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Robots raising global competition

A custom turnkey solution helps this SME bakery become more competitive on a global level, writes Rachael Oates.

Industrial robots, once the preserve of large-scale manufacturers, are increasingly being seen in small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

A custom turnkey solution installed by local, independent systems integration company, SAGE Automation, for boutique South Australian bakery Perryman’s, has helped the company to double its production, open new export opportunities and improve occupational health and safety.

SAGE installed a robotic system to automate the icing of the bakery’s ‘Gingerbread Babies’ product. A robot arm dots the eyes, nose and bellybutton of 120 gingerbread babies at a time, within a three-minute time constraint. The job was previously done manually.

The success of the project has demonstrated that even the most mundane and time-consuming tasks in a small business can be transformed, creating quantifiable profit capabilities.

Perryman’s is the Gingerbread Babies arm of Perryman’s Bakery — a forward-thinking family company led by owner and manager, Neil Perryman.

“The robotic addition is quite remarkable,” said Mr Perryman. “It has helped to eliminate the fatigue factor, and has raised our output capacity from 5,000 to 6,000 units per day to approximately 15,000 a day,” Perryman said.

“We couldn’t have attained such an advanced level of production without this form of automation. The installation was easy and the set-up was thorough and complete, with any training easy to follow.

“The addition of the robot technology has been a positive step for Perryman’s and has played a big part in helping us to export our products all over Australia and more recently, New Zealand. Japan, Singapore and Dubai have also showed a genuine interest.

“As a small boutique business, SAGE Automation has greatly assisted us in putting our Gingerbread products on a level of production that 18 months ago we were only dreaming about.”

SAGE Automation has drawn on its robotic experience in the automotive industry and previous work with companies such as Electrolux, to overcome this production hurdle for Perryman’s.

SAGE Automation chief executive officer, Adrian Fahey, said that robotics will play an intrinsic role in the future of Australian manufacturing.

“Perryman’s was a good example of robots being utilised to complete a task that requires a high level of accuracy from the beginning,” he said. “Perryman’s market was increasing and the company needed to be able to meet demand without growing its workforce. Australian manufacturing is about being flexible and adaptable.”

SAGE Automation designed a flexible work-cell comprising a robot hung from the top of the cell which utilises a vision system to identify the location and position of each of 120 biscuits on a tray as they leave the oven. The robot then takes this information and positions a dispensing gun over each biscuit to ice them all within the allotted time frame.

The compact work cell (1.2×1.2×2.2m) was turned from a concept into a completed solution in 12 weeks. The complete turn-key project integrated the following technologies:

• ABB IRB 140 Robot

• Controller

• Human Machine Interface

• Vision System – Cognex Insight 5403

• Hygienic icing system

• Custom built dispensing gun.

SAGE Automation also supplied mechanical design, build and commissioning; electrical design, build and commissioning; a manual feed station; and flexible design for the future to account for other products Perryman’s may introduce.

[Rachael Oates is SAGE Automation’s communications and marketing officer.]

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