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Title:
PACKING STATION AND METHOD FOR CERAMIC SLABS
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2018/229591
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A packing station (100) for ceramic slabs (C) is described, comprising: a conveyor (180) adapted to support and advance a ceramic slab (C) or a stack of ceramic slabs (C), a packaging head (130) adapted to form a protective casing around the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C), a han-dling head (135) adapted to directly grip the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C), a tooling area (U15) adapted to receive the packaging head (130) and the handling head (135), and a robot (105) adapted to selec-tively pick up the packaging head (130) or the handling head (135) from the tooling area (U15) and bring it to operate at the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C) on the conveyor (180).

Inventors:
MARCHI, Domenico (5 Via S. Giovanni, BAISO, BAISO, 42031, IT)
Application Number:
IB2018/053966
Publication Date:
December 20, 2018
Filing Date:
June 04, 2018
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
GRANITIFIANDRE SOCIETA' PER AZIONI (112 Via Radici Nord, CASTELLARANO, CASTELLARANO, 42014, IT)
International Classes:
B65B23/20; B25J9/00; B65B43/18; B65B59/04; B65B5/00; B65B51/02
Domestic Patent References:
WO2016055876A12016-04-14
WO2008038081A12008-04-03
Foreign References:
US5085030A1992-02-04
DE10147361A12003-04-24
CN106184876A2016-12-07
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ING. C. CORRADINI & C. S.R.L. (4 Via Dante Alighieri, REGGIO EMILIA, REGGIO EMILIA, I-42121, IT)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. A packing station (100) for ceramic slabs (C), comprising:

- a conveyor (180) adapted to support and advance a ceramic slab (C) or a stack of ceramic slabs (C),

- a packaging head (130) adapted to form a protective casing around the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C),

- a handling head (135) adapted to directly grip the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C),

- a tooling area (U15) adapted to receive the packaging head (130) and the handling head (135),

- a robot (105) adapted to selectively pick up the packaging head (130) or the handling head (135) from the tooling area (U15) and bring it to operate at the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C) on the conveyor (180).

2. A packing station (100) according to claim 1 , wherein the packaging head (130) is provided with gripping means (150) adapted to grip a blank (F) and folding means (160, 165) adapted to fold flaps of the blank (F), held by the gripping means, around the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C).

3. A packing station (100) according to claim 2, comprising at least one storage area (U20) for blanks (F), the robot (105) equipped with the packaging head (130) being adapted to pick up the blank (F) from said storage area (U20) and bring it at the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C) on the conveyor (180).

4. A packing station (100) according to claim 2 or 3, comprising a glueing area (U25) provided with means (185) adapted to apply an adhesive on folded flaps of the blank (F), the robot (105) equipped with the packaging head (130) being adapted to transfer the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C), wrapped by folded flaps of the blank (F), from the conveyor (180) to the glueing area (U25).

5. A packing station (100) according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein the handling head (135) comprises gripping means (140) adapted to directly grip the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C) on conveyor (180).

6. A packing station (100) according to claim 5, wherein said gripping means (140) comprise one or more suction cups.

7. A packing station (100) according to any one of the preceding claims, comprising a loading area (U30) adapted to accommodate a transportable supporting element (195) for the ceramic slabs (C), the robot (105) equipped with the handling head (135) being adapted to pick up the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C) from the conveyor (180) and transfer it on said supporting element (195).

8. A packing station (100) according to claim 7, wherein the supporting element (195) is selected from the group consisting of: a crate, a pallet and a rack.

9. A method for packing ceramic slabs (C) by means of a packing station (100) according to any one of the preceding claims, comprising the steps of:

- controlling the robot (105) to pick up the packaging head (130) or the handling head (135) from the tooling area (U15) and bring it to operate at the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C) on the conveyor (180),

- using the robot (105) equipped with the packaging head (130) to form a protective casing around the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C),

- using the robot (105) equipped with the handling head (135) to directly grip the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C).

