Could Robots Enhance Pallet Processes?
15 Sep 2015
Anyone who has ever worked on a factory production line describes the job in two words: boring and repetitive. Packaging products and loading them on to pallets can seem a very dull task.
All this began to change as packaging became more automated, leaving fewer workers doing a variety of more interesting tasks. It is set to change again as robots take over ever greater parts of human work. The Association of Packaging and Processing Technologies, the leading global association for the packaging and processing industries, predicts in a 2012 report that the use of robots for primary packaging processes will double to 20% by 2018, rising from just an 8% level in 2013. In addition, at least a fifth of secondary packaging jobs will be taken over by robots in 2018 compared with just 10% in 2013.
The robotics is aimed at eliminating boring manual processes, ensuring better worker safety, increasing the speed of packaging lines, improving the quality of packaging and the method by which they are loaded on pallets and, most importantly, reducing operating costs.
Speeding Up Whipped Cheese Production
This was the choice facing Laita, a dairy cooperative in Crehen, Brittany, that produces Paysan Breton whipped cream cheese, among other dairy products. As demand for the whipped cheese increased, production speeds had to follow suit. This was not possible to achieve manually because of the shortage of space in the plant and the impossibility of workers speeding up such repetitive manual operations.
The solution was a robotic unit that feeds and palletises cheese tubs along two high-speed production lines. This robot is capable of filling tubs to four different heights when required at a maximum rate of 15,000 tubs per hour. The packaging robotics was designed and manufactured by UK-based packaging line engineers Gebo Cermex. The unit works in two zones: one for handling the product and collation and the other for palletizing. As a result, Laita has had a significant production increase and has eliminated two packaging line zones where workers were very prone to musculoskeletal disorders. The entire process is controlled with a control panel that is easily understood and operated by maintenance workers. The robot has been designed to tilt conveniently and present its tools for cleaning or replacement when necessary.
Berry Plastics, a packaging manufacturer in Evansville, Indiana, discovered similar advantages when employing robotics for a top-loading case packer. The robot picks up empty jars from one end of a conveyor line using a vacuum system, rotates and inverts them and places them into a case. The system, designed by robotics manufacturer Yaskawa Moton in Miamisburg, Ohio, is controlled by a robot language using the Yaskawa Robot Gateway and so eliminates the need for Berry Plastics to employ extra staff to program the robot.
No Expensive Programmers Needed
Without the need to employ highly trained and expensive programmers for each robotic production line, packaging manufacturers can cut the costs of installing robotics, speed up the packaging processes and reduce operational costs all at the same time.