirements. You needn’t look any further.

For more information on the iRVision software, please visit