Schubert celebrates 50 years of forward looking innovations
With its early development of digital packaging machines with standardised modules, the Schubert company secured a competitive advantage that remains strong today. The foundation was laid by Gerhard Schubert 50 years ago.
The Schubert success story began in the 1960s with the initially belittled idea to build a packaging machine using standard components from which, depending on the task, exactly the right line would be assembled. In 1966, to implement his idea, Gerhard Schubert founded the Gerhard Schubert GmbH and began construction of the first carton erecting and gluing machine (SKA), with which the Weiss company in Nuremberg packaged its world-famous gingerbread “Lebkuchen”.
Over the course of the next years, the entrepreneur developed the first SSB modular machine (Schubert-Sondermaschinen-Baukasten) for filling and sealing cartons via top loading – whereby the line could be assembled from various mechanical modules depending on the task at hand.
Right: The first machine from the Gerhard Schubert GmbH in 1966 – the SKA carton erecting and gluing machine.
Using the human body as model – robots in operation
In the 1970s, Gerhard Schubert was already considering how he could use robotics to maximise the flexibility and adaptability of packaging operations. The basic idea behind his vision was really quite simple: human nature would serve as the perfect model for his packaging machines. “At some point, I asked myself what was the most flexible, adaptable development that nature had ever made? The answer was the human being,” says Gerhard Schubert. “With this in mind, my vision was to develop a machine built according to human principles: simple mechanics, a high level of intelligence and the use of tools. This was the platform upon which we built our machines.”
Schubert presented the production-ready result of these considerations in 1981 at the Interpack fair: ROBY, the first-ever packaging robot. It was equipped with a freely programmable insertion unit and it transported and placed individual products, such as chocolates, from a feeder belt or a magazine into a box or plastic tray. Schubert achieved a major breakthrough with its robot-based packaging machines with the development of the SNC-F2 pick & place robot which celebrated its premiere at the 1987 Interpack show.
At the same event, Schubert presented its first chocolate packing line: the Schubert Speedline, equipped with the first Schubert robots for optical image recognition. The Schubert experts brought the technological expertise in optical image processing into the company in view of developing an in-house R&D department. Since then, the company has ranked among the pioneers in this key area as well, and just recently reached a new milestone with its market-ready 3D scanner. Over and above surfaces, the 3D scanner can detect volume, thereby increasing the performance options in the packaging process – for the pick & place operation as well as in quality control.
Left: In 1984, in collaboration with the Karlsruhe Nuclear Research Centre, Schubert developed its program-controlled image analysis system which, when packaging small items such as chocolates, could identify unsorted objects on the conveyor belt and determine their positions and orientation.
Artificial intelligence and networked production
In 1996, with its F-44 continuously operating picker line, the company launched the first machine with an intelligent control system. The VMS packaging machine control system set the stage for a simple machine structure with a reduced number of mechanical components, which led to the development of today’s modular sub-machines.
Today, the seven basic modules now enable a highly adaptable machine structure, within which all functions, such as feeding, erecting, filling, capping/lidding/sealing, labelling, marking and palletising can be combined. In addition to the VMS control system, the two-, three- and four-axis robots, image recognition systems and the recently introduced Transmodul standard component all come together to form the basis of the TLM machines. Thanks to these rail-based robots, transport tasks can be engineered much more efficiently. At the same time, the Transmodul further increases the compactness of the TLM systems.
“Our goal is to combine intelligent software and reduced mechanics, while continuously increasing flexibility and adaptability,” explains Ralf Schubert, who has been running the Schubert business since 2012 together with his father Gerhard, his brother Gerald Schubert and Peter Gabriel. Based on this principle, Schubert presented the first packaging machine without an electrical cabinet at the 2014 Interpack show. Since the machine’s servo amplifiers are included within the TLM robots’ distributed control architecture, an electrical cabinet is no longer required – and the number of electronic parts could therefore be significantly reduced.
Tomorrow’s technology already in view today
By 2020, the company intends to increase its yearly volume of manufactured sub-machines from its current 650 to 1,000. Schubert’s commissioning of a new assembly hall in October 2015 was an important prerequisite to meet this ambitious objective.
“We still see ourselves as a pioneer in packaging machine engineering and will continue to set standards in the industry. This year too, the industry can look forward to cutting-edge innovations from our company,” confirms Gerald Schubert.