10. A method according to claim 9, wherein the forming of the protective casing involves the use of the robot (105) equipped with the packaging head (130) for:

- picking a blank (F) from a blank storage area (U20),

- bringing the blank (F) at the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C) on the conveyor (180),

- folding flaps of the blank (F) around the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C).

11. A method according to claim 10, wherein the folding of the flaps of the blank (F) involves the use of the robot (105) equipped with the packaging head (130) for:

- folding two first flaps of the blank (F) around two opposite sides of the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C),

- applying an adhesive at the ends of said first folded flaps of the blank (F),

- folding two second flaps of the blank around two further opposite sides of the ceramic slabs (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C), by at least partially overlapping said second flaps at the ends of the first flaps provided with adhesive.

12. A method according to claim 1 1 , wherein the step of applying adhesive involves using the robot (105) equipped with the packaging head (130) for transferring the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C) wrapped by the first folded flaps of the blank (F) from the conveyor (180) to a glueing station (U25) provided with means (185) for applying the adhesive.

13. A method according to any one of the preceding claims, comprising the steps of:

- arranging a transportable supporting element (195) in a loading area (U30),

- using the robot (105) equipped with the handling head (135) to pick up the ceramic slab (C) or the stack of ceramic slabs (C) from the conveyor (180) and transfer it onto said supporting element (195).

Description:
PACKING STATION AND METHOD FOR CERAMIC SLABS

Field of the invention

The present invention relates to a packing station for ceramic slabs, in particular for ceramic slabs of a square or rectangular shape, as well as the relative packing method.

Background

As is known, at the exit of ceramic slab production lines, a packing station is generally present, in which the ceramic slabs are enclosed into a special packing, mainly in order to protect them during the later shipping, handling and storage steps.

The type of packing normally depends on the size of the ceramic slabs exiting from the production line.

For ceramic slabs of large size, the packing step may provide, for example, for placing the ceramic slabs directly on a transportable supporting element, such as a crate, a pallet or a rack, which can optionally be stabilized by one or more wrappings of stretch film for packing.

For ceramic slabs of smaller size, it is instead usual to package the ceramic slabs, individually or after being grouped into stacks of mutually overlapping slabs, within a frame or box obtained by folding a blank of cardboard or other suitable material around the same to make a protective casing.

From the foregoing, therefore, it is apparent that the machinery and equipment used for implementing the packing stations are currently very different depending on the ceramic slab format that the production line is able to make.

Recently, however, very flexible production lines have been introduced which, starting from a large ceramic semi-finished product, for example from a fired ceramic slab having dimensions up to 1500x3200 mm and over, are equipped to divide said ceramic semi-finished product by a cutting process, providing finished ceramic slabs in output of any size required by the production batch.

It is therefore clear that, in order to effectively pack all these ceramic slabs, a production line such as that outlined above must be currently provided with a plurality of different from each other packing stations, with a consequent increase in installation costs as well as the spaces occupied in the factories. Summary of the invention

An object of the present invention is to solve this prior art drawback by providing a packing station for ceramic slabs which allows making different types of packing depending on the format of the ceramic slabs exiting from the production line, in an extremely flexible and efficient manner.

Another object of the present invention is to achieve the above object with a simple and rational solution and relatively cost-effective.

These and other objects are achieved with the features of the invention set out in the independent claims. The dependent claims describe instead preferred and/or particularly advantageous aspects of the invention.

In particular, an embodiment of the present invention provides a packing station for ceramic slabs comprising:

- a conveyor adapted to support and advance a ceramic slab or a stack of ceramic slabs,

- a packaging head adapted to form a protective casing around the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs,

- a handling head, structurally different from the packaging head, adapted to directly grip the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs,

- a tooling area adapted to receive the packaging head and the handling head,

- a robot adapted to selectively pick up the packaging head or the handling head from the tooling area and bring it to operate at the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs on the conveyor.

