Multiple pack format demands sees biscuit maker switch to robots
Jean Marc Passemard, sales promotion manager for Cermex, told this publication that with increasing variation in biscuit products and package configurations, a trend driven by the fickle nature of consumers and the need for greater brand differentiation, manufacturers want technology that boosts packing speed while allowing rapid format changeovers.
And he said that Arnott’s sought to move from hand packing of its 58 different SKUs in a variety of case sizes and formats to automated case packing, while also changing its secondary packaging from RSCs to wrap around blanks and aiming to get a pack speed of 175 packets per minute.
To address those challenges, Passemard said that Cermex engineers integrated robotics into the supplier's WB45 wrap around case packers, and also modified gripping tooling so that the heads are composed of 30 to 50 mini suction cups. He said this adaption of machinery ensures product integrity and adhesion while loading the flow-packed biscuits, and the elimination of multi-lane guides on the product infeed allows a changeover time of 25 minutes maximum.
“The Fanuc robotics used in three of the WB45 case packers enable the machines greater flexibility in terms of packing different case formats, while the adjustments to the infeed system ensures it is applicable to the needs of Arnotts in relation to product shape and pack speed.
Furthermore, the R&D team at Cermex invested a huge amount of time in assessing the vacuum gripping challenges around flow-packs and developed the idea of 30 to 50 suction cups to ensure consistent adherence with the biscuit wrap,” stressed the sales manager.
He explained that each robot runs at a reduced nominal speed so that the products do not endure too frequent accelerations and decelerations. Passemard added that the Cermex engineers also determined that transferring the products 90° onto a collation table using a small pick and place module would prevent the flow-packed biscuits from rotating.
Awareness of the benefits of robotics has been growing steadily in the last five years as companies grasp that automation of processing techniques becomes a key factor in enabling them to compete in the global economy.
Meanwhile, robotics sales to UK food and drinks manufacturers have jumped by more than a quarter over the past two years as industry increasingly embraces the technology, said the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA) earlier this month.
Mike Wilson, president of the robotics trade body, said that investment by the UK food and drinks sector in automation rose 15 per cent between 2008 and 2009 and a further 12 per cent last year.