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Robotics at Heinz-Pocatello

John Beale is project engineering manager at a Heinz frozen food plant in Pocatello, ID. Here he talks about robotic solutions that are being considered.

PW: What areas of the plant are you looking at?
Beale: On a CPET tray line for frozen entrees we need to address end-of-line palletizing of cases. We’re discovering there are myriad options. We’re working with an integrator to sort through them and pick the one that suits us best.
PW: What is the appeal of robotics?
Beale: Two things leap out, ergonomics for one. Robots can be helpful in addressing jobs that tend to create injuries due to repetitive motion, twisting, and turning. We feel there is economic value in minimizing the number of “repetitive” motion activities and utilizing our human resources in more “value added” positions.
PW: Is the complexity of a robotic solution off-putting?
Beale: The technology now is advanced to the point where such things are no longer an issue. The equipment is more intuitive. Programming, for example, will be done primarily by the integrator, not by our in-house people.
PW: Is speed much of an issue?
Beale: We want a speed that is 115% of maximum line flow. There isn’t much point in having cases moving to an end-of-line palletizer faster than we can handle them.
PW: What kind of payback will you expect?
Beale: We expect payback in two to three years. We’ll bring the same expectations to a frozen quesadilla line where we’re also implementing robots. The folded and enrobed quesadillas will be getting fed to an overwrapper. As you can guess, the end effector will be absolutely critical. We don’t want product damage caused by the end effector. Not sure yet if it will pick by vacuum, or by mechanical action or by some other means. But it will have to be delicate.

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