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Italian cookie company stays competitive through investment, with its latest purchase a robotic monoblock case former/loader/sealer coupled with an automatic wraparound case packer.

At renowned Italian cookie company Cabrioni Biscotti srl, as its tagline suggests, “Ingredients make the difference.” Located in the hills of Emilia Romagna in Northern Italy, where signature components of Italian cuisine grow in great abundance and quality, Cabrioni is committed to creating products of excellence by using the highest-quality ingredients. These include fresh-laid eggs, fresh cream butter, and the finest varieties of Italian flour, malt, and honey. In addition, its cookies and wafers contain no artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, or dehydrated ingredients.

To remain competitive in the market, Cabrioni’s strategy since its founding in 1973 has been to invest heavily not only in its ingredients, but also in its operations. “We believe that investments are the best way to ensure the development of the company,” explains company CEO Stefano Cabrioni. “Over the years, we have invested heavily in infrastructure and automation, selecting highly qualified suppliers with whom we have established strategic partnerships. This approach has allowed usto obtaina positive return on investment, both economic and qualitative, in a relatively short time.”

Since 2005, the company has gradually expanded its production area, which today extendsover roughly 49,000 sq ft. Investments in infrastructure have been coupled with the automation of a number of its production lines. Most recently, in 2018, Cabrioni replaced the semi-automatic end-of-line operations for two production lines producing flow-wrapped wafers with a completely automated, robotic line from Cama. According to Cabrioni, the new line’s short ROI was justified by increased production efficiency and significant labor savings.

For this application, the company was looking for a system that could provide complete automation of carton and case packing of 20 different package formats at speeds greater than its existing semi-automated process could achieve. According to Cabrioni, the semi-automated line could handle only 50% of the company’s oven production.

Having already installed five Cama machines on other production lines, Cabrioni was confident in the supplier’s proposed solution for handling the packaged wafer. Says company founder Angelo Cabrioni, “Even at production levels, our philosophy is to invest in quality, high-tech machinery to optimize the packaging process and minimize waste andmachine downtime for repairs. We appreciated the solution proposed by Cama for the simplicity of the process and the reliability of the system that guarantees an efficiency rate over 95 percent.”

The new Cama packaging line consists of a model IF318 robotic monoblock system for carton forming, loading, and closing and a model FW748 wraparound case packer.

The IF318 robotic cartoner is equipped with three RB two-axis robots—one at each station—and iTrak movers driven by linear servo technology from Rockwell Automation that carry the cartons on a racetrack-style rail. Each station—carton forming, carton loading, and carton closing—works independently of the other two.

The packaging process begins with the robotic forming of four three-flap cartons at one time from flat blanks, some of which are constructed with a transparent window. The robot is equipped with a carriage-style pick-up head equipped with vacuum cups. After it has formed the cartons, the robot places them on iTrak movers—one carton per mover. From there, the cartons are conveyed on the movers to a buffer zone positioned before the carton-loading station, where they stop and wait for the four cartons ahead of them on the line to advance out of the loading station.

Meanwhile, at the carton-loading station, a multiple-pocket infeed system brings flow-wrapped wafers into position so that the monoblock’s second robot—another RB two-axis robot with carriage-style EOAT—can pick and place five packs of flow-wrapped wafers into each carton, four cartons at a time. After being loaded, the cartons are conveyed to a buffer zone before the last station—carton closing. When they leave the buffer zone, the cartons are conveyed past Nordson hot-melt glue nozzles and then to the closing station. Here, the third RB two-axis robot comes down onto four cartons at once, pressing them closed, and then lifts the sealed cartons from their iTrack movers onto a discharge conveyor.

The IF 318 features a pitchless carton indexing system, making carton-size changeover a fast and easy process. “In the cartoner, the changeover procedure is performed by the HMI program and also by replacing some mechanical items according to the different blank sizes,” explains Cabrioni.

