With the help of Kawasaki robots and software, a food manufacturer is overcoming labour challenges and improving the flexibility and adaptability of its packing process.
Today’s labour market is changing; Deloitte projects as many as 2.4 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled by 2028. As human workers become increasingly difficult to find, automation gives manufacturers the power and flexibility they need to grow their business without depending on scarce human labour.
To avoid this issue, a customer reached out to Midwest Engineered Systems (MWES), a Kawasaki Robotics Preferred Integrator based in the US state of Wisconsin, to automate the box packing process for their packaged food product. MWES listened to the customer, and designed a custom box packing cell that utilised Kawasaki’s high-performance robots and software to surpass initial objectives.
The customer came to MWES Engineered Systems seeking an automated solution that would allow it to rely less on human labour, which had proved to be scarce and unreliable. This growing manufacturer also needed a system that facilitated growth through form and function: the design needed to be mobile, compact, and able to handle a variety of different product and box sizes.
The customer’s existing bagging machine places bags onto a conveyor that feeds into the cell. Once the product reaches the Kawasaki K-VFinder vision system, a camera takes a photo of the product. The vision system passes this data on to the first robot along with the conveyor tracking data, which is used to determine the position and series of pick points for each bag.
Simultaneously, boxes are loaded onto a secondary conveyor underneath the robots, which runs alongside the bag conveyor. Once a bag has been picked, the robot drops it into the box below. The second robot picks up the remaining bags left on the conveyor, finishing out each box.
When operators need to add a new product, they simply type the bag dimensions, weight and box size into the HMI, and assign a new product number. MWES installed a hand crank that adjusts the box conveyor’s place in the cell, allowing for different sized boxes and giving the customer the flexibility it was looking for. When the operator needs to pack a different product, it just updates the product number on the HMI and turns the hand crank to the correct count.
To add to the cell’s flexibility, its compact size makes it possible for a forklift to pick it up and move it anywhere in the customer’s facility. The cell only needs power, air and an Ethernet connection, so the customer can get started in as little as one day. This is key for a growing manufacturer, said Steve Phelps, MWES Sales Engineer: “This is typical for a packaging environment, and with a customer that’s just getting used to automation and is in a growth phase, it may need to move things around the facility periodically.”
The right robot
MWES chose Kawasaki RS007L robots for this box packing cell because of their reach, payload and high-speed capabilities. The robots’ 7kg payload, 730mm reach, and flexible mounting options made them ideal for this compact cell, in addition to their through-arm cable design. The robots’ design enables the housing of vision cables, sensor harnesses, air lines, and other components inside the arm structure. This prevents interference with peripheral equipment, and allows for operation in tight installation spaces.
MWES says the Kawasaki RS007L robots can pack up to 80 bags per minute without drops, which exceeds the throughput and equipment effectiveness goals set by the customer. The system allows the customer to redeploy two to three workers each shift to higher-level roles better suited to their skills. According to the integrator, this system is conducive to further automation. A downstream palletising system could prepare the boxes for distribution, or box erectors could be installed upstream for increased efficiency.