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Getting ahead of the competition with cobots

13 March 2023

A fine foods packing plant in Vietnam has adopted a collaborative robot (cobot) to help it meet growing demand for its cashew nuts, while also allowing it to make better use of the time and skillsets of its employees.

The Dan D Pak plant uses the cobot to place bagged nuts in cartons, working around the clock to meet increasing demand for its products from across the globe.  

One of the main motivations behind the adoption of robotic automation was to protect the health and safety of staff. Owner of Dan D Pak, Mr Dan On, takes up the story: “Robots are precise across hundreds of bags of nuts. There are 70 cases on a stack – each weighing 11 kg. The work is very intensive over a long period of time and there is a risk of injury.” 

The company also made the decision to automate, owing to rising labour costs in Vietnam. “The pandemic proved that automation is the only answer if you really want to sustain output and be competitive in the industry,” continued Mr Dan. 

Because there was no room in the plant for a conventional industrial robot, ABB recommended the use of one of its GoFa cobots as a solution. Designed to work safely alongside people handling payloads up to 5kg, it does not require safety barriers and gates which take up space. 

Although the company has used ABB FlexPicker robots in its plants in Vietnam, the US and Canada, this is its first experience of using collaborative robots. “Initially, we were working at a set packing speed of 22 bags per minute, with each bag weighing just under 1kg,” explained Mr Dan. “Just before delivery of the GoFa, we upgraded our packing equipment to adopt a much faster scale and a faster bagger, giving us a capacity of 35-36 bags per minute. We realised that we needed a second unit to match this high speed.” 

A suction gripper is used to pick up two bags at a time and place them in cartons, with each load weighing 2kg. When the job was performed manually, workers could only pick up one bag at a time. One worker could pick up 18 bags a minute – when the line was upgraded with a faster bagger, two people were needed to meet demand. 

“As well as helping us meet our productivity targets, the cobot is also very flexible, being able to manoeuvre and turn around easily. It can also be easily moved to other positions in the plant if needed,” continued Mr Dan. “The cobot can also deal with the changeability of the product – it is quick to set up and we are happy that it will have the ability to cope with more products in the future.” 

A competitive advantage
One of the main benefits of cobots is their ability to move to 24/7 production without risking overworking the staff. The use of the robots also allowed staff to be retrained to become multi-skilled and work anywhere in the plant on multiple tasks. 

Competitors of The Dan D Pak use many more people, which drives up costs. “Using the latest technologies to help our people to be more productive enables us to maximise our competitiveness,” added Mr Dan. “GoFa works well with people, so our staff support it and have been asking for more robots. We have just built a new plant and are hungry for more automation.” 

The company has ambitions to use robots for tasks such as logistics, automated racking systems and inventory management. “Within six months, we will perform inventory control by robots, which will help to free up a dozen staff for other tasks in the factory,” concluded Mr Dan. “Using the robots has also provided the opportunity for staff to develop their skills by enabling them to learn how to program and operate them.” 

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