With this solution, a very flexible packing station is obtained which, depending on the head that is picked and used by the robot, is effectively able to make many different types of packing, by selecting them each time, for example according to the format of the ceramic slabs advancing on the conveyor.

According to one aspect of the invention, the packaging head may be provided with gripping means adapted to grip a blank and folding means adapted to fold flaps of the blank, held by the gripping means, around the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs.

This aspect of the invention allows making, around the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs, for example those not excessively large, a protective casing shaped as a frame or box containing them and protecting them in view of any subsequent handling and transport steps.

Remaining in this context, another aspect of the invention provides that the packing station may comprise at least one storage area for blanks and that the robot equipped with the packaging head may be adapted to pick up the blank from said storage area and bring it at the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs located on the conveyor.

In this way, the robot equipped with the packaging head is effectively able to pick up a blank from the storage area, each time the working schedule involves packing the ceramic slabs in said protective casing, in a totally automatic manner and without requiring the intervention of an operator.

According to another aspect of the invention, the packing station may further comprise a glueing area provided with means adapted to apply an adhesive on folded flaps of the blank, while the robot equipped with the packaging head may be adapted to transfer the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs, wrapped by folded flaps of the blank, from the conveyor to the glueing area.

In this way, the robot equipped with the packaging head is effectively able to fix the protective casing around the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs.

According to a different aspect of the invention, the handling head may comprise gripping means adapted to directly grip the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs on the conveyor.

In the present specification, the wording "directly grip" generally means that the gripping means of the handling head are able to cling directly to the ceramic slab and/or the stack of ceramic slabs, holding it and making it integral with the handling head without the interposition of further intermediate elements. In this way, the robot equipped with the handling head is effectively able to handle the ceramic slab and/or the stack of ceramic slabs as it is.

By way of example, said gripping means of the handling head may comprise one or more suction cups.

According to another aspect of the invention, the packing station may comprise a loading area adapted to accommodate a transportable supporting element for the ceramic slabs, such as a crate (wood, cardboard or other material), a pallet or a rack, and the robot equipped with the handling head may be adapted to pick up the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs from the conveyor and transfer it to said supporting element.

This aspect of the invention allows packing the ceramic slabs, for example those of extremely large dimensions, directly on the supporting element arranged in the loading area, which can subsequently be used to carry the above ceramic slabs towards a storage warehouse or other operational areas, possibly after having been stabilized by one or more wrappings of stretch film.

The present invention also provides a method for packing ceramic slabs by means of the packing station outlined above, which method comprises the general steps of:

- controlling the robot to pick up the packaging head or the handling head from the tooling area and bring it to operate at the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs on the conveyor,

- using the robot equipped with the packaging head to form a protective casing around the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs, or

- using the robot equipped with the handling head to directly grip the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs.

The advantages of this method substantially correspond to those of the packing station outlined above, in particular to allow the creation of multiple different types of packing, by selecting them each time, for example according to the ceramic slab format advancing on the conveyor.

According to another aspect of the method, the forming of the protective casing may involve using the robot equipped with the packaging head for: - picking a blank from a blank storage area,

- bringing the blank at the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs on the conveyor,

- folding flaps of the blank around the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs.

This solution provides a simple and rational solution to make the protective casing directly around the ceramic slab and/or the stack of ceramic slabs. In particular, the folding of the blank may involve using the robot equipped with the packaging head for:

- folding two first flaps of the blank around two opposite sides of the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs,

- applying an adhesive at the ends of said first folded flaps of the blank,

- folding two second flaps of the blank around two further opposite sides of the ceramic slabs or the stack of ceramic slabs, by at least partially overlapping said second flaps at the ends of the first flaps provided with adhesive.

This solution allows closing and fixing the protective casing around the ceramic slab and/or the stack of ceramic slabs.

In this context, the step of applying adhesive may involve using the robot equipped with the packaging head for transferring the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs wrapped by the first folded flaps of the blank from the conveyor to a glueing station provided with means for applying the adhesive. This aspect of the invention allows carrying out the glueing step without interfering with other apparatuses of the packing station.

