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Robotic palletiser boosts bagging line productivity

A new turnkey robotic palletising line from Brillopak looks set to yield a return on investment within less than 18 months of installation by doubling throughput at Muntons’ Stowmarket malted ingredients factory. 

About Muntons

Muntons Plc. has been producing malt and malted ingredients for over 90 years. Prior to the Brillopak installation, the company’s Stowmarket mill was at maximum capacity, producing 17,000 tonnes of whole, crushed, flaked and milled malted ingredients annually. However, with the business experiencing growth in domestic and overseas demand for these ingredients, it became apparent that capacity needed to be ramped up. 

The root of the problem

One of the bottlenecks identified by Muntons was the palletising line, which palletises 25kg sacks of grain from two bagging lines, one manual and one automatic.

The problem was that the existing layer palletiser wasn’t fast enough or flexible enough to cope with our throughput.

“We could only ever run one bagging line into it,” explains David Mercer, project engineer at Muntons. “In the past we’d been able to get round this with careful planning, but it had reached the point where we needed to increase packing volumes.”

Seeking a solution

In July 2011, Muntons asked three equipment suppliers, one of them end-of-line automation specialist Brillopak, to propose a robotic palletising solution that would increase throughput by 50 per cent and contribute to its lean manufacturing principles.

Brillopak designed a robotic palletising cell incorporating a Nachi LP 130 four axis robot  which impressed Muntons with its attention to detail and quality of engineering. “We could see that it was robustly designed using only top quality components and that the layout had been carefully thought out right down to the last detail,” says Mercer. The user-friendliness of the Brillopak system was another factor in its favour, according to Mercer. 

"We wanted a robot that would be easy for us to programme,” he says. “Brillopak created and tested 65 different pallet load recipes for each robot line, accommodating every conceivable combination of bag size and type. Changing the position of sacks or creating new recipes is now easy.”

Brillopak also provided a thoughtful solution to the space constraints in the packing area, mounting the robot on a plinth to increase its reach range, allowing it to work round obstacles like slipsheets and sacks despite the low ceiling.

It wasn’t just about having faith in the equipment, but also in the people who would be delivering the project.

“I knew we’d be working closely for four to six months with whoever was awarded the contract, so it was important we liked and trusted them. We met the team at Brillopak and they filled us with confidence,” says Mercer. “They seemed like honest people who knew their stuff inside out and would try at all times to do the right thing. That’s exactly how it turned out. From day one they have been really strong on support. As with any project, things haven’t always gone exactly as planned but Brillopak have always given 100 per cent.”

Putting ideas into practice

The contract was awarded to Brillopak in December 2011 and by May 2012 the line was up and running.

Sacks from two separate packing lines feed the Nachi robot. Each line passes through a bag flattener, metal detector and labeller onto a pick-up conveyor. The robot feeds two different pallet stations, each with its own pallet dispenser. The robot head auto adjusts for different bag sizes and loads two pallets at a time. Full pallets are moved down the line to a stretch wrapper with hooder. From there they are fed to a series of outfeed conveyors.

The entire system is driven from a recipe driven colour touchscreen HMI. The robot signals are fed to the HMI meaning that there is no requirement for the operator to use the robot pendant. The system is safety zoned into two areas with safety guarding and CAT 4 light guards. 

Easy to operate

David Mercer: “I wanted a palletising system that would be straightforward to operate, with minimal downtime and line stoppages. The new system meets that requirement. Our operators appreciate the speed at which product changeovers can now be completed at the touch of a button. Our staff understood how to operate the system after a minimal amount of training.”

Exceeding expectations

 “We wanted 50 per cent more throughput but we got more. The previous palletising system did 300 bags per hour; this line can do twice that,” says Mercer. 

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