After the cartons are discharged from the monoblock, they are conveyed to the FW748 case packer, where they are loaded into a preformed, wraparound display case or RSC shipper, in various configurations. After the cartons are loaded, they are closed and sealed. Before discharge, the cases are inspected by a photocell device that can detect non-glued flaps. Defective cases are conveyed onto a free-roller conveyor at the machine outfeed, while properly sealed cases are sent to a palletizer. Case-size changeovers are performed entirely through the HMI.

As Alessandro Rocca, Sales Engineering Director for Cama, explains, the robotic monoblock systemand the wraparound case packer are part of the company’s Break-Through Generation (BTG) range, which incorporates the latest Cama technological innovations. These include higher sanitary standards, improved, integrated cable-system routing (ICR), a flexible and compact configuration, user-friendly controls, energy-saving engineering, and easy recognition of format-change equipment. In addition, the electrical cabinets have been integratedinto the machine structure to gain space, while an easy-entry, open-profile solution guarantees safe and easy access for maintenance and cleaning. The magazine has been positioned 800-mm high forimproved operator ergonomics.

With the new equipment, Cabrioni can now produce 330 cartons/min, 15 cases/min, with 22 cartons/case.

Watch a video of the IF318 here.

Anne Marie Mohan
Senior Editor, Packaging World
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Rockwell Automation’s Kinetix 5700 servo system features a Kinetix 5700 regenerative bus supply and a Kinetix 5700 large frame drive. System is available in power ranges from 1.6 to 112 KW.

The Kinetix 5700 regenerative bus supply provides direct energy savings by regenerating excess energy and putting it back on the facility’s grid or making it available for plantwide use. It also allows plant workers to monitor energy usage over EtherNet/IP, so they can make better energy-related decisions.

In addition to reducing energy costs, the bus supply can help companies achieve consistent machine performance anywhere in the world. It performs common DC bus voltage regulation across the entire voltage input range, which helps protect connected assets from voltage dips and inconsistent power.

The Kinetix 5700 large frame drive is designed for machines with large axis counts and higher power requirements. An added large-frame inverter extends the power capability up to 112 kW. The drive is available in single- and dual-axis servos with advanced safety capability. The advanced safety features allow workers to put a machine into a safe state, so they can access it and perform maintenance without completely stopping production.

In addition, the large-frame drives include embedded runtime adaptive tuning and load observer technologies, which help reduce the time required for manual adjustments during commissioning.

These additions to the Kinetix portfolio deliver a significantly smaller overall system footprint to reduce cabinet space requirements by up to 70%, and single-cable technology can reduce wiring by up to 60%. The bus supply includes a built-in LC filter, which reduces the need for additional components, installation time and associated costs.

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A modular system with six sub-machines and a custom vibration conveyor gently packs pralines into trays and cartons at 500 packs/min.

Backed by 150 years of tradition, Polish confectioner Mieszko specializes in the creation of premium praline products filled with ingredients such as fresh fruit, crunchy nuts, rich liqueurs, and fine spirits. Its delectable sweets are so popular among Polish chocolate lovers that it sells more than 1.5 million boxes of its Amoretta cream-filled pralines each year alone, manufactured in its two plants in Ratibor, near Katowice, in southern Poland.

One of its most popular products is its Cherrissimo pralines, made from dark chocolate, cherries, dry alcohol, andfruit juice. The hemisphere-shaped chocolates are wrapped in colorful foil and are offered in formats that range from small gift packages to large assortment boxes. In order to meet increasing demand for this praline variety, Mieszko decided to automate the presorting and packaging process for Cherrissimo.

Among the main requirements for the packaging machinery were that it handle the delicate chocolate products extremely gently and that it accommodate more than 20 different packaging formats. Designing a 500-carton/min system equipped with six sub-machines, each one with its own robot, and a unique vibration unit, Gerhard Schubert GmbH was able to meet Mieszko’s needs.