According to a different aspect of the invention, the method may finally comprise the steps of:

- arranging a transportable supporting element, such as a crate (wood, cardboard or other material), a pallet or a rack, in a loading area, and

- using the robot equipped with the handling head to pick up the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs from the conveyor and transfer it onto said supporting element.

This aspect of the invention allows packing the ceramic slabs directly on the supporting element arranged in the loading area, which can optionally be stabilized by one or more wrappings of stretch film and subsequently used to carry the above ceramic slabs towards a storage warehouse or other operational areas.

Brief description of the drawings

Further features and advantages of the invention will become apparent from the following description, provided by way of non-limiting example with the aid of the figures shown in the accompanying drawings.

Figure 1 shows a schematic plan view of the layout of a packing station according to the present invention.

Figure 2 shows a lateral view of the robot present in the packing station in figure 1 , equipped with the packaging head schematically shown.

Figure 3 shows a schematic lateral view of the handling head that can be coupled to the robot in figure 2 in place of the packaging head.

Figure 4 shows a schematic plan view of the packaging head.

Figures 5 and 6 show two orthogonal projections of the view in figure 4.

Figures 7a-7d replicate the view in figure 6 during as many operating steps of the packaging head.

Detailed description

The packing station 100 according to an embodiment of the present invention firstly includes a robot 105, which generally comprises a terminal 1 10 and a set of handling members adapted to move terminal 1 10 within a work space U10 which is indicated by the dotted line in figure 1 .

It should be noted right away that, within the work space U10, the handling means of robot 105 are preferably adapted to move terminal 1 10 also in vertical direction so that terminal 1 10 is globally adapted to move in a three- dimensional space.

In the example shown, the handling members of robot 105 comprise a cart 1 15, which is adapted to move back and forth along a predetermined horizontal and straight sliding direction A, for example sliding on a pair of parallel guide rails 120, driven by appropriate motor members (not shown).

An articulated arm 125 is installed on cart 1 15, which has a first end fastened to cart 1 15 and a second free end carrying terminal 1 10.

As better shown in figure 2, the first end of the articulated arm 125 may be hinged to cart 1 15 so as to rotate thereon about a vertical articulation axis B1 , which is orthogonal to the sliding direction A of cart 1 15.

In an intermediate position between the first and the second end, the articulated arm 125 may comprise one or more intermediate hinges adapted to define as many horizontal articulation axes.

In the example shown, the articulated arm 125 for example comprises three intermediate hinges, whose horizontal articulation axes are indicated with references B2, B3 and B4, respectively.

Finally, terminal 1 10 may be hinged to the second end of the articulated arm 125 according to an articulation axis B5 orthogonal to the articulation axes of the intermediate hinge(s), so as to be arranged vertically as needed.

The movements of the articulated arm 125 around the various articulation axes B1 -B5 are driven by dedicated motors, which are not further described as conventional per se.

Of course, in some embodiments, the articulated arm 125 might have a different number of articulation axes and/or a different arrangement thereof. Moreover, other embodiments may provide that the articulated arm 125 is not mounted on cart 1 15, but on a fixed platform. In yet other embodiments, instead of the articulated arm 125 and/or cart 1 15, the handling means of terminal 1 10 may comprise a Cartesian system.

Terminal 1 10 is provided with engagement means, preferably quick engagement means, allowing it to firmly engage with a plurality of operating heads that are accommodated in a dedicated tooling area U15 contained within the work space U10.

These operating heads include at least one packaging head 130 (shown engaged with robot 105 in figure 1 and 2) and a handling head 135 (shown at rest in the work space U15 in figure 1 and figure 3), in which the handling head 135 is constructively different from the packaging head 130 to perform different functions.

In particular, the handling head 135 is constructed to directly grip at least one ceramic slab C, where the wording "directly grip" generically means that the handling head 135 is adapted to couple and hold the ceramic slab as is, i.e. without the use of intermediate members.

