The processing and packaging market is fast moving and OEM providers need to design machines to be both reliable and efficient while at the same time having an eye on future pack and presentation trends.
British end of line automation specialist BrilloPak has been in the business for nearly 20 years and in 2011 targeted the fresh produce sector when the need for perfect pack presentation on retailer shelves became the priority for many producers. Many pack houses at this time were looking to reduce their reliance on agency staff and switch to an automated solution, but as recognised by David Jahn, Director at the company, a lack of floor space meant that machines had to be small as well as flexible and quick to change over in order to pack multiple products/SKUs – a prerequisite for many fresh and prepared produce packers.
“When packing fruit such as apples, there is the problem that some apples may get damaged in the system so we have a small QA system which sits in front of the packer which checks both the quality and the count rejecting faulty packs. We do this for all types of fresh produce.
“We worked with top fruit grower Adrian Scripps to automate their pack house with our Delta type system, the Unipaker can pack up to 75 packs per minute, which is very quick, the normal rate being 50-60 packs per minute. The key thing for us was not to damage the product. Our knowledge is on motion control, how can we move that pack very delicately at the start then move it across quickly and then slow it down again to place each pack gently and accurately so you get good presentation on the supermarket shelves, so maximum speed with next to no damage.”
The Unipaker is single pick, which is the preferred method with no worries about accumulation, this also allows for a quick change of product as you only have to change the head, it can also be easily adapted for different kinds of packaging. David realises that packhouses need product changeovers to be as fast as possible – the Brillopak system offers this.
Last week Brillopak won the PPMA Show 2019 Innovative Robotic Solution Award for their potato packing solution installed at Morrisons’ Rushden depot. The complete end of line solution including crate destackers, two Unipaker robotic pick and place cells, bale arm closing systems, two semi-automated Pakstations and palletisers will provide perfect pack presentation for the 66 million kilos of potatoes that the Rushden site processes annually. “During peak times we operate four packing lines in 12 hour shifts,” explains site manager Andy Day. “Like-for-like we still employ the same volume of people on the manual lines. Only now, we tend to use a smaller pool of people and have the option of rotating them between packing, crate separation, palletising and the robotic lines, which offers them greater job variety.”
Andy said that the site’s reliance on agency staff has significantly reduced.
The special thing about the Unipaker pick and place robots system is the Glove, the robot head which was developed specifically for handling potato packs. It has soft fingers, four on each side, which come around and scoop the bag and place it in the crate. Conventionally this is done by a conventional steel designed robot head which is prone to splitting the bag and bruising the potatoes and at a rate of 75-80 packs a minute cannot give good presentation. This can also be altered for packs made of different materials.
David said the main benefits of the system is that the machines are small, flexible and very reliable. The control panel is designed with button icons which is important for non-English speaking operators to make the system easy to operate and maintain.
A few years ago, people were looking to automate to save labour costs, now they must automate because the labour is no longer available.
The systems can be fully integrated into existing systems and built upon when budget allows. According to David the pay-back time is typically between one and two years dependent on shift pattern
“We have spent the last five years building our reputation as a packing machine provider in the UK and have just started working with a distributor in Holland. Next year we are looking to export worldwide including to the US, South Africa and Australia. We pride ourselves on our attention to detail and want to supply machines which when they arrive can be plugged in and just get to work.”