At the first sub-machine, the plastic trays used to hold the assorted chocolates are picked with a robot from a magazine and are placed onto Schubert’s proprietary Transmodul single-axis, rail-based transport system. This station is followed by three TLM sub-machines with integrated TLM-F4 four-axis pick-and-place robots that fill the trays with product. Each one is supplied with product from three separate infeeds, which make up the custom-designed presorting vibration system.

Explains Michael Voelskow, Sales Account Manager at Schubert, “The first infeed conveyor delivers the wrapped chocolates unsorted in bulk. When transferring to a second conveyor, the products are no longer positioned one on top of the other, but next to each other in a single layer. The third conveyor, which follows immediately after, moves two steps forward and one step backward in an abrupt motion.” This motion is so perfectly balanced that any pralines lying on their round side are jolted onto their flat underside, while those products that are already correctly orientated remain that way.

After being correctly positioned, the pralines pass across a spreading belt for separation. A reflected-light scanner—part of an image recognition system developed by Schubert for packaging tasks involving large product ranges—detects the position of the products. This not only allows the position of the products to be calculated, but also the quality to be assessed: Only perfect pralines are picked up by the robots and placed into the plastic trays provided.

In order to handle the chocolates without damaging them, the F4 robots use soft, half-shell-shaped grippers adapted to the shape of the hemispherical products that use vacuum to gently transfer the pralines from the belt to the plastic trays.

In the next sub-machine, two F2 two-axis robots place the fully loaded trays into pre-erected, double-walled boxes and, depending on the format, place candy pads on the trays to protect the products. The line can also handle tray-style cartons, which are kept open by way of a custom-designed spreading tool that holds the lid open when the plastic trays are being inserted.

In addition to wrapped pralines, the system can also package unwrapped chocolates by pushing them from the tray onto the infeed belts without using the vibration unit. Tool-free changeovers between the various packaging configurations take just 15 to 20 minutes.

In the future, Mieszko plans to create other packaging variants, such as trays for very small batches that are inserted into the chain by hand. Says Tomasz Stiebler, Project Manager at Mieszko, “The system’s amazing flexibility is ideal for us. We can process more than 20 different packaging combinations. I’m also enthusiastic about the tool-free conversion between formats.”

With the new Schubert praline packaging line, Mieszko has greatly expanded the complex packaging process for Cherrissimo pralines and is now in a position to significantly increase its production.

Anne Marie Mohan
Senior Editor, Packaging World
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AstroNova launches the QuickLabel® QL-120X tabletop digital color label printer designed for on-demand digital color label printing. An industry-first two-year warranty covers the printer and the printhead.

Equipped with next-generation printhead technology, the QL-120X prints three times more labels (over the life of the printheads) than the original QL-120 and beats competitive printers on the market on several key performance parameters. Four individual, snap-in, color printheads allow for rapid on-site changeover, eliminating replacement downtime or costly printer refurbishment. The printer and printhead technology are covered under an industry best two-year standard warranty. With these improvements, the total cost of ownership is reduced by up to 35% compared with competitive pigment-based labeling technologies, resulting in significant savings over the lifetime of the printer.

“The QL-120X combines vibrant color quality and exceptional resolution producing sharp, crisp, clear images and fast print speeds to deliver what we expect will be the best customer experience on the market,” said AstroNova President and CEO Greg Woods. “This next-generation printer is designed to operate for extended periods in rigorous production environments, making it the perfect color label printing solution for an array of industries such as food and beverage, biomedical products, nutraceuticals, hardware, and cosmetics.”

The QL-120X enables customers to:

• Use one printer for all their label needs: Simple to install and easy-to-use, the QL-120X enables users to print labels as narrow as 0.5” or as wide as 4.2” on the same device, using a wide variety of media types ranging from matte to high gloss paper and synthetics, all using the same dye-based ink, delivering unmatched durability in a wide range of applications.

• Streamline production labeling: Every QL-120X includes one free license to CQL Pro, QuickLabel’s advanced labeling software, which allows users to effortlessly design, manage, and print labels.