To this end, the handling head 135 is generally provided with gripping means adapted to directly interact with the ceramic slab C to achieve a coupling with the latter which constrains the ceramic slab C to the handling head 135.

In the example shown, these gripping means include comprise a plurality of adhesion members 140, such as a plurality of suction cups optionally connected to a vacuum source, which substantially lie on a same plane in order to simultaneously support on and adhere to one of the flat sides of the ceramic slab C.

The adhesion members 140 may be mounted on board a bearing frame 145, for example generally flat in shape, which is provided with engagement means 146 to terminal 1 10 of robot 105.

Preferably, the adhesion members 140 are associated to the bearing frame 145 through the interposition of means, such as cursors sliding into corresponding guides, which are adapted to change the position and the mutual distance thereof on the common lying plane, according to the size and shape of the ceramic slab C to be gripped.

This displacement of the adhesion members 140 may occur automatically through appropriate motorized driving members, which are not described in detail as conventional per se.

Going to the packaging head 130, this head is constructed to form, around a ceramic slab C and/or a stack of ceramic slabs C, a protective casing, for example shaped as a box or as a perimeter frame, which can be obtained starting from a blank or a flat sheet F of cardboard, paper or any other material generally thin and flexible that can be refolded to form a casing, such as pol- yurethane or other polymeric and/or composite materials.

To carry out this function, the packaging head 130 generally comprises gripping means adapted to grip blank F and folding means adapted to fold flaps of blank F, when held by the gripping means, around the ceramic slab C or the stack of ceramic slabs C. In the example shown, the gripping means comprise a plurality of adhesion members 150, such as a plurality of suction cups optionally connected to a vacuum source, which substantially lie on a same plane in order to simultaneously support on and adhere to one of the flat sides of blank F.

The adhesion members 150 may be mounted on board a bearing frame 155, for example generally flat in shape, which is provided with engagement means 156 to terminal 1 10 of robot 105.

Preferably, the adhesion members 150 are associated to the bearing frame 155 through the interposition of means, such as cursors sliding within corresponding guides, which are adapted to change the position and the mutual distance thereof on the common lying plane, according to the size and shape of blank F to be gripped.

Moreover, the adhesion members 150 are preferably associated with the bearing frame 155 through the further interposition of driving members 157, such as hydraulic or pneumatic pistons, which are adapted to change the position thereof along a direction substantially orthogonal with respect to the common lying plane.

As regards the folding means, these means may comprise a plurality of brackets, for example substantially "L" shaped, which are essentially mutually coplanar and are ideally arranged along the sides of an imaginary rectangle adapted to contain the ceramic slab or the stack of ceramic slabs to be treated.

As shown in figure 4, this plurality of brackets may comprise two first groups of brackets 160, which are aligned along two opposite sides of said imaginary rectangle parallel to a transverse axis T, and two second groups of brackets 165, which are aligned along the remaining two opposite sides of said imaginary rectangle parallel to a longitudinal axis L orthogonal to the transverse axis T.

In order to vary the size of said imaginary rectangle, the two groups of brackets 160 are preferably associated with bearing means adapted to allow a mutual approach/distancing movement thereof in a direction parallel to the longitudinal axis L, while the two groups of brackets 165 are preferably associated with bearing means adapted to allow a mutual approach/distancing movement thereof in a direction parallel to the transverse axis T.

For example, brackets 160 may be attached to two first crossbeams 170 arranged parallel to the transverse axis T while brackets 165 may be attached to two second crossbeams 175 arranged parallel to the longitudinal axis L and connected with the bearing frame 155, in which suitable connecting members between the parts, such as suitable cursors sliding into corresponding guides, allow the first crossbeams 170 to slide on the second crossbeams 175 along the longitudinal axis L and the second crossbeams 175 to slide on the first crossbeams 170 and with respect to the bearing frame 155 along the transverse axis T.

