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SPC Ardmona cans in safe hands

When Australian cannery SPC Ardmona switched its palletising system, it found other advantages other than just packing more pallets. The new system also opened up opportunities for new business.

Staying competitive in the fast moving consumer goods business requires staying on top of the latest developments in safety and production technology. So when SPC Ardmona needed to replace its case palletizers, it saw a significant opportunity to get the utmost out of a new flexible automation system. The company is no stranger to flexible automation and already had a number of ABB robotic systems in their plants.

The challenge was to develop a high speed palletising system capable of handling a wide variety of pack types, sizes and pallet patterns — from wrap-around cartons to open-top and shrink-wrapped trays of canned food. Not only did the system need to handle cartons with layer stabilizing glue on their tops, it also need to handle low profile open-top trays, shrink-wrapped trays and even loose cans.

“There were several drivers behind the project. We have high production standards for our plant and wanted to modernise the palletising to remove manual intervention, maintain the highest level of safety and have equipment that is well supported for the future,” said SPC Ardmona logistics operation supervisor, Brett Mortison.

The heart of the system is an innovative layer forming solution using the IRB 260 robot. Combining the accuracy of the IRC5 conveyor tracking with the speed and robustness of the IRB 260, SPC Ardmona has been able to use a simple and reliable gripper. The robot comes down over the top of the carton on the in feed conveyor, slides the carton into the required position on the layer forming conveyor then lifts just off to clear the placed carton and goes straight back to grab another carton from the in feed.

The formed layer of cartons is transferred into the waiting gripper of an IRB 660 layer-palletising robot. The IRB 660 robot moves from the pickup position to the top of the palletising stack where the layer is released. Layers are formed so quickly, two IRB 660 robots are required to keep up. “The system was very innovative and we saw new opportunities in that for our business,” said Mortison.

It is the IRB 260 robots that steal the show, however. Anyone passing the system is mesmerised by the robots speed and precision. But it’s not just fascinating to watch from the outside. The IRB 260 robots give flexibility in pattern and product handling that allows much easier development of new products to suit consumer needs. “The flexibility has enabled marketing to try some innovative things,” said Mortison. “And that’s already resulted in new business.”

The line was installed in early 2007, and is being well utilised. “At peak production we run around the clock, seven days a week,” said Mortison. Aided by ultra reliable operation and high uptime, the system has set new records for the number of pallets produced per shift.

An increase in the rate of pallets produced isn’t the only benefit that SPC Ardmona has obtained from the new palletising solution. With the robots, constant manual intervention is no longer necessary, and by removing the need for manual work the company has found it easier to comply with safety and operational processes. It has been a boon for workers. “The operators have been keen learners and embraced the technology wholeheartedly,” said Mortison.

SPC Ardmona’s investment in flexibility, reliability and safety mean it’s not just the cans that are in safer hands.

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