Cobot Palletizers Brew Big Benefits for Coffee Company

Steve Papanicholas, founder of Overland Coffee Co., now Napco Brands, has been a family-owned coffee company since 1897. The company has expanded from roasting and packaging a single in-house brand to producing four distinct coffee brands: Papanicholas, Day to Day, Versanto, and Basic Joe, as well as a growing line of private-label coffees. To address labor shortages and employee safety, Napco recently installed two AX10 automated palletizers from Robotiq equipped with UR10e cobots, or collaborative robots, from Universal Robots (UR).

The company’s two production lines in Naperville, Illinois, have two production lines manufacturing single-serve coffee capsules. Before installing the robotic palletizers, all operations were manual: an operator placed capsules into cartons and brought the cartons to another operator, who taped and palletized them. Brian Einzig, sales engineer at FPE Automation, evaluated the line to pinpoint areas of opportunity for automation. Einzig recommended the AX10 Robotiq Palletizing Solution with a UR10e cobot due to its ease of deployment and its ability to handle a wide variety of pallet heights. Jeff Benning, chief executive officer of DesignHawk Innovations, integrated the two new palletizers into the existing line.

Eric Latsch, vice president of operations for Napco and Papanicholas’ great-grandson, shares that he had considered many different types of packaging equipment to improve production but found the costs prohibitive. Collaborative robots proved to be a much easier and more cost-effective option, paying for itself in less than a year, while other parts of the project returned their investment in about two years. The cobot palletizers run two shifts, operating 18 to 20 hours per day, each day, filling 1,500 cartons, totaling 180,000 single-serve coffee capsules packed daily between the two cells. The robots have helped increase productivity at Napco by about 15%.

In today’s tight labor market, the two robotic palletizers have allowed the company to redeploy eight valued workers per day. Instead of performing the manual task of palletizing, the employees have been reassigned to operate larger equipment at higher pay in specialized tasks that require human capabilities. The cobots’ built-in safety features also provide employees with additional protection against injury. The UR10e features force-sensing technology and collision detection that allow the cobots to work alongside operators without the need for safety barriers or cages, promoting a safe working environment.

Napco’s packaging line uses a PLC for communication, but the cobot palletizers use a built-in controller from UR, eliminating the need for additional hardware. The built-in controller allows each robot to communicate with the other, reducing the need for diagnostics, programming, maintenance, and potential issues.

When a carton arrives at the palletizer, it is detected by Robotiq-supplied sensors that communicate with the Robotiq software, sending a signal to the UR10e to pick up the box and place it onto the pallet. The UR10e is a medium-sized cobot with a payload capacity of 12.5 kg (27.55 lb) and a reach of 1,300 mm (51.2 in.). The AX features a seventh axis, allowing the system to build pallet heights up to 108 in.

The palletizing system features an intuitive online configurator, allowing Benning to quickly map out the application during setup. Once carton sizes, pallet dimensions, and format are entered, the simulation provides an accurate cycle time for the process. This was a huge benefit knowing that Napco would meet the cycle time needed and put enough material in boxes at the right rate for Napco.

Installing the Robotiq Palletizing Solution with UR cobots was the easiest thing Napco had ever done. DesignHawk’s Benning emphasizes the ease of programming and minimal training, making it easier for Napco to add new boxes or different size pallets. The palletizing software makes changeovers quick and easy, with it taking less than a minute on the cobot’s touchscreen to change the size of a box, the number of boxes that go on a pallet, and the direction of the boxes.

Napco Brands Production Floor Manager Eric Matthews, who had no previous experience with robots before the new system was installed, confirmed that it was a simple process. With no more than five to 10 minutes of training, an operator can take any size box, with any parameters, and program the system themselves.

As Napco looks across his business and the manual packaging processes still required for different coffee products, he sees many other opportunities for collaborative robots. He also recognizes the importance of the right integrator and distributor, saying that DesignHawk and FPE Automation made the process as easy as it could be.

Read More @ Packaging World

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