Brillopak’s UniPaker Handles 66m Kilos of Spuds a Year for Morrisons
Morrisons fresh produce depot in Rushden, Northamptonshire has installed two automated Brillopak crate loading potato cells, UniPaker, increasing productivity and efficiency, according to a press release. Capable of orientating packs quicker than any human being, the robot arms “never miss a beat,” says site manager Andy Day.
The UniPaker robotic pick and place cell was engineered by Brillopak in collaboration with the Rushden team. Designed to improve product handling, minimize waste and enhance the presentation of pre-packed potatoes for the 11 million consumers that shop weekly at Morrisons, the clever robot adopts a brand new automated technique for gently loading vertical form fill and seal (VFFS) and flow wrap bags into retail crates.
At speeds of at least 75 packs per minute for each cell, the two UniPaker systems cradle bags of potatoes, each weighing from 0.5kg up to 2.5kg, loading one at a time into crates, following multiple sets of presentation formats. The installation, which forms part of a warehouse-wide efficiency improvement investment, has resulted in a 90% reduction of labor, the company explains.
“Both UniPaker case loading cells house two high-payload Omron Delta robots. Working simultaneously alongside each other, the robotic spider arms deftly loads potato packs individually into crates in set patterns at the programmed orientation. The robots do this with a degree of dexterity and rotation that would not be feasible with a layer-based automated handling system,” the press release states.
Clean, empty crates are fed automatically into both cells at a constant pace by two Brillopak Crate DeStaker systems. Once filled, the crates are stacked and palletized by an end-of-line robotic system.
Due to the design of the end effector, the system can be used to load Morrisons entire potato product range. Likened to a glove, the end effector works by enveloping each potato pack. By doing this it can accommodate the different sizes, weights and pack lumps for Morrisons’ extensive range – exceeding 14 SKUs in a typical season – without having to swap the tooling over.
“With the level of air that’s in potato bags it was hard to conceive that a robot hand could load crates at such speed without popping or piercing the bag and damaging product,” says site manager Andy Day.
Brillopak director David Jahn adds: “Previously, pierced bags has been one of the downsides to using grippers on automated case loading systems. Additionally, when layer picking grippers or bomb bay doors release potatoes into trays, they are typically dropped in a haphazard way above each tray in order for the tooling to have space to open. Not only does this damage the product, the presentation is quite hit and miss. Suctioning polybags of heavier potatoes with varied shapes is equally challenging. Because it’s not a smooth surface, bags frequently sag and drop onto the packing conveyor, causing the packing line to stop. These frequent line stops have a significant impact on line efficiency and ultimately bottom line profit.”
For this Morrisons potato packing line, Brillopak installed two specialist four-arm Spider (Delta) robots within each robotic cell. Each robot has a payload of 5kg, including a head with rotation functionality. In most fresh produce applications a three-arm robot will offer sufficient payload highlights Jahn.
With a reach of 1130mm, the UniPaker system delivers dexterity in a compact footprint. Rumble conveyors settle the packs and deliver them in single file into both robotic cells, ready for automated case loading.
This level of presentation precision was one of the key drivers behind automating the case loading operation at Rushden. Previously, potato packs were loaded manually into crates. It was labor intensive, incurred packing bottlenecks and resulted in messy tray presentation, the company concludes.