Editor's Choice

How Danone SA pulled off its new automated palletising system

June 2023 Editor's Choice Motion Control & Drives

When Yaskawa Southern Africa was contacted about Danone’s new automation project in Boksburg, the industrial robotics manufacturer teamed up with one of its preferred suppliers, Tectra Automation to offer a turnkey solution. Yaskawa brought its automation expertise to the project, rising to Danone’s challenge of creating additional lifting capacity and speed, thanks in no small part to its PL 190 palletising robots.

“Danone needed a fully automated palletising system. Until that point, all of the palletising was done by hand, which is labour-intensive and has an increased risk of injury,” explains Hannes Crouse, sales manager at Yaskawa Southern Africa. The installation of an automated palletising system allows manufacturers to simplify the palletising process while also increasing reliability, accuracy, and repeatability. Automated palletising systems rely on the robot’s accuracy and flexibility to decrease injury risk and downtime, while also solving ergonomic problems.

The challenge

Due to the size and complexity of the palletising system, the system had to be installed and commissioned in phases. “Large, complicated projects will always have challenges,” says Jaco de Beer, system engineering manager at Tectra Automation. “We worked through various technical challenges from cycle time issues to finding solutions for very limited space constraints in both width and height. Working closely with Yaskawa, we were able to solve those problems. Additionally, having various SKUs makes the automation process more complex. For example, some products may need to be rotated on the infeed side before they reach the robot. Lastly, we needed to make sure that the entire system met stringent European safety standards.”

At the start, Yaskawa and Tectra Automation had to plan around multiple pallet patterns, a challenging endeavour for any large-scale automation project. The way that goods are packed is not always robot-friendly, as robots are programmed to pick up as much as possible in one cycle to make the process cost effective.

The solution

To tackle the project in the most pragmatic way, the teams at Yaskawa and Tectra opted for a three-phase approach. There would also be three different cells that made up the system: a palletising cell with a Yaskawa PL 190 robot, and on the inside, a destacker and a stretch wrapper. As more space became available on the floor, the team would install a new cell in the area and conduct commissioning before running the product through it and beginning the testing phases.

Yaskawa’s deliverables included a robot base and a robot with a gripper attached. Two robotic technicians that specialised in programming applications worked closely with Tectra Automation and multiple others that helped with the mechanical installation.

Another key element of the system comes in the form of the two de-stackers. “A de-stacker holds a stack of empty pallets and feeds the system one pallet at a time to a ready location for the robot that requests it via a signal,” explains Crouse. “For that, we also used automatic carts, which are controlled, along with the entire system, with industrial Wi-Fi communication.

“When the system pulls a pallet, you will have one empty pallet on standby at the robot station and another that it is being palletising,” explains de Beer. When the current pallet that is being palletised is full, it will automatically eject onto another cart system that takes it to a wrapper. It is then automatically wrapped and ejected once more, where it is loaded onto the cart again and moved through to logistics.”

The result

Danone’s palletising system consists of seven robots with two de-stackers in the middle. There are also special slip sheets between a set number of boxes to give stability to the pallets. Automatic carts collect and move them from one stage to another via a rail system. The system was designed to handle a maximum throughput while the robotic palletising cells achieve an efficiency of 98%. “It is now fully automated,” says Crouse. “From where we start, it gets palletised, stacked, wrapped, and sent to logistics for transport. It is a stable production.”

Operators can now be trained at a higher level to manage parameters and keep an overview of the system while the heavy lifting moves off to the robots. Manufacturers that adopt automation understand that the future is about maintaining efficiency, quality, and reliability. This, in turn, leads to higher profit margins.

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