Abbott Laboratories is in the middle of a major expansion of its baby food division, and needed to increase production capacity while at the same time improve safety and hygiene. Danish engineering firm Jorgensen was chosen for this project to deliver a complete can packaging line - from the depalletising of empty cans to the palletising of the finished product (milk powder and scoops).
The new robotic system was seen as the answer. Jorgensen says that unlike traditional scoop inserter methods - mechanical and vibrational - the robots guarantee a more reliable and safe operation, supplying an end product that maintains stringent quality requirements for both contents and scoop.
The technology consists of robotic stations along a plant line with the ability to supervise food production and detect faults. Each station, which can make up to 120 picks per minute, is configured to the major control system that coordinates and optimises the entire production flow. The new robotic system also minimises the risk of loose parts falling down in the product, and the modular principle makes it possible to fit the capacity to the future needs.
In the Abbott Laboratories plant, the system consists of three robotic stations placed in a row - physically integrated in a stainless steel construction and electronically in a major control system. Each robot has its own vision system with camera, connected to the control system and thus provides efficient and reliable identification and control of the scoops.
The robot is continuously being informed about the exact position of the scoop. Below the robots there are three parallel conveyor belts. In the middle, the scoops are being put forward, on both sides surrounded by conveying belts, and the empty cans are being let forward.
Specially developed suction cups allow the first robot to insert the scoops in the cans on belt one. The next robot, aided by the vision system, inserts the scoops in cans on the second belt. The exact speed of the cans on both conveying belts is indicated so that the robots can coordinate the scoop insertion.
The third and last station is the 'policeman' of the system. The vision system checks the two outer conveying belts for cans without scoops, and the last robot is able to carry out the scoop insertion to both sides. Cans without scoops, which might pass the last robot, will be detected by the fourth and last video system and the can will at once be rejected from the process on a chute. The maximum capacity for the entire robotic system is around 350 scoops/cans per minute, and the system has the ability to handle seven different kinds of cans and four different kinds of scoops at the same time.
Jorgensen claims that the new handling concept is applicable to a wide variety of food processing applications that require efficient simultaneous packing of product with a quick changeover time. In addition, the new robotic system allows for a much bigger product variety than traditional and mechanical systems on the market.
Danish-based Jorgensen Engineering develops, manufactures and markets packaging equipment to the food industry and pharmaceutical sector and is a market leader in equipment to milk powder segments.