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‘Safe-tea’ palletizing of capsules at Nestlé

According to Euromonitor International, the global market for tea is projected to increase $7.9 billion between 2017 and 2022, due to growing trends toward premiumization, the addition of exotic flavors in mature markets, and tea’s health positioning. Given the growth potential for this market, Nestlé Suisse SA Orbe recently ramped up production of its Special.T tea capsules at its facility in Orbe, Switzerland—a move that required additional equipment automation.

In 2017, Nestlé approached Sidel about the possibility of using collaborative robot palletizing on two of its capsule lines. “In the past, this plant, equipped with low- and medium-speed lines, was handling palletizing manually. As volume and productivity needed to increase, we were looking to use cobotic palletizing to avoid repetitive, non-ergonomic tasks for operators. We wanted them to handle activities with higher added value,” explains Cédric Rey, Fill & Pack Maintenance & Improvement Manager at Nestlé Suisse SA Orbe.

At the time Nestlé reached out to Sidel for this automated solution, Sidel was already working on developing a new cobotic palletizing solution and was therefore able to directly embed the customer’s requirements into their new program. Among these were accuracy for pallet stability, user-friendliness, and operator safety.

“At our Orbe site, best-in-class pallet quality is absolutely key, as our cases with the tea capsules are very light, long, and narrow. This is why accurate case placement on the pallet and tight layers are major requirements to guarantee pallet stability,” says Rey. Pallet stability ensures the loads make it through the full supply chain without any disruption to their integrity, so products arrive in consumers’ hands without damage.

“Additionally, we also needed to ensure the safety of our operators. It was imperative that the same level of safety would be maintained after switching from manual labor to a cobotic technology, ensuring that the solution is working safely with no fences around it,” adds Rey. “For us, the user-friendliness of the new cobotic solution was extremely important as well. For instance, an intuitive navigation of its HMI was a must.”

In 2018 Nestlé installed two CoboAccess_Pal™ cobotic palletizers at its Orbe plant that are positioned downstream from two Cermex SW21 compact side-loading case packers. Once cases exit the case packers, they are conveyed to fenceless-less palletizing cells, where the cobots pick and place them onto pallets in specified configurations. The CoboAccess_Pal has a 10-kg payload and operates at speeds to 6 cycles/min. Its end-of-arm tooling is a Venturi vacuum pump system with passive foam gripping. Says Laurent Cristol, Strategic Account Director Nestlé, at Sidel, “The passive foam is a soft material that surrounds the Venturi system, protecting the operator from the sharp edges of the gripping tool, which prevents injuries from occurring.”

The cobots feature an industrial automation platform based on a combination of a PC and a PLC. “This association makes sure the cobot performs better-controlled picking and trajectories, leading to greater pallet quality and stability, instrumental for smooth pallet transportation through the supply chain,” says Cristol. “Additionally, they allow for an immediate restarting of the machine in case of potential problems or emergency stops, and as such, minimize downtime.”

Moreover, CoboAccess_Pal’s HMI is well suited to meet Nestlé’s requirement for a user-friendly solution. Based on intuitive, tablet-approach navigation, the HMI facilitates daily jobs for Nestlé operators, as they can access Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and maintenance sheets for easier and faster troubleshooting and root cause analysis. Also, through the cobot’s PalDesigner™ configuration and simulation tool, accessed via the HMI, operators can modify, simulate, and create pallet patterns autonomously, in less than two minutes.

Safety of the CoboAccess_Pal was objectively validated by Apave Certification Italia S.R.L., which checked the quality of the design and its compliance with European Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC for worker safety. CoboAccess_Pal always performs case handling above the conveyor or the pallet station to ensure that cases never fall on the floor, adding to maximum protection.

Adds Cristol, “No less important, the CoboAccess_Pal is extremely easy to install. At the factory in Orbe, it took one week, including commissioning time; plus it can be easily moved between lines in less than 10 minutes.”

Read all of Part I of the Robotics Special Report, "Global CPGs embrace robotics," here.