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Fragile freight: palletizing chicken eggs with the KR QUANTEC

26 May 2022

Farmers all over the world automate egg palletizing with Meggson. This is because the robot-based systems that the Dutch company designs and builds make up to 108,000 eggs per hour ready for travel and protect the health of employees. 

Large laying hen farms are the core target group of the Meggson company in Ede, the Netherlands. After all, moving 30,000, 50,000 or even 100,000 hen eggs per hour without breaking one is as complicated as it is physically demanding. "Until a few years ago, packing and palletizing eggs was pure manual labor," reports Gijs Thomassen, director of Meggson. "In 2009, a customer watched us do this work and asked if it couldn't be automated." No sooner said than done.

From pure manual labor to robot-based automation with KUKA 
The company, which has operated under the name "Cobot Automation" since its founding in 1997, developed its first automation solution for handling raw eggs. With success. Cobot Automation had been founded as a mechanical engineering company and had supplied many farmers from the beginning. Now the team increasingly specialized in poultry farms. As a result, the Dutch company won enthusiastic customers throughout Europe, Turkey and the USA - and increasingly incorporated KUKA robots into its automation solutions. Since May 2021, the company has had a name that fits its specialization: Meggson. After all, eggs are the focus here.

Relieve employees, prevent back pain
A chicken egg weighs from under 53 grams (weight class S) to over 73 grams (weight class XL). Up to 10,000 chicken eggs fit on a pallet, so employees transport the typical transport containers for 30 chicken eggs - cellulose egg humps or plastic hatching trays - in stacks or layers. These weigh an average of 7.5 kilograms and must be transported, arranged and secured on the pallet at considerable speed. Gijs Thomassen speaks of "hard physical work that is constantly repetitive." A common consequence: back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders. A KUKA robot, on the other hand, never tires of such sequences. Even better: it performs them quickly, efficiently and extremely gently. What's more, it is also suitable for winding and narrow spaces where linear systems for transport and palletizing do not fit. 

Up to 108,000 eggs per hour
In addition to other systems developed in-house, Meggson therefore offers automation solutions, each of which has a KR QUANTEC with a special gripper at its heart. In each case, the KUKA robot is compact enough to allow extremely flexible cell design, and impresses with its precision and reach. The grippers are designed to cope with different materials, such as cellular and plastic. Palletizing eggs is just as successful as placing empty hatchery trays or egg humps in transport trolleys or placing them on a conveyor belt. The robots use laser sensors to detect where they can pick up their respective cargo. 

The ROBOT TP300 automation solution, for example, makes it possible to arrange up to 108,000 eggs per hour on pallets and to place the empty containers on a conveyor belt in between. From here, the egg humps and brood hordes are transported away - either sorted out or cleaned and refilled, depending on their condition. But Meggson's automation solutions can do even more. Among other things, they are convincing when it comes to loading and unloading egg packing machines, palletizing crates full of eggs, and handling hatchery trays. They are also compatible with all types of egg packing machines.

For its flexible, high-performance solutions, Meggson has relied on KUKA robots from the very beginning. It is important to the integrator to provide the best possible relief for farmers, and the 20 Meggson employees in turn feel optimally supported by KUKA. "This is the proverbial German quality," emphasizes Gijs Thomassen. "KUKA makes the best robots, brings many years of know-how, and that strengthens our trust in KUKA." "Working with KUKA robots is easy," adds Gerwin van de Geer, product manager at Meggson. "The first automation solution for eggs was still relatively complex to program. But once everything was running, we were able to reproduce it over and over again." The robots work with the KUKA KR C4 controller, and after a short training session, customers can usually manage on their own. "KUKA has designed the perfect program that our farmers can handle well," van de Geer points out. "That's why they are very interested in working with a system from KUKA. And if the farmers are happy, so are we! " 

Simplify energy-sapping processes
One of these satisfied customers is the Salomons Group, based in Dronten, the Nether-lands. More than 120,000 laying hens currently live on the associated farms. The group's largest free-range farm has been home to a customized version of the ROBOT TP300 system since March 2020. An employee checks and sorts the hens' eggs from the barn so that only the intact ones end up on the conveyor belt, from where they are automatically arranged in egg racks. The egg humps also reach the KR QUANTEC type KR 120 R3100-2 in its cell via a conveyor belt. With its wide stainless steel gripper, the KUKA robot picks up twelve filled egg humps at once in a flowing motion - three layers of four humps, each containing 30 eggs. Gently, it sets them down on the pallet. The whole process takes 30 seconds. It takes the robot three times to complete one layer of the pallet. 

Powerhouse with sensitivity
The KR QUANTEC then places a separating layer on the eggs to secure the fragile cargo. Six layers of eggs, 6,480 in total, fit on a Salomons pallet. In between, the KR QUANTEC moves empty containers to a second conveyor belt, from where they can be moved out of the room and prepared for reuse. In total, the system makes 36,000 eggs per hour ready for transport, with maximum reliability and minimal risk of breakage. In the past, two to three employees loaded pallets here on a piecework basis - now one takes over quality control, while the others have found less physically demanding tasks on the farm.

No egg is lost 
"We at Salomons Group love to find solutions that simplify processes," emphasizes Klaas-jan Salomons, the managing director of the family-owned company. Even before, Salo-mons says, the company used KUKA robots and enjoyed working with Meggson. But the new palletizing solution can do even more. One of the things Salomons appreciates about it is that "when a barn is changed, leftover eggs that do not fill a full lift can be temporarily stored on the pallet. These are then transported on a day later. "No egg is forgotten or lost. 

Room for innovation and expansion
The Salomons Group is on an expansion course, and a plant is currently being built in Ghana - where chicken eggs are very expensive. For many people in Ghana, a professio-nal laying hen operation means the chance to feed their families. The team at Meggson is happy to help free up resources for entrepreneurs like the Salomons family to plan and implement such projects. For Gijs Thomassen, this is an incentive to keep develo-ping the company's own automation solutions for layer farms, because: "They improve working conditions for employees and at the same time the palletizing of eggs can be better controlled, which increases the quality of the output." 

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