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Increasing productivity with automated palletising

13 May 2017

We look at three different applications which help to demonstrate the many benefits that can result from the installation of automated central palletising systems. 

The installation of a flexible palletising solution has helped Cadbury to improve productivity in its Sheffield facility through the installation of faster, more flexible palletising. It has also further strengthened Cadbury’s safety standards and reduced its carbon footprint. By increasing stacking heights to 1.7m, more products can be stacked on a single pallet - adding more pallets means a greater volume of stock is delivered using fewer vehicles and better utilising warehouse space.

CKF was asked to design and install a system which incorporates three robot-palletising cells, each comprised of an ABB IRB660 robot with a vacuum gripper together with a pallet handling system including pallet dispensers and high speed stretch wrappers.  The robots also have the ability to handle three separate pallet sizes with weights of up to 250 kilograms each, resulting in multiple box pick-up to reduce cycle times and maximise throughput.

Increasing line speeds
Another palletising solution from CKF has helped improve the versatility of the production plant and increase line speeds for a global snack producer. The objective of this project was to Bring the existing 11 production lines, housed in two separate factories, into a centralised palletising system, capable of handling the full range of pallet types and stacking patterns. 
The need to handle over 30 different products was a particular challenge as these included a variety of lightweight, delicate product types, packed in a diverse range of cardboard outers, sleeves and trays. Further challenges related to case orientation, variable centres-of-gravity, overall stability and susceptibility to twisting and misalignment through the buffer zones. These handling considerations extended from the basic conveyoring through to the robot tooling and spiral wrapping of the pallets. Stacking patterns included over 40 options across the full range of product types and formats.
“It was a 12-month programme with real complexity and we worked to a very strict timetable and alongside the existing operation to ensure no loss in production,” said Kevin Staines, sales director at CKF Systems. “That meant a full factory acceptance test of one of the three robot cells at our premises before installation. The new system incorporates effective interfacing, localised buffering and merge stations; while providing clearly defined routes for personnel and material movement. A series of spiral conveyors, inclined belts and driven roller systems have been configured to interface with the production lines and existing high level conveyors.”
The movement and control of the cases through the distribution area is monitored by barcode readers which check each individual outer and initiate merges or diverts. The menu selection from the main control panel determines the final destination of each outer and the distribution system performs the required actions to direct the cases accordingly; including a facility to remove unidentified outers while operating at high speeds and flow rates.
Integral to the system is a comprehensive control system and management interface plus associated product handling, wrapping, labelling and monitoring equipment. The control system incorporates a four-bay panel in the palletising area and a separate panel in the link area, both linked directly to a localised operator console. This centralised unit holds a full set of CSV files and contains the unique information relating to each product.
“Robots have increased the versatility of the 24/7 business. Labour costs are down, line speeds have improved and quality control has been tightened,” said Staines. “There have also been health & safety benefits and warehouse space can now be better utilised with packaging materials removed from the manufacturing area and product pallets delivered straight to despatch.”
Back to chocolate
At the Banbury manufacturing plant of Barry Callebaut, CKF was commissioned to design, build and install an integrated robotic central palletising solution. The new system provides greater flexibility and reliability, utilises limited floor area, simplifies operational procedures and reduces maintenance costs. It was also designed to increase cycle rates and overcome the challenges of picking up multiple sizes of boxes  weighing between 10 and 25kg. It is also fully compliant with the company’s health and safety disciplines.
Designed around a single robot cell with the ability to palletise three different SKU’s at the same time, the cell incorporates an ABB IRB 660 with a bespoke gripper to handle the different case sizes, weights and configurations. The case feed system comprises an interface that includes divert station and barcode detection, to direct the flow of designated cases to the robot cell and separate into three defined collation stations. Each station incorporates an identical conditioning section to orientate and collate the cases into defined rows and counts for the robot pick to create the associated pallet pattern. A dedicated pallet load station was positioned at the end of each collation station and the cell also included two separate layer sheet feed sections to handle both Chep and Euro pallet sized sheets.
The overall system included two dedicated pallet denesters, a loaded pallet discharge station and twin shuttle car. Operation is contained within a guard enclosure incorporating light beams, roller shutter door and interlocks to meet safety standards with zoned safety areas to maximise overall system efficiency. Reliability has increased and the single cell capabilities have more than doubled - from 300 to 700 cases per hour.
“We are delighted by the initial results,” said Mike Perkins, chief engineer at Barry Callebaut. “The new line fits perfectly with the company’s long-term capacity-increase model. It’s easy to operate, requires minimal maintenance and reinforces the company’s commitment to improving health and safety. We now have a system that is faster, more robust, requires minimal maintenance.”

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