• Save money on inks and other media: The QL-120X delivers superb 1200 dpi print quality, unmatched by any printer in its class while delivering printed labels at a savings of up to 35% over competing pigment ink-based technologies.

• Ready for enterprise networks: The QL-120X features a native printer driver and utility for Windows®, allowing the printer to be seamlessly deployed in a wide variety of business operating environments with its built-in network functionality.

“The design and benefits of the QL-120X reflect our philosophy of being a strategic partner to our customers by providing not merely a printer but a complete color labeling solution,” Woods said. “In terms of quality, speed, and cost efficiency, the QL-120X raises the bar and sets a new standard for on-demand digital color label printing.”

The QuickLabel QL-120X is now available.

Click here to view a video of the printer.

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Melinda, an Italian consortium of 4,000 apple farmers, has leveraged digital print technology to engage with its farmers with a new personalized marketing campaign.

Using an HP PageWide T1170 Press, Melinda worked with corrugated packaging converter Ghelfi Ondulati to print 1000 farmers’ photos, each with a personal message, on 3.2 million carry-home apple boxes.

The objective of the campaign was to reinforce the brand image of quality apples through the story of quality farmers. The campaign concept called for photos of Melinda’s many farmers, together with a personal quote, to be printed on the smaller, take-home sized boxes. Before embarking on the project, Melinda validated the concept through a neuro-engagement study, which showed that fruit boxes featuring photos of people’s faces attracted more attention, handling, and purchases that boxes without the photos.

“Transparency is essential. We want to enable consumers to look at the face of the producers, to see real people selling real products. It couldn’t be models or actors,” says Andrea Fedrizzi, Marketing and Communications Manager, Melinda.

The 1000 different versions were printed on the top liner, which Ghelfi Ondulati then converted and finished, using food-safe true water-based inks. “We needed the right partner to be able to print the photos and quotes in a dynamic way on the boxes. It was obvious to us that HP technology would be the best for the job,” notes Fedrizzi.

Melinda plans to expand the campaign to include even more farmers in the near future, featuring as many of the remaining 3,000 farmers from the consortium who want to participate. Melinda is also working on a mini-website, due to launch with the expanded packaging campaign.

The HP PageWide T1170 is a six-colour PageWide ultra high-volume inkjet web press for pre-print corrugated packaging that helps packaging converters enable more flexibility and meet fast-changing brand needs.

Pat Reynolds
VP Editor Emeritus
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See it at PACK EXPO Las Vegas, Booth #LS-6314! Kawasaki showcases the duAro2 SCARA dual-arm collaborative robot featuring an increased vertical stroke and payload capacity.

The duAro2 is equipped with the same innovative qualities of Kawasaki’s original collaborative dual-arm SCARA robot, duAro, with an extended vertical stroke and increased payload. duAro robots are a cost-effective robotic solution for packaging, material handling, inspection, machine tending, assembly and dispensing applications. Their easy teaching functionality and mobile collaborative design make them ideal for short product cycles and frequent changeovers.

Increased vertical stroke and payload capacity

While the series' inaugural duAro1 model specializes in horizontal motion, the duAro2 improves upon its capabilities, extending the range of its arms' vertical stroke by 400 mm (from 150 to 550 mm) and increasing the maximum payload of its arms by 1 kg per arm (from 2 to 3 kg per arm, 6 kg total).

Innovative design

The wrist assembly has been redesigned, enabling the robot's arms to fold like humans. This linkage design increases the vertical stroke while keeping the overall range of motion compact, and allows duAro2 to be used for an even wider variety of applications such as packaging and rack loading. The new option to detach the duAro2's arms from the controller further enhance the cobot's installation versatility, making it adaptable to a wide variety of needs in manufacturing sites, such as installation on conveyors.

Controller

For optimal performance, the duAro2 robot runs on one of Kawasaki’s industry-leading F series controllers, which was built specifically for duAro robots. The F61 Controller features options for Bluetooth connectivity, encoder-supported conveyor synchronization, and integrated 2D vision, among others. Previously, the D61 Controller required a separate computer dedicated to image processing in order to utilize the vision functionality.

