Meeting the food industry’s challenges


L.A.C. Conveyors & Automation has developed a robotic pick and place packaging cell aimed at the fresh food industry. MEPCA found out how the system has enabled one customer to increase productivity and reduce line staffing requirements.

The cell, developed by L.A.C, has the flexibility to handle a complete range of film lidded trays and punnet materials. It is designed to deliver a packing rate of 120 punnets per minute and is configured to handle 500g punnet sizes of fruit (184x117x85mm) into supermarket cardboard trays (600x400x100mm).

Food industry challenges

The food industry is facing an ever-increasing challenge of obtaining skilled, seasonal labour. But of course, the current global pandemic is exacerbating this issue and creating further barriers to normal workforce operations. So, companies are increasingly looking at the possibility of implementing automated solutions.

L.A.C. is well placed to help design, build and install automated solutions due to its extensive experience within the food industry. With three distinct divisions (food, manufacturing and automation), information and expertise are shared to ensure that the best possible resolutions are achieved.

The robot cell from LAC has been designed around the Stäubli SCARA TS60 robot. In this case, three robots have been utilised to achieve a pick and pack rate of 120 punnets per minute. The rationale for choosing the TS60 robot is that minimal maintenance is required, and it also delivers excellent strength, speed and superior precision. The task of the Stäubli SCARA robots is to pick the punnets off the conveyor belt and place them at high-speed but without risk of damage in the cardboard crates.

L.A.C. engineers were able to develop a novel way of using the robots to slide the punnets under the strengthening web of the cardboard trays. This sliding technique and sequencing of the robotic pick and place operation allow the production line to run at optimal speeds.

By investing in a new high-speed robotic pick and place cell, the client this cell was developed for is now enjoying a 25% increase in productivity, coupled with a reduction in line staffing requirements which are down by a quarter. These twin benefits are delivering a rapid return on investment, whilst addressing recruitment and health and safety issues, including a significant reduction in repetitive manual handling tasks.

The robotic pick and place system was developed at L.A.C.’s own factory in Nottingham, along with input and output stainless steel modular belt conveyors and a gated access modular belt conveyor.

After site installation, trial runs of the unit and staff training were conducted to ensure correct operation, set-up, and day to day maintenance of the robots could be efficiently and safely conducted. The installation did not impact on the running of the business, and the line now fits in with production requirements.

The pick and place unit has proven to be easy to operate, with most issues being dealt with by the site engineer. Support is readily available from L.A.C. should it be required, either remotely, or on-site.


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