Tomato grower automates palletizer to stack higher, faster

To maximize how much product could fit on a truck for shipment, Canadian tomato farm Cecelia Acres wanted to stack its pallets higher than its employees could comfortably handle. A Kawasaki CP180L robot integrated by Caxton Mark did that and more.

The robotic system enabled Cecelia Acres to get the most out of its shipments to the distributor. “We designed the system for them to maximize the space in the trailers of the semis,” says Gino Fratarcangeli, director of operations for Caxton Mark. “So when they fill a truck, it’s as high as it can go without wasting space or wasting product.”

Certainly, the ability to consistently add that 11th box to the top of each stack without putting undue strain on one worker served to provide motivation for the change. But there’s more to it than that. “The robot doesn’t call in sick, the robot’s never late, and the robot does repetitive motion,” says Robert Chapman, director of automation for the Hazel Group, a group of three farms that includes Cecelia Acres along with Heritage Farms and Hazel Farms. “So I don’t have to worry about compensation, or he’s tired, or he’s slowing down, anything like that. It’s a steady pace and away we go.”

Far from concerned about robots eliminating jobs, the Hazel Group has difficulty finding reliable workers for the jobs it has, Chapman notes. “We’re bringing more offshore workers in because we know they’re going to be here for a term,” he says. “Whereas we can’t find locals—one day they’re here, next day they’re gone, we don’t know if they’re coming in. They want to go home, they just got here. Most of the time, it’s just we can’t find help.”

Read more at Packaging World (Aaron Hand)

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