Now, the F61 can handle image processing alone using an optional camera and software, making it a cost-effective and efficient solution.

This controller architecture also allows for more flexible installation options. The controller can be housed inside the duAro2’s slim, wheeled cabinet (integrated installation option) or on its own, connected to the robot through cables (separated installation option). In the separated option, the arms are detached, enabling the use of duAro robots in almost any layout.

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PMMI awards three scholarships totaling $15,000 for processing, mechanical and electrical engineering.

The PMMI Foundation, a part of PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, announces the winners of three $5,000 scholarships to students studying food and beverage processing, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering at four-year PMMI Education partners.

The recipients of these scholarships are:

  • Daniel Mauger, Purdue University Northwest, Electrical Engineering Technology
  • Hitech Moryani, Illinois Institute of Technology, Food Process Engineering
  • Jacob Zaguri, University of Illinois at Chicago, Mechanical Engineering

“These students represent the great potential of the next generation workforce to transform the packaging and processing industry,” says Kate Fiorianti, senior education manager, PMMI. “The application criteria, which includes notable industry involvement, means we are recognizing the best and brightest and giving them resources to transfer academic success into professional excellence.”

The PMMI Foundation awards over $200,000 in funds each year to students enrolled in PMMI Education Partner programs, demonstrating PMMI’s commitment to developing future leaders of the packaging and processing industry.

There are many opportunities to contribute to the PMMI Foundation at the upcoming PACK EXPO Las Vegas and co-located Healthcare Packaging EXPO (Sept. 23–25, 2019; Las Vegas Convention Center). Proceeds from The Amazing Packaging Race and the CareerLink LIVE @ PACK EXPO interview and networking event contribute directly to PMMI’s scholarship offerings. The PMMI Foundation also accepts donations to support its initiatives.To donate, mail checks to PMMI Education & Training Foundation, P.O. Box 791042, Baltimore, MD 21279-1042.

For more information about the PMMI Foundation, go to pmmi.org/foundation. For details about student activities and to register online visit packexpolasvegas.com and hcpelasvegas.com.

About PMMI and the PMMI Foundation

The PMMI Foundation works to grow awareness of careers in packaging and processing and provide assistance to schools and programs that develop students to excel in the industry. It offers financial support to students studying packaging, food and beverage processing, engineering and mechatronics at partner schools throughout the U.S. and Canada. Since its establishment in 1998, the PMMI Foundation has awarded more than $2 million in academic scholarships and donations.

The PMMI Foundation is a part of PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, which represents more than 850 North American manufacturers and suppliers of equipment, components and materials as well as providers of related equipment and services to the packaging and processing industry.

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Modern Mfg. Services launches the MBMS-24 bubble mailer system designed to meet E-commerce needs. It is available in either single or dual lane configurations. Options include in-line lamination and custom widths as a special order.

This system uses state of the art technology to improve productivity, all while reducing downtime and maintenance costs. With the MBMS-24, the web movement is separated from the separated from the sealing functions of the system. This enables the system to achieve higher running speeds, while maintaining optimal sealing quality. It also enables the easy lamination of coated paper or multi-layer film to the bubble.

An integral part of the MBMS-24 is the Inteliseal system used on all Modern Manufacturing Services pouch/bag making products. With the Inteliseal all seal heads are independently controlled from the control panel on each head or at the main HMI (Human Machine Interface). This unique capability allows an operator to set each seal head so that cycle distance, seal compression distance and seal force vary based on the demands of the film being converted, all with minimal bubble damage.

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Faced with a competitive labor pool and unable to expand in size, John Griffin, Director of Operations at a consumer tooling company, turned to the only variable over which he had any control: automation.

