The success of 111-year-old Swiss food company Bischofszell Nahrungsmittel AG (BINA) has hinged on many factors, not least its ability to quickly tailor its products to meet new trends in the food industry. With an expanding portfolio of fresh produce, minimally processed foods and ready-to-eat meals, BINA decided to automate some aspects of its manufacturing process to boost efficiency and create a better working experience for its staff.
At its main plant in Bischoffszell, hundreds of employees process over 1,000 individual items, ranging from iced teas to salads and fresh fruit juices, that need to be shipped to supermarkets across Switzerland, including the country’s biggest chain, Migros.
A crucial part of the intricate production process is the order picking station where supplies for each supermarket are picked and placed in reusable plastic containers. These containers are tracked using a barcode label that is unique to each order coming out of the plant. The task of applying labels is important for BINA but at the same time, a tricky and monotonous process that no human could reliably carry out at the required speed over a prolonged period.
The containers feature guide slots for a plastic cover, with the label being fixed behind. Inserting a printed plastic-coated barcode into a holder provided for this purpose on a container requires a great deal of dexterity, with the label needing to be slightly bent to fit into the guide slots.
“There is a proven mechanical solution available for marking reusable containers using non-adhesive labels,” said Steffen Knoll, technical project manager, BINA. “However, it requires plenty of space, which we simply did not have in our newly optimized process for needs-based repackaging in standard reusable containers.”
Supermarkets and food stores are increasingly customizing their orders, as the growing demand for minimally processed and fresh produce has reduced the amount of time that perishable food can stay in the supply chain. This has in turn increased pressure on food companies to supply stores based on their needs rather than on standardized orders.
Solution: YuMi cobot
The solution to BINA’s challenge for a faster, more reliable labeling solution came from moveline AG, an ABB system partner. The company had already implemented a YuMi IRB 14000 collaborative robot at a pilot project for a labeling process. Once he found out about this project, Knoll realized the YuMi cobot was the right fit for the task at hand.
“Being a collaborative and inherently safe robot, YuMi does not need protective fencing or any other safety devices around it,” said Franz Joller, managing director at moveline. “So, it fits in the tight space provided for the labeling process and implements the steps accordingly.”
In addition to the integration and programming of the YuMi cobot, moveline also designed the gripping tool. Using a pneumatic/mechanical device with two vacuum suction pads, the labels can be bent just enough, without buckling them, so that YuMi can insert the labels into the holder.
The YuMi cobot can process 1,200 containers every hour in a two-shift operation from Monday to Friday without needing any breaks.
“We will certainly rely more heavily on automation in the future for further development of the site,” said Knoll. “I believe collaborative robots like YuMi offer new possibilities for us. Employees quickly got used to the idea that YuMi does not work hidden behind a protective grid, unlike other industrial robots installed on site.”
Knoll signs off with another tip of the hat to the YuMi.
“One more thing that motivated us to place our bets on YuMi is that unlike other fixed and cumbersome mechanical solutions for container labeling, the robot can also be programmed for other tasks if we should no longer need it for this process. Such versatility scores bonus points for an industrial robot.”