We asked robotics veterans for one piece of advice to share with food and beverage packagers. Here are their insights.

Planning the logistics and timing in packaging is very important, especially when food or beverage products are involved.  In these operations, there are several stages of manufacturing e.g., raw food or beverage preparation, wrapping or bottling, and then enclosing them in boxes or cartons. There is subsequent cartoning or case packing and then possibly palletizing.  While this is taking place, trucks often wait at docks to get loaded so that they can depart on time to their distribution, routing or end destinations.  There is no room for delay-and scrap or lost production can almost never be recycled.  With this backdrop, it is important to integrate the timing and cycle times of robotic manufacture, through simulation or testing, with the timing of the overall food production process, replete with downtime, pause, and rescheduling contingencies.
-Adil Shafi, president,Advenovation (www.advenovation.com)  

It is very important to the system integration that all of the individual machines are supplied by one manufacturer and are connected together with a shared, standard, electrical and mechanical component platform, shared software programs, all integrated and programmed with connecting conveyor system where one supplier (not several) takes responsibility for the supply of the machinery, installation, integration, commissioning, training and achievement of performance target.
-Nick Bishop, VP sales and marketing, Bradman Lake(www.bradmanlake.com)  

Understand the real return-on-investment, select the right integrator, spend time on understanding normal system behavior as well as response to abnormal conditions (exceptions) and build ownership among your employees.
-Dick Motley, senior account manager, North America distribution,FANUC Robotics(www.fanucrobotics.com)  

There is a misconception about the versatility of a robotic arm. A robotic arm in of itself is a uniquely versatile piece of technology, but the arm itself does not represent the solution to any specific requirement. What you need is a robotic-based solution, which requires surrounding that arm with the right value add to be successful. An example of this is End of Arm Tooling (EoAT). This portion of the solution is more often than not designed and built specifically to handle the customer’s product(s). Its versatility lies in the application for which it was designed. This means that while the robot at the heart of an engineered solution could be redeployed into an entirely different field, it would happen at the cost of all or most of the supporting equipment from the previous.  
-Earl Wohlrab, manager of Robotic Integration,Intelligrated(www.intelligrated.com)  

While robots and automation will perform the tasks they are built for, like anything else, be sure to train your employees on the proper programming and maintenance techniques for your investment. By understanding your equipment's proper operation, you will be able to optimize the built in flexibility of the system and make it last for many years after it has been paid for equating to the potential for potential positive cash flow on your investment.
-Dean Elkins, senior general manager,Motoman(www.motoman.com)  

We always suggest using simulation tools. They help customers to visualize the system, to confirm the technical features and consequently to get a solution that is perfectly adapted to their needs.
-Stephane Marceau, product director,Premier Tech, Industrial Equipment Group - Americas (www.premiertech.com)  

The growth in product SKUs has placed a huge strain on supply chains. Ten years ago, an average beverage distribution company might have handled 100 SKUs. Today it can be more than 1,000. RMT Robotics’ solutions are directly affected by the packaging size and type of these SKUs. As packaging continues to diversify and the number of packaging types and sizes continues to grow, consumer packaged goods manufacturers should identify customized end effectors that can handle any type of packaging style with ease and partner with experienced material handling robotic system integrators like RMT Robotics.
Additionally, migrating from a typical rack-based warehouse to a gantry robot-based system can help users keep pace with SKU proliferation and demand. It can also reduce the footprint of the material handling system, liberating space for stacking and pallet building. Robots don’t need the aisle space, ambient temperature controls or even a break room.
-Derek Rickard, distribution systems manager,RMT Robotics (www.rmtrobotics.com)  

In selecting a robotic solution, be sure to include the cost of ownership in the long term. Compare the cost of operating an automated system versus labor costs over the 20+ years that the typical automation system should easily function. Typically the automated system operating costs are in the one dollar per hour range. Compare this with the cost of your current packaging system whether it is a manual operation or not.
- Bob Rochelle, food and packaging industry specialist,Stäubli Corp. (www.staublirobotics.com)  

Know that some system integrators will attempt to convince the customer that it is better to change their process to accommodate the integrators hardware, rather than work to build a solution that best suits the packager’s needs.
- David Peters, CEO,Universal Robotics, Inc. (www.universalrobotics.com)