According to the PPMA (Process and Packaging Machinery Association), Robotic Automation in the packaging industry, is growing at a global rate of 13 per cent annually, and this is set to continue for at least the next five years.
Robotic systems such as palletisers, enable companies to automate repetitive tasks, which have been proven to be harmful for human workers. They are fast, precise and they remove many of the risks which human workers are exposed to when carrying out mundane repetitive tasks such as palletising or case packing.
Tekpak Automation Ltd have been a specialist manufacturer of Robotic Packaging Lines for almost 20 years and supply some of the worlds’ largest Food and Pharmaceutical companies with customised, Robotic Packaging Lines, Cartoners and Casepackers. They have expertise in applications where there are special requirements such as multiple formats or high speeds that require a higher level of expertise.
From their Manufacturing base in the South East of Ireland, Tekpak are uniquely positioned to serve the UK and European markets, with direct freight shipping lines to the UK, France and Spain within 15 minutes of their factory. Tekpak also have a team of Highly skilled Service Engineers (including UK based Engineers) to support their UK Food and Pharmaceutical customers.
Strategic partnerships with companies like KUKA have allowed Tekpak to expand their offering to include; end of line packaging solutions, from primary pack handling, to case packing and palletising systems.
‘We believe that strategic partnerships are the way forward for packaging line automation. Our customers want complete solution providers, not just stand-alone equipment suppliers.’ - Imelda Kehoe (Tekpak Projects Director)
KUKA’s reputation as a World leader in the manufacture of industrial robots, with special features designed specifically for use in packaging applications, gives Tekpak’s clients confidence that they are working with tried and tested solution providers. Most of Tekpak’s clients have special requirements, ranging from; space constraints, cold or excessively hot environments, high speeds, multiple product iterations or a requirement for full line flexibility and, the ability to quickly switch between multiple product formats. The range of packaging specific robots provided by KUKA helps Tekpak to provide unique solutions which often cannot be handled by other robot integrators.
‘Our clients are usually looking for in-depth knowledge of packaging line automation. They often have a requirement that doesn’t quite fall within a ‘standard’ portfolio. This is where the combination of an agile company like Tekpak partnering with an established solution provider like KUKA really triumphs.’ - Imelda Kehoe (Tekpak Projects Director)
Case Study: End of line Case Closing and Robotic Palletising solution for a multi-line food manufacturer.
Tekpak were approached by an existing client - a high volume food producer with multiple packaging lines and, whom are part of a large food group considered to be one of the UK leaders in the manufacture and distribution of quality chilled and ambient foods.
Two years previously, Tekpak had installed a packaging line composed of; flow-wrapper feeding system; top-Load robotic case packer and, an automatic case erector. One of the challenges for this line, was to operate efficiently in low ambient temperature conditions, close to 0°C and, include hygienic features, as well as provide fast format change between several different packaging configurations. The firm decided to complete the automation at end of line, by incorporating an automatic palletising cell. Considering the existing relationship, naturally they again turned to Tekpak to provide a solution.
Tekpak designed a customised stainless-steel case closing machine and, a fully automated pick and place palletising cell.
The project was awarded as the solution offered the best value for money and, provided the best technical solution that could manage the unique requirements of the line - Primarily addressing the handling of several different case configurations on a pallet, with specific spacing requirements that ensured optimum airflow between cases during the chilling process; fast, autonomous size change between products; efficient end of line equipment operating in very low ambient temperatures.
In consultation with KUKA, it was decided to develop a palletising cell based upon the KUKA KR16 CyberTech Robot, with KRC4 controller and, integrated KUKA ‘Safe Operation Controller’. Special ‘warm-up’ cycles were integrated within the program, to enable the robots six joints/axes to warm up to optimum operating temperature, following any extended periods of inactivity in the low temperatures.
Tekpak worked with KUKA to plan the robot cell layout to ensure optimum reach and, to keep the cell guarding footprint as compact as possible, whilst maintaining all safety distances. Use of KUKA’s simulation package (KUKA.sim) to create a digital twin, confirmed all safe reach distances and, provided assurances that the required speed could be achieved before the palletising cell was built.
In order to handle the range of different palletising configurations Tekpak designed a custom vacuum gripper which could handle multiple cases per pick cycle and, could either group cases tightly together or, pick with predefined spacing between cases.
A zoned infeed conveyor system ensured that cases were delivered at optimum speed and, special non-contact accumulation logic provided a buffer area for incoming cases, that allows for process intervention within the palletising cell, that wouldn’t compromise the upstream equipment/process. An integrated case eject unit allows the line to continue to operate even if the palletiser is stopped, by directing products to a bypass conveyor. This provided a station for the manual re-introduction of cases into the palletising cell following a re-start.
Accuracy of the application of vacuum via the feedback signal to the robot controller confirms the successful, secure grip of cases/cartons and, prevents the robot from moving prematurely to the pallet place position.
The full system comprises; closing machine; transport conveyor system (with zoned accumulation logic); robot palletising cell. The application/cell was designed, manufactured and tested at Tekpak’s facility in Ireland. A 2-Day FAT (Factory Acceptance Test) was conducted running all product formats and, pallet configurations to ensure that the line was optimised and ready to reach full operating efficiency from day one of start-up.
The cell was installed and integrated with existing Tekpak equipment within a five-day period, ready for production and, full operating efficiency was achieved at the end of day one of in-production commissioning.
The complete packaging operation for this line is now fully autonomous. All operational processes, from receipt of product at the end of the production process, to building the finished cases onto pallets is being handled by Tekpak’s machinery, incorporating the KUKA industrial robot.
The client is extremely happy with the automated line and, with Tekpak’s help are now planning to automate several other packaging lines in their facility.
Another successful Automated Packaging Project from a winning partnership: Tekpak Automation & KUKA Robotics.