Tucked away in a rural valley in Ashland, OR, where labor is hard to come by, fourth-generation, family-owned company Darex needed to add more products to its lines without hiring more people. The company designs, engineers, and calibrates sharpening machines for drills, knives, and the like, all under one roof. Brands manufactured there include Darex industrial bit sharpeners, Drill Doctor professional and DIY drill bit sharpeners, Work Sharp Outdoor knife and tool sharpeners, and Work Sharp Culinary kitchen knife sharpeners.

Darex is repeatedly voted one of the top businesses in Southern Oregon to work for, despite the fact that for a long time, many of its jobs involved repetitive, ergonomically unfriendly, manual tasks. In 2017, Darex Director of Operations John Griffin sought automation to take his most valuable asset, his floor operators, off of those types of tasks.

“Basically, I needed to do more with the same amount of resources,” he says. Griffin considered automation and started looking into Universal Robots, specifically a series of cobots he had seen at several trade shows. “They appeared to be simple to program, and even vendors that weren’t selling robotics were using these robots in their booths,” he recalls. “So that kind of told me, ‘Wow, this really is the most popular one.’”

One of the reasons for cobots’ widespread use is their built-in safety mechanisms, which automatically stop the cobot arm when it encounters obstacles in its route. Once a risk assessment is performed, the cobots can then operate without safety caging. “We have a small production area, so I wanted to have something that wasn’t going to need a new dedicated space,” says Griffin. “It was great to be able to fit the cobots right into the middle of a production line, without taking up more space than a person would. Now I can have people work right next to the cobots without a bunch of caging.”

Ultimately, the company implemented Universal Robots cobots, first in its screw-driving operations, later in case-erecting and case-packing applications. The project quickly scaled from the initial install into a full-blown automation line with multiple workstations programmed via the Universal Robots PLC and HMI interface. The entire system was developed in-house, and the company continues with DIY solutions built on the Universal Robots platform. But looking back, Darex’s first foray into collaborative robotics two years ago was really just a weather balloon, a test to see what advantages could be realized.

Toe in the water for robotic automation
“Once we had a cobot in the facility, we quickly realized there was a ton of stuff we could do with it. We immediately put it into a position where it was screwing [sharpener] housings together. Traditionally we would have an operator with a pneumatic screw gun retrieving a screw from a screw presenter, sticking it into the machine, and driving it to torque—very monotonous, very ergonomically unfriendly work,” Griffin says. To alleviate the operators from this undesirable task, Darex chose the UR3 tabletop cobot, Universal Robots’ smallest cobot with a reach of 19.7 in. and a payload of 6.6 lb. The company was able to keep the exact same setup with the screw presenter and the screw gun; the only thing that differed was that the cobot was now doing the task. When the job was done manually, operators would sometimes miss screw insertions as the holes in the housings were hard to see into. “The UR3 hits all the screws all the time and if not, it will immediately notify us,” says Sam Jacobson, Production Engineering Supervisor at Darex. “We have definitely seen an increase in product quality due to the cobots.”

When Darex first received the UR3, Griffin was surprised by the out-of-box experience. “One of my engineers received the unit; he essentially took it out of the box and within an hour had it doing something just by goofing around with it,” he recalls. “It was intuitive enough that he was able to get it to do something really quickly. I was very impressed.”

The success of the screw-driving application quickly spurred Darex to look at its whole assembly line in a new light. “Since our first application went so smoothly, we decided to up the ante and add the conveyor system and all the PLCs controlling things like the pneumatic press and add another robot from Universal Robots on the case-packing side of it,” says Jacobson, who looked at several different solutions to control the entire system. “I actually decided to use the Universal Robot controller to program and handle the entire line, using Modbus communication to connect the different PLCs through the cobot’s teach pendant,” he explains. “I could program that entire thing so quickly, I was really happy with that decision.”

UR5 in place of case erectors
Before choosing Universal Robots’ UR5 mid-sized robot for a case-erecting application, the company considered using more traditional mechanical case erectors. “But they were limited in what they would do, and they only worked on a certain range of cases. We wanted more flexibility,” says Griffin, explaining that folding the cases into shape and adding products in them is a fast-paced task that employees did not like to do for extended periods of time. “While many of our products are shipped out as four packs, some of them are singles, and we do special packaging for certain customers. Amazon, for instance, asks for many of our sharpeners to be in a shippable container [Ships In Own Container (SIOC)] so they don't have to rebox it. We have a lot of different of case-packing configurations, and they’re only getting more numerous.”