In addition, it is preferable that the mutual distance between the single brackets 160 and 165 of each group is also adjustable, which can be obtained for example by attaching the brackets to the crossbeams by the interposition of further sliding cursors that allow each bracket 160 and 165 to slide along the respective crossbeam 170 and 175.

The mutual approach/distancing movement of the first groups of brackets 160 and of the second groups of brackets 165, as well as any changes in the distance between brackets 160 and 165 of each group can occur automatically through dedicated motorized driving members, which are not described herein as conventional per se.

Going back to the layout shown in figure 1 , the packing station 100 may comprise a conveyor 180, which is adapted to advance single ceramic slabs and/or stacks of mutually overlapping ceramic slabs C, for example coming from a production line up to make them go inside work space U10 of robot 105.

The stacks of ceramic slabs C may be made by suitable stacking devices arranged upstream of conveyor 180, which are not shown as conventional per se.

In general, conveyor 180 may be any device adapted to define a supporting plane on which the ceramic slabs C and/or the stacks of ceramic slabs C may advance. In the example shown, conveyor 180 is a motorized roller platform but in other embodiments, it may be a conveyor belt or any other device suitable for the purpose.

Within work space U10, the packing station 100 further comprises a storage area U20 which accommodates blanks F intended to make the protective casing, which may be mutually overlapping to form at least one stack.

In the example shown, the storage area U20 contains two stacks of blanks F, in which blanks F of each stack have different shapes and sizes in order to wrap a ceramic slab C or a stack of ceramic slabs C of different formats. It is not excluded, however, that in other embodiments, the storage area U20 may contain a single stack of blanks F and/or more stacks of blanks F having the same format and/or more than two stacks of blanks F, each containing blanks of different format.

The packing station 100 further comprises a glueing area U25, contained within work space U10 of robot 105, in which means 185 are provided, adapted to apply an adhesive on folded flaps of blank F in order to fix the protective casing around the ceramic slab C or the stack of ceramic slabs C. In the example shown, means 185 may comprise two dispensing members 190 which are connected to an adhesive feeding system (not shown) and are facing upwards, so as to apply said adhesive on the flaps of blank F that are made to slide thereon.

Preferably, the dispensing members 190 are associated with the handling means adapted to allow a mutual approach/distancing thereof, according to the dimensions of blank F.

Within work space U10, the packing station 100 also comprises a loading area U30, which is adapted to receive one or more supporting elements 195 for ceramic slabs C.

Each of these supporting elements 195 may be for example a crate (of wood, cardboard or other material), a pallet (such as wood or metal), a rack or in general any transportable structure capable of receiving and supporting one or more ceramic slabs C, in particular large ceramic slabs, for example in order to allow further transport and/or storage thereof in a warehouse. Finally, in some embodiments, the packing station 100 may comprise a further conveyor 200, which is adapted to remove from work space U10 the packaged ceramic slabs C and/or the stacks of ceramic slabs C at the end of the packing process.

In general, conveyor 200 may be any device adapted to define a supporting plane on which the ceramic slabs C and/or the stacks of ceramic slabs C may advance.

In the example shown, conveyor 200 is a motorized roller platform but in other embodiments, it may be a conveyor belt or any other device suitable for the purpose.

Based on the foregoing, the operation of the packing station 100 is substantially as follows.

Conveyor 180 advances the ceramic slabs C and/or the stacks of ceramic slabs C in a sequence towards work space U10 of robot 105, where the same can be temporarily stopped.

Depending on the type of ceramic slab C or stack of ceramic slabs C, the packing station 100 may be configured or reconfigured to perform a different type of packing.

If conveyor 180 brings inside work space U10 a ceramic slab C or a stack of ceramic slabs V for example having a large size, the packing station 100 may be simply configured to transfer such a ceramic slab C or stack of ceramic slabs C from conveyor 180 to one of the supporting elements 195 arranged in the loading area U30.

To do so, robot 105 brings its terminal 1 10 within the tooling area U15 and engages the handling head 135, optionally after releasing the packaging head 130.

