Supplement Company Reaches New Heights With Robotic Unloading

The need for their new facility to hit production and financial targets, an international supplement manufacturer was seeking ways to undergo important processes more efficiently and with more ergonomic labor for its factory workers.


At the top of this list was the process of bringing trays of gummies from their push carts to the top of an automatic weigh filler machine 15ft above the factory floor. IAS implemented an automation system that reduced the number of allocated workers, relieved remaining workers from the most strenuous tasks, and sped up the overall process.




The Challenge


The manufacturer needed a way to automate the process of removing stacks of trays full of gummies from carts, dumping the gummies into the weigh filler machine, and restacking the empty trays back onto bare carts. If this process would be left for manual processing it would have produced variety of shortcomings. First, the ergonomic and safety issues of team members climbing up stairs with full trays while others descended with empties would have been quite problematic. Secondly, it would demand a small team of workers be allocated and previous indicators showed that they would still not be able to keep up with the rates coming from the production area.



The Solution


IAS overcame the considerable height differential required by selecting a shelf-mounted variant of the KUKA KR 120. This robot option moves the second axis motor out in front of the robot and enables reaching much farther below its mounting point than a standard robot configuration. The robot was then mounted near the midpoint of its path to perform drastic moves below and above itself.



A cart indexing system was custom designed by IAS to allow operators to queue up a long string of product that would keep the robot cell well feed for a long timeframe. Once a cart was fully unloaded at the robot operating area, it would continue to move along the indexer and be used to stack the empty trays that the robot had dumped. It would continue to be indexed before reaching a designated area protected by light curtains where operators could remove the cart without stopping the system and transfer it back to the filling area.




Since the robot would be operating near consumable product, the end-of-arm-tool was designed with sanitary considerations in mind. During material handling tests it was found that product would sometimes stick together and not fully drop out fast enough when being flipped downward. This led to the robot’s gripper being outfitted with a pneumatic vibration unit that would shake the tray at the point of dumping to actively promote product evacuation.



Results


The resulting system meant that a few shop personnel could now bring full carts to the system to assure it was always well fed and all operator interaction was done at ground level, without any lifting. The ease of maintaining full carts in the indexer meant that the robot was able to match the ambitious product rates required by the production area. Furthermore, the reduction in necessary staff freed up talent for other high impact activities as more of the new facility comes online.

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