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Robotic tray loaders speed cookie loading

A state-of-the-art line at Voortman Cookies in Canada uses 10 vision-guided robots to simultaneously pack cookies into five trays at 1걄 cookies/min. Saves C$450ꯠ/yr in labor costs and provides 10-minute tool-less changeover.
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Near Toronto in the city of Burlington Ontario Canada 10 high-speed robots have logged just over a year of tirelessly picking up cookies and placing them into trays at Voortman Cookies Ltd. The 10 vision-guided robots which have been run up to three shifts during peak times are part of a single packaging line installed early last year to replace a manual tray-loading process.

The line which includes conveyors robots machine-vision cameras and a SIG Pack (Raleigh NC) flow wrapper was assembled by SIG and robot manufacturer Demaurex (Lausanne Switzerland). The line was purchased through Charles Downer & Co. Ltd. (Richmond Hill Ontario Canada) though SIG was the actual integrator of the line.

The line's primary benefit is that it has freed up five workers per shift resulting in labor savings of C$450 (about US$300) per year according to Fred Heikamp Voortman's plant and property manager. Line speeds were also increased by 10% to 20% according to the firm. Gone too are complaints of repetitive motion injuries from the workers.

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Now the 10 robots--packing off the output of one oven--load cookies into trays at speeds of 110 cookies/min per robot with two robots dedicated to each tray (for a throughput of 220 cookies/min/tray). Five trays are loaded simultaneously.

Trays hold anywhere from 12 to 30 cookies depending on variety and are overwrapped in flexo-printed oriented polypropylene film at speeds to 90 trays/min (at 12 cookies/tray). While the distributor claims that this is the fastest robotic packaging line in North America that couldn't be verified. Heikamp does tell Packaging World "I've never seen a line this fast."

The second-most important feature of the line is that it can be changed over without tools in about 10 minutes from robots through wrapping. Most of the changeover is automatically accomplished by selecting a new product setup via the touchscreen operator interface on the supervisory PC that controls the robots. The PC in turn communicates specific instructions to the five separate PC controllers out on the line each of which controls a pair of robots. The robots are servo-driven which means that new movement parameters can be instantly downloaded from each PC robotic controller to the servo drives based on operator input at the main operator interface.

The only physical changeover consists of changing the pick-up heads or end-effectors as Voortman calls them to accommodate the shape of the cookie to be picked up.

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