At this point, robot 105 picks up the handling head 135 from the tooling area U15 and brings it to operate at the ceramic slab C located on conveyor 180. By means of the adhesion members 140, the handling head 135 grips the ceramic slab C which, due to a subsequent movement of robot 105, is transferred within the loading area U30 where it is released on a corresponding supporting element 195. When the supporting element 195 is loaded, the same may be removed from work space U10, for example through appropriate automatic guide carts (not shown), to be optionally replaced by another empty supporting element 195. The supporting element 195 removed from work space U10 may be stored awaiting transportation or it may optionally be brought to other operational stations, such as to a station where the ceramic slabs C loaded thereon are stabilized by means of one or more wrappings of a stretch film for packing. Otherwise, if conveyor 180 brings inside work space U10 a ceramic slab C or a stack of ceramic slabs C for example having a smaller size, the packing station 100 may be configured to wrap said ceramic slab C or said stack of ceramic slabs C with a blank F to make a protective casing.

In this case, robot 105 brings its terminal 1 10 within the tooling area U15 and engages the packaging head 130, optionally after releasing the handling head 135.

At this point, robot 105 picks up the packaging head 130 from the tooling area U15 and brings it at a stack of blanks F within the storage area U20.

By means of the adhesion members 150, the packaging head 130 grips the first blank F of the stack and then carries it, by the movement of robot 105, at the ceramic slab C or the stack of ceramic slabs C located on conveyor 180. As shown in figures 7a-7 d, blank F is placed on the top surface of the ceramic slab C or the stack of ceramic slabs C so that its lateral flaps project or protrude with respect to the peripheral edges of the ceramic slab C or stack of ceramic slabs C.

Thereafter, brackets 165 are brought closer together in the direction of the transverse axis T so as to go on top of two of said protruding flaps of blank F, after which the packaging head 130 is lowered, while the adhesion members 150 are moved upwards, so that brackets 165 fold the underlying flaps of blank F along the edges of the ceramic slab C or stack of ceramic slabs C (see fig. 7c).

At this point, brackets 165 are further approached to each other in the direction of the transverse axis T so as to fold the flaps of blank F below the ceramic slab C or the stack of ceramic slabs C supporting them resting on brackets 165 themselves.

Once this first folding step of blank F has ended, robot 105 moves the packaging head 130 so as to lift the ceramic slab C or the stack of ceramic slabs C from conveyor 180 and bring it at the glueing area U25, where the coordinated movement of the packaging head 130 above means 185 allows applying the adhesive at the end of the flaps of blank F refolded underneath the ceramic slab C or stack of ceramic slabs C.

Once the glue has been applied, the operations previously carried out by brackets 165 are similarly carried out by brackets 160, so as to refold also the second pair of flaps of the blank underneath the ceramic plate C or the stack of ceramic slabs C.

In this way, these flaps overlap and are glued to the previous ones at the edges of the ceramic slab C or stack of ceramic slabs C, thereby fixing the so obtained protective casing.

At this point, robot 105 can carry the packaging head 130 at conveyor 200, where the packaged ceramic slab C or stack of ceramic slabs C may be released to be moved away from work space U10.

In some embodiments, along conveyor 200 there may be further operational stations arranged, including for example a strapping machine to further stabilize the package.

Other embodiments may provide that, instead of conveyor 200, the packaged ceramic slab C or the stack of ceramic slabs C is released directly to one of the supporting elements 195 or anyway in any other point of work space U10. All operation and operational steps described above can be performed automatically by an electronic control unit (not shown) that controls the operation of robot 105.

In particular, the choice between using the packaging head 130 and the handling head 135 can be made by the electronic control unit on the basis of a preset work program or through suitable sensors, such as optical sensors, adapted to recognize the size of the ceramic slabs C or the stacks of ceramic slabs C that are fed sequentially within work space U10.

Of course, a man skilled in the art may make several technical application changes to the above description, without thereby departing from the scope of the invention as claimed hereinafter.