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Robot stacks cheese with ease

15 December 2010

A KUKA robot has turned the tricky, cumbersome task of palletising large 30kg boxes of cheese into a quick, agile operation at one of Britain’s oldest cheesemakers

The high payload KR 100-2 PA model is being used at Barber’s Maryland Farm in Somerset as part of an automated packing line, designed by integration specialist Güdel to handle 250 cheese blocks an hour.

The lightweight robot, supplied by Halesowen-based KUKA Automation + Robotics, is equipped with a bespoke finger gripper tool to pick up the hefty, wooden containers from a heavy-duty roller conveyor system.

As a box reaches the palletising station, it is flipped on to its side ready to be lifted by the gripper, which also features a pair of plungers to keep the load in place.

The robot is programmed to stack 60 boxes on to a two-way pallet, which is then transported by forklift truck to a storage facility where the cheese is matured. The system is also used to palletise 25kg boxes of butter.

Barber’s was not only keen to develop an automated solution to replace the arduous manual packing and stacking process, but also improve the reliability of its box strapping operation, explained Julian Ing, head of engineering.

The new system means packing staff are now only required to put the cheese blocks into boxes and apply lids before placing them on to the roller conveyor belt unit where they are passed to the automated strapping and palletising stations, he added.

“It’s a real success story and everyone is very pleased with the way the system is running. We spent quite a lot of time on developing the right solution, especially as the location for the cell offered a very small footprint and the challenges of a low, sloping roof and busy forklift truck access area,” said Julian.

“As well as helping to address health and safety concerns by reducing the amount of manual handling, the switch to automation has also achieved a more efficient strapping process, an important part of the operation that had previously been problematic,” he stated.

KUKA’s KR 100-2 PA, part of a dedicated range of palletising robots, is capable of stacking pallets up to 3m high and is designed to cut cycle times and lower production costs.

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