The UR5 took over and is now handling the entire case-packing cycle, which starts with the cobot removing each die-cut corrugated shipper out of a cassette and folding it into shape. It places the folded box on a staging platform, pushes it into a squeeze chute that holds the shape of the box without the need for tape, grabs four individual cartons as they arrive on the conveyor, and loads them into the case. When the case is full, the cobot closes the lid and pushes the case through a 3M taping station for both bottom and top taping.

DIY mentality
Griffin stresses the importance of in-house configurability and flexibility for the cobots and corresponding PLC controllers. For instance, Darex added an area sensor made by SICK to the case-packing area. When an operator enters that area, the sensor slows the robot down. Most of the time, operators don’t need to be in the case-packing area, so Griffin has the robot running at full speed. But there are occasions when an operator could need to enter.

“We actually put that sensor in place so that anytime somebody walks into that immediate area, the robot slows down slightly and is more sensitive to external inputs,” Griffin says. Speaking of DIY, the end effector on the U5 case erector itself was also an in-house job. The 3D-printed end effector uses a pneumatic suction configuration from McMaster-Carr to open and fold corrugated cases and pack them.

“We have several 3D printers in house,” Griffin says. “We have a lot of fixturing that's 3D printed, and we can quickly prototype items with them, so they’re a pretty great feature to have on site.”

The next task Darex is looking to automate—again with an in-house solution, of course—is palletizing cases as they exit the tape-sealing station on the outbound conveyor. “Many of our products, cartons, and cases, though not identical, are very similar in size and shape, so it seems like that would be a good next application,” Griffin says. “It would also keep our employees from having to reach and bend over all the time. Looking at the assembly line we’ve already created, we could also easily take that and replicate it two or three more times in our production area and accomplish the same thing with other products.

“We would probably buy another cobot from Universal Robots for that since we have had great luck with that particular brand, and we already have several people who do the integration and programming for UR robots, so we have some institutional knowledge there.”

End of line and what’s next
As the cases arrive into the case-packing station, they are conveyed via a conveyor to a checkweigher, where they are weighed to ensure there are no missing or extraneous items within the carton. If under- or over-weights occur, a signal from the check station is sent to the UR5 to set the carton aside. “Instead of just alarming out and stopping the entire line, we get rid of the case and go right back to what we were doing. It’s a really neat feature that we programmed into it,” Griffin says.

After the packed, taped cases leave the tape sealer, shipping labels are affixed by hand. Each day the company may change configurations five or six times, and Amazon-bound SIOC shippers present another wrinkle (see Dealing with Amazon below).

“We obviously have a different label for each configuration. Currently, that is done manually, but as part of our next iteration, we are adding that automatic labeling capacity to our automated line,” Griffin says. “This will be in-line right after the tape sealer. The product will flow through that, become automatically labeled, and then will be ready for palletizing.”

Currently, palletizing involves 288 units hand-configured per pallet. They're palletized in production, then wheeled back to shipping. Once Darex receives the purchase order from Amazon, it then can construct the label or reconstruct the pallet.

“That's the function that we're going to automate,” Griffin says. “But first, we are taking our two manual lines and reconfiguring those with a conveyor system, which feels like the first step in getting the movement of product automated. Then we’re looking at automated stretch wrappers and more. Then our plan is to have all products basically flow into a case-packing station, so everything flows down three assembly lines, gets conveyed to a case-packing station—where it’s likely that we'll have two UR5s case-packing the products—and then palletizing gets done by one or two [heavier-payload] UR10s.”

