Since 1972, Bifi salami has been a mainstay in the German snack market. A product of Unilever, Bifi salamis had long been manufactured in the Bavarian town of Anspach, with certain aspects of the production done manually, such as insertion of the salamis in the rollstock machine manually.
Then in 2006, the company made the switch to an automated solution with IRB 340 FlexPicker robots from ABB using gripper technology to take the six different sausage types from the conveyor belt and insert them in a rollstock machine.
Unilever commissioned robomotion GmbH from Stuttgart to plan and design the automation solution. The aim was to use a rollstock machine to its maximum capacity with the specified dimensions. The automation solution had to be ultra flexible so that six different products could be packed with one system and so it could be retrofitted for future products. Robomotion’s task was made more difficult because the customer placed stringent requirements on the precision and reliability of the insertion process – not to mention major deviations between the products. By planning and processing the project in partnership, it was possible to install and commission the entire system at Unilever within 10 days.
The mechanical gripping technology helped to increase the process reliability sharply, thus raising the production volume per robot. Increasing the speed of the handling process also increases the risk of product loss. This is where the positive fit principle of mechanical grippers comes into its own.
Not only can the physical loads lead to a high level of material loss, but also to a large number of empty lifts. Subsequent processes are also affected, for instance when packages are heat-sealed empty and have to be separated at the end of the process, or when packaging machines fail because the objects fall uncontrolled into the machine, causing disruptions and stoppages.
The mechanical grippers offer benefits over other technology because the positive-fit grip makes it almost impossible to drop the item, even at maximum accelerations and speeds. Picking and placing is carried out with great precision.
Unilever wanted to increase the packaging machine’s production and therefore turned to robomotion in the summer of 2005. This specialist in high-speed handling for hygiene-critical areas determined which streamlining measures could be used and how process reliability using mechanical grippers could be improved compared with previous technology.
Says Unilever project manager Torsten Rütze: “We were convinced by robomotion’s technology. Thanks to the performance data produced there was no problem justifying the new investment. The tailored integration into our production environment saved us both time and money.