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Productive punnet packing concept

Omron products enable production line innovation for Brillopak

Omron has recently assisted case loading OEM, Brillopak, to deliver the technology for a new fresh produce production line that featured an innovative method of packing punnets into crates. Brillopak’s customer, a leading UK retailer, set a tough remit for the project, which included a requirement to provide a full return on investment in only two years. These constraints pushed Brillopak, with the help of Omron, to develop a fully automated solution that focussed on keeping downtime to an absolute minimum, and in some cases, eliminated the causes of downtime completely. Brillopak’s new bespoke retail case loading line named Meteor, used Omron equipment exclusively for monitoring and control.

For the last three years, Brillopak has standardised on Omron technology for the motion, control and safety features of the company’s machines. Brillopak management made the decision because Omron could provide highly integrated products under a single software solution, its Sysmac Automation Platform. The inherent integration between the products and development environment smooths out the learning curve of the process and allows Brillopak to quickly optimise the performance of its machines.

The control of the installation for the UK retailer was centred on an Omron NJ PLC. The NJ PLC provides the necessary accuracy and high speed monitoring and control over the line to guarantee the correct processing of punnets. The PLC also provided a communications link to the back end of the line, where Omron robots would pack the punnets. This link ensured that the robots would be synchronised to the speed of the line, and could therefore accurately determine the correct position of the packs.

Access to the control features of the line would be through an Omron HMI. The software interface of the HMI was tailored by Brillopak to intelligently show the most likely contextual options to the operator. Many of the operators in the food industry don’t speak English as a first language, and it would be important that, in the case of a stoppage, the correct procedures were made obvious to keep downtime to a minimum by removing the need for company’s engineering team to attend every stoppage.

The main cause of stoppages in a fresh produce line comes at the back end, during packing. Traditionally a layer packing technique is used to pack the punnets into boxes or crates. Layer packing relies on accumulation, and if, for example, a punnet falls off the line, then the process is held up until the problem is resolved. Brillopak decided to find a way to pack the punnets individually into the crates, to avoid accumulation issues and provide a greater degree of flexibility in the packing process. Flexibility is becoming more important to many UK food packers, as consumers demand a greater variety of different packing sizes and types. In a layer packing environment, this would be lead to longer downtimes during line changes. Packing the punnets individually could also provide a greater degree of automation to the process – even though layer packing is automated, the process still requires more operators than the food producer would have liked.

David Jahn, Managing Director of Brillopak, comments: “For this installation, the customer demanded a return on investment in under two years. To achieve such a demanding target means keeping the line operating almost continuously. The line was specifically designed to eliminate the stops that occur frequently because of problems with accumulation and also to minimise the time taken to get the line up and running after changeovers, or any other stoppages, which can lead to over an hour of downtime every day.”

To implement a single pack technique would require a robot that was fast, accurate and flexible. Omron recommended the company’s new Quattro Delta robot for the job. Introduced last year, the Quattro Delta is the fastest delta robot in the world to date, with a top speed pick rate of 300 per minute. The Quattro Delta is unique in that it has a fourth arm to allow the robot to have a larger working area, and it also enables the robot to have a greater degree of manipulation than other traditional three arm delta robot designs. Two Quattro robots, placed in a serial formation, were used in the line for packing punnets. The robots would pick up the punnets and place them individually into the crates. The accuracy of the Quattro Delta robot placement and the extra manipulation was vital to the process, as punnets tend to fit very tightly into crates.

To help in reducing downtime during line changeovers, Omron’s PackXpert software was installed. The software allows the soft produce provider to program the position that every punnet will be packed individually, as well as the order of packing. When new punnet sizes are introduced, the company can easily develop the packing layout pattern offline, and then simulate the packing process to ensure it is achievable in real world conditions. Then the program is downloaded to the robots, making changeovers almost as easy as a push of a button. PackXpert also enables the soft produce provider to pack the punnets in any orientation, whereas using layer packing would require the punnets all to face in a uniform direction.

Omron Field Sales Manager, Andrew Shelley added: “Brillopak is a pioneer in the industry, and the company always stretches our latest technology to its limits through its innovation, such as in this example. This line installation is a perfect showcase of the capabilities of the new Omron Quattro Delta robot for packing applications, as well as the advantages that can be gained from the seamless integration of Omron products that are controlled through the dedicated Sysmac software.”

With the Meteor line now in place and operational, Brillopak, with the help of Omron’s latest technology, has achieved the aims of its customer and implemented a production line that minimises downtime, while increasing productivity. In the process of meeting these goals, Brillopak has developed a completely new method of packing punnets automatically, which was made possible by the unique attributes of Omron’s Quattro Delta robot design.

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Customer references

At Omron, we like to listen to our customers. We could spend all day listening to their needs  – it gives us ideas. And because we’ve been listening to our packaging machine customers for more than 20 years, you won’t be surprised that we’ve had quite a lot of good ideas.

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