The selection, packaging and processing of 2.5 million eggs per day are extremely delicate work tasks that require quality control, care and attention to details. However, the extremely competitive market in the food and beverage industry does not allow companies to focus on their short term objectives at the expense of their long-term ones.
Cascina Italy, an Italian company with the vision of creating a certified food chain has managed to overcome this challenge and excel in their processing of eggs and eggs products through the implementation of automation solutions.
The company is a supply chain that guarantees the quality of their processes, from the types of food they use to feed their chickens to the final packaging of their products intended for consumers.
In order to constantly improve its operational efficiency, the company have recently identified robots as innovative tools ideal for their employees. The goal was to be able to prepare packages of fresh eggs for large-scale distributions using minimal efforts, while maintaining greater flexibility.
In just 45 days after the first technology demonstration carried out by Universal Robots’ Italian distributor Alumotion, a UR5 robot came into operation on the company’s packaging system. The robot helped prepare cartons of a total of 1440 eggs, with each being filled with 9 layers of 10 egg packs accurately positioned in a completely automatic way inside the carton.
As Roger Moretti, the plant manager of the company, has commented. “Our subsidiary company was set up 15 years ago with the aim to focus on the egg industry and to complete the holding company’s agriculture supply chain businesses. Even for our eggs, we followed the same philosophy: that is to focus on quality as our strategic objective and technological innovation in order to achieve the desired quality.”
According to him, this has created a complex challenge in a market that often suffers from low profit margins due to the volatility of raw materials costs. For this exact reason, operational efficiency is not a luxury to have but an essential element to ensure the company’s survival and growth.
“To increase our market share, we need to launch new products. We have recently launched the Ovosnello, a fat and cholesterol-free egg white cake that is already cooked and ready to be eaten fresh or heated in the microwave." He added.
Fabio Facchinetti, the head of technical at Alumotion, also commented that when they proposed the technology of collaborative robots to the egg supplier, the company managed to recognise their potential immediately.
Operator Friendly System
The unique feature of the robots is that they are able to work side by side human operators without taking up much space and the need to build protective barriers. These were immediately appreciated as great values.
The robotic arm of UR5 robots weighs a mere 18 kg, making it possible for the distributor to bring it to their customer to do a live demonstration to illustrate the robot’s potential in fulfilling their customer’s requirements and objectives immediately.
Moreover, the ease of programming of the robot also made a huge difference as it allows not only them as an integrator to quickly programme and show their customers the feasibility of the applications that can be automated, but also highlighted the flexibility of re-programming the robot when it is moved to another part of a production line, should the customer requires it to perform other work tasks, without changing the layout of the production set up.
Currently a robot is installed on one of the 24 stations of the company’s output line of selection and packaging of fresh eggs for human consumption. It processes an average of about 1.5 million eggs a day, while another line takes care of the egg products intended mainly for the food and confectionery sector.
The robot is now relieving operators from one of the most arduous work of handling larger packages for mass distribution. This process requires many bending and strenuous movements because of the great depth of the boxes used to pack greater quantities.
Mr Moretti continued by saying that for them, it is important that the robot does not take up much space in order to maintain the flexibility they need. It was a key requirement for them to be able to install one or more robots in their existing line without compromising the other stations.
Therefore, the compactness of the robots was the perfect solution for them to achieve this difficult goal. In addition, the ability of the robots to work side by side to the human operator without having to install protective barriers has saved them substantial costs and space.
The construction and implementation of the first robot occurred quickly. After less than one and a half months, the robot was operational on a packaging lane that packages 15,000 eggs per hour. In addition, after a training session of only half a day, the company's workers were able to operate the robot without assistance.
"We believe that collaborative robots will be very useful for companies like ours; where there are constraints of flexibility, space and limited budget for investments to implement traditional expensive robotic solutions.” Mr Moretti concluded. “From our point of view, the results are great so far, so much so that we feel that we can achieve our investment in less than a year and have achieved further refined and improved quality of our packaging processes. "
[This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of APFI.]