Managers at Minnesota-based Form-A-Feed, a maker of livestock feed, planned a new production line as they saw business growing.
As part of the planning process, Form-A-Feed called on engineers from Plymouth, Minn., Hamer-Fischbein, a company that designs, makes and integrates bagging equipment and Yaskawa Motoman robotic packaging solutions. The engineers looked at ways to boost speed with which the feed maker could bag and palletize products at its South plant, one of two locations the company operates at its Stewart, Minn., production facility. Because the feed company’s North plant uses bagging equipment and a robotic palletizer, the robot integrator looked at the needs for the new line and also assessed Form-A-Feed’s experience with its existing equipment.
But Form-A-Feed wanted to avoid the programming challenges it faced with the North plant’s automated line. For example, when changing the configuration of pallets for the North plant’s line, the production facility’s supervisor would have to stop production, turn off the robotic palletizer and plug in a laptop to instruct the robot to handle a new size of bag and pallet. Automating the bagging and palletizing process saved time at the North plant, but the time-consuming programming steps for the changeover process reduced the cost savings gained from automation.
Another challenge for Form-A-Feed was the footprint allotted for installation. Managers wanted to leave room in the South plant for other operations. The space for the South plant’s new line was “L” shaped, measuring approximately 370 square meters.
The focus for the project was designing a bag palletizing solution that ensured less robot downtime, was easy to program and increased productivity for the South plant. To simplify the programming challenges encountered with the existing solution, and fit the system inside a relatively small footprint, the engineering team designed a new, semi-automatic line for the South plant including a duplex Hamer 600NW Belt Feed bagging scale, which dosed product to a 1200BH bag hanger.
The system also included two conveyors and a Hamer RPM Robotic Palletizing Module which includes a Yaskawa Motoman MPL160 robot and controller. This is a four-axis robot with 160 kg payload.
Hamer-Fischbein’s proprietary EasyPic software offers a simple HMI interface for robot-arm-path planning to minimize teach pendant interaction and facilitate changing of speed and product-pallet configurations.
Robotic palletizing made easier
The integrators installed the system at Form-A-Feed, and managed to fit the required technology inside the allotted footprint. To operate the line, one worker facilitates the bag-labelling step along a conveyor and positions bags before they reach the sew-top sealer. After the bags are filled with product, they travel along a second conveyor and are picked by the robot and placed on one of two pallets located on either side of the robot’s station. A second worker removes completed pallets with a forklift and takes these to a wrapping station for shipping.
Even before the new line began bagging and palletizing product, Form-A-Feed says it saw a cost savings. For instance, when Form-A-Feed installed a competitor’s robot at the North plant, technicians took eight visits to get the line running to the plant manager’s specification.
At the South plant, the installation took Hamer-Fischbein just two visits, and product changeover now happens faster. For example, the Hamer-Yaskawa solution has reduced set up time, enabled easier programming and increased speed.
“Making changes to the speed of the bagging operation system and configuring the Yaskawa robot for a variety of pallets is child’s play,” says Chuck Boehme, rail yard supervisor at Form-A-Feed.
The South plant’s palletizing line operates at 20 bags per minute (BPM), which is slightly faster than the North plant’s line. However, it is often the scale or bagging machine that sets the pace of total production. For instance, the 1200BH bag hanger runs at a maximum rate of 18 to 20 BPM; the Yaskawa Motoman MPL160 robot can operate much faster depending upon the size of the bag.
“With the robotic palletizing system installed at our South plant, our setup is less than 30 seconds; while at the North plant line, our sizing changeover takes 20 to 25 minutes,” adds Boehme.