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Robot palletising solution overcomes challenges to reap benefits

02 March 2018

An automated end-of-line solution utilising robots gave McVities a customised multi-line palletising system that met its very specific needs for compactness and flexibility. 

Seven Brillopak C2 KT400 robotic palletisers have now been running for over 18 months at Pladis McVities’ distribution centre in Ashby de la Zouch. Processing in excess of 60 SKUs, from seven different packing lines without the need for any tool changeovers, the robotic solution has transformed a previously labour intensive bottleneck into a seamless and efficient ten-case-per-minute palletising operation.

Automating the process was a challenge – not least because the lines are packing in excess of 60 SKUs into a number of different box sizes, with several product changeovers every day. This required a palletising solution that would be able to switch easily between multiple case sizes and accommodate new product types. At the same time, the system needed to be easy for both agency and in-house staff to operate and compact enough to fit into a small area on a mezzanine floor.

Optimising space
Brillopak investigated a number of layout options to fit within the mezzanine layout, quickly eliminating articulated robots due to weight and size. Palletising conveyors were also rejected because there was a pathway through the centre of the mezzanine floor that could not be obstructed. In the end, by modifying its robotic palletiser, Brillopak arrived at a solution that met all of the company’s criteria.

“The Brillopak solution met our needs in terms of layout, performance and price. The small footprint of the palletiser combined with the flexibility to handle 50 plus SKUs with no tooling changeover also had a big impact on our decision,” said Mike Hellier at Pladis Group.

The solution comprised four single cell palletisers for the manual pack stations, a further two KT400 palletisers for each flow wrapper and a dual cell palletiser for the high speed cartoner. Each system employed an Omron NJ Series control system incorporating motion control, communications and a separate safety circuit.

Brillopak engineers modified the palletiser to minimise its footprint and weight, optimised the Omron motion control and engineered a new servo driven robot head with adjustable torque to handle varying case dimensions without the need for a tool changeover.

“We optimised the Omron motion control to achieve fluid movements across all products. This eliminates the issue of damage to cases and their contents as a result of sudden speed changes at the start and end of a cycle,” said David Jahn, director at Brillopak. “We designed a new servo-driven robot head that can be programmed and manually adjusted for multiple case dimensions. Incorporating a variable control for the torque, this new head can palletise over 60 different case types.”

With insufficient space for accumulation on the line with the high-speed cartoner, Brillopak also modified its dual cell palletiser to accommodate the new servo driven head. This machine palletises from side to side with an internal safety gate rising to allow pallet removal without the need to stop the robot.

Ease of use
Traditionally, robots have been considered to be difficult to use, so Brillopak needed to ensure that personnel at all levels were confident in using the robots. Product set-up only requires keying in the SKU number or selecting from a drop down list – the rest is done automatically.

Changing between products is also straightforward – at the touch of a button, an operator can effect a product changeover without any tooling changeover, enabling consistent throughput of ten cases per minute on each line. This user-friendly design, underpinned by thorough operator training during commissioning, has resulted in staff feeling confident and happy operating the palletisers.

The seven robot cells have been running for over 18 months and paid for themselves within 15 months, thanks to reduced labour costs and increased efficiency. Pladis reports that the solution has achieved its objective of labour reduction and increased efficiency within a very small space.

The solution is also future-proofed, having the ability to adapt to the seasonal and range changes. Pallet layer patterns can be added in-house, ensuring that whenever new products or case sizes come on-line the company will be confident that the system will be up to the task.

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