Dealing with Amazon
“Amazon orders come in on any given day, and two days later, we have to ship out the product. For us, that sometimes means 10,000 or 20,000 packages, and each one of those gets a special label,” Griffin says. “We don't have the capacity to build those all at once. So we prebuild things. Once we get the Amazon order, we create the label, hand-apply those labels to each box in that two-day time frame and prepare those for shipping. We are looking at creating a station that would robotically unload a pallet, add a label, and re-palletize. That functionality should be one of our next projects, as far as automation goes.”

The company ships to Amazon in two styles: The first is a SIOC corrugated container that the product is directly placed into. There is no other carton, nor any ornamentation.

“We also ship to Amazon a product in a printed container that you could display at retail. Then that is put into another corrugated case. So Amazon is ordering both ways,” Griffin says. “They are increasing the SIOC versus the retail version. So it is slowly becoming more and more SIOC, but it's not completely one way or the other yet.”

Both styles go through the automated packaging line and use the UR3 robot for the screw-driving application. However, the single SIOC-style shippers naturally skip the robotic case-packing station near the end of the line.

ROI in less than a year, 30% efficiency increase
Not having to spend resources on expensive and cumbersome safety guarding also helped make the collaborative robots attractive price-wise. “For the ROI on purchasing the cobots, I initially predicted it would take about 16 months,” says Griffin, who was happy to see the UR cobots pay for themselves in less than a year. “I’m very pleased with what we did. There are several benefits of us having added automation to our production line. We’re running about 30-percent more efficiently on that particular production line. I have more flexibility, as it takes fewer staff to run that line, so I can focus people into different areas and run different products.” Instead of only building that product twice a week, Darex can now build it four times per week.

The contest to become Darex’s new robot technician
When Darex initially bought the cobots, the production supervisor was trying to think of ways to get the production team excited about having a robot amongst them. He also needed a dedicated staff member on the line to be the robot technician who could oversee all robot operations. “So I came up with this little competition,” says Griffin. “I gave everybody the UR Academy web address, told them to study up on this and invited them to compete for the job, using the knowledge from the Academy.” The UR Academy consists of nine interactive, online modules that cover the basic UR cobot programming and setup. Three weeks later, Darex held several rounds of contests where employees were required to program the cobots to perform simple pick-and-place tasks. The winner was 26-year-old Brittany Mohrman who had enthusiastically joined the contest. “It was really exciting to get the opportunity to do something different, so I jumped right in, learned all I could, aiming to beat out the competition,” she says, admitting she was initially a bit intimidated by the cobot. “But it was so interesting to see what you can make it do, and how you can change it in so many different ways. The UR training taught me things like understanding different program cycles, adjusting waypoint changes, and knowing where the tool center point of gravity on the robot is. My job is definitely more interesting now.”

How UR came to control the assembly line
Sam Jacobson, Production Engineering Supervisor at Darex, had several different options when considering how to control the assembly line with the conveyor and all the different substations. “I considered ladder logic and different programming options using external computers, but then I started investigating and learning about Modbus,” he says. “When I learned that UR had that functionality, I quickly decided to make UR the main controller.” This approach allowed Jacobson to set up a PLC at each station on the assembly line and, through a switch on the PLC, control all the inputs and outputs directly through the UR cobot’s teach pendant using the Modbus communication protocol. “All I have to do on the UR teach pendant is hit a button, and I can turn off or on any output and look at any of the inputs on any of my sensors in real time all across the entire conveyor line,” he explains.

Jacobsen read up on the Modbus setup using free materials and example programs on UR’s support website, but went into this project with no prior robotic programming exposure. “It was a lot of fun, really. The way the block diagram and everything is set up, showing a flow, makes it super easy and intuitive to do,” he says, emphasizing the step-by-step approach. “You can do something really simple and set up a bunch of waypoints, but as you delve more into the programming, you can figure out ways to do it more efficiently by using for-loops and if statements. But you don’t have to do that stuff right away. I started simple and then gradually added more complicated stuff such as threads where you’re doing simultaneous programs. That makes it really powerful.”

Matt Reynolds
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