5 Takeaways From The Pick, Place and Pall Cobot Expo

Food and Beverage Industry: 3 Reasons You Should Invest in Robotics and Automation

Food and Beverage Industry: 3 Reasons You Should Invest in Robotics and Automation

Written By Simab Khan

Considering adding robots to your food and beverage operations?

There are many reasons companies in the food and beverage industry choose collaborative robots when they increase the level of automation in their operations.

Here are three factors for you to think about when considering automation in your own facility.

1. Flexibility

Larger companies that process a consistently high volume of each product and that also have lots of space available may choose traditional industrial robots to automate their operations. Industrial robots have the advantage of speed. But they also require more space than a collaborative robot, they’re more expensive, and it’s difficult to change their function once they’re set up.

If your company has a high-mix, low-volume type of production, you’ll need a robot that can easily switch between different products and tasks.

This is when we can introduce collaborative robots.

Cobot is another term for a collaborative robot, which is a type of robot that can work with and near people. This contrasts with traditional industrial robots that operate independently in a fenced-off area.

Cobots have various safety features such as force limiting so that if a person strays into the path of a moving cobot, the force of impact will automatically be limited. Cobots also often operate more slowly than typical industrial robots, so that people in the workspace of the cobot won’t be injured due to high-speed operations. (Or they can be programmed to slow down when a person is near, and speed up when nobody is close by.)

In addition to these safety features, cobots are unlike traditional robots in that they are often designed to interact with people. For example, a cobot arm can be ‘trained’ by an employee (no robotics expert needed) to perform a task. Or a cobot and a human can work together, side-by-side on a specific task. It’s also easy for employs to make changes to cobots so they can perform different tasks.

A wide range of different end-of-arm tools and sensors are available for Universal Robots’ cobot arms. It’s also possible to customize tooling for the processes in your facility.

It’s easy for employees to adjust cobots so they can handle different types of products — from large loaves of bread to tiny, delicate cookies, from squishy bags of milk to cartons of fragile eggs. Because employees can change the end-of-arm tools and re-program the robot themselves, there’s no need for a programming expert to make a change to the robot’s task.

“I wanted a robot that my employees could program for other tasks and place in production by themselves. With our previous robot, we needed to call expensive specialists each time we wanted to make a change. That became too costly.”

Bo Berghdahl, Production and Analysis Manager at Nordic Sugar

Cobots can also help you manage the seasonality of your food and beverage operations. They can work around the clock during busy periods, avoiding the need to hire and train temporary workers. And they can work fewer hours when it’s less busy, without having to lay people off.

2. Quality Control

Using robotics in the food industry makes it easier to achieve the consistency in branded products that customers expect. Unlike humans, robots are able to perform the same task — icing cakes or depositing tomato sauce on pasta — over and over again with less variation than humans (either the same human over time, or different humans across shifts). Not only does this provide the consistency consumers demand, it also reduces waste and the costs associated with it.

Nortura is a Norwegian meat producer and their palletizing robot also helps with quality control. It checks for errors that may have occurred earlier in the production line:

“While humans might not notice that a box wasn’t filled properly, the robot measures the weight of each box and signals if a box comes down the line with fewer packages inside.”

Read the full case study here: Food industry palletizing cobot with vision system works in tight quarters.

Cobot vision systems can be used for reading bar codes or QR codes to facilitate inventory management, sorting, or quality control. The software can give you greater insight into your facility’s productivity. It also helps with traceability in the production line because all steps can be tracked and analyzed.

“Robotics in food processing will greatly facilitate the smooth transition into Industry 4.0 and allow for utilization of IoT concepts which promises to provide food manufacturers with better traceability and trackability of all ingredients, processes, and products, vastly improving food and consumer safety measures.”

3. Workplace Safety and Hygiene

Automation in the food industry can reduce the risk of employee injuries due to repetitive motions and heavy lifting of bins, totes, trays, and so on. Cobot arms are available in a range of reach and payload options.

“Many processes in large-scale food production are simple and/or repetitive… Over time, these can become tedious and mundane to human employees, which in turn can affect the quality of processing and products if they become tired or bored… Automating such processes may aid in eliminating labor fatigue and repetitive task injuries, which will improve employee safety, as well as limiting product faults and decreasing food waste.”

Cobots can work indefinitely in environments that humans find uncomfortable after a short period e.g. humid greenhouses, refrigerated rooms, or tending hot ovens. This may help with hiring and retaining employees in the current labor-shortage environment.

“Automation can also result in improved food hygiene, whereas human operations can lead to product contamination. Robots can be designed to work in harsh environmental conditions [while maintaining] hygienic conditions, which will increase the overall product quality. They are also made to withstand the effect of cleaning agents such as acids, cleaning enzymes, and bleach.”

Cobots can also work alone to reduce the risk of contamination in low-touch processes.

The Bottom Line

These are some of the advantages cobots can provide for your food and beverage operations. The payback time for an investment in collaborative robots in the food industry will of course vary based on many factors. For example, payback time was 365 days for Cascina Italia. For Orkla Foods Sverige, payback time was 6 months. For Nordic Sugar payback time was 124 days.

If you’d like to talk about how cobots could benefit your food and beverage operations, our team is always available to chat. Contact us or send us an e-mail.

Four Reasons You Need to Consider Robotics in Your Logistics Operations

4 Reasons You Need to Consider Robotics in Your Logistics Operations

Written By Simab Khan

Working alongside your current employees, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) can help improve your logistics operations. Here are four problems you may be facing and examples of how AMRs can help alleviate them.

1. Labour is hard to find, train, and retain

Given the current labor shortage in North America, it’s tricky to hire and retain enough permanent employees. And, during busy periods, hiring and training temporary workers is an additional challenge.

“In 2017, 2018, and 2019, employee attraction and retention were identified as the leading challenge for warehouses and distribution centers in the USA.”

AMRs, like other robotics in logistics operations, can help you hire and retain staff. They make job openings more attractive to potential hires. And the robots can work alongside your existing staff, moving inventory to where people need it.

“Reducing the number of walking employees by introducing automation… can make employees’ jobs easier.”

During busy periods, robots can work back-to-back shifts, day and night, so you can avoid the headache of hiring and training temporary staff.

Magna-Power is a manufacturer based in New Jersey. They improved the efficiency of their internal logistics operations by reducing the time employees spent moving materials between departments. The equivalent of three full-time employees that were freed from repetitive, low-value transportation tasks.

“The purpose of the robot is not to replace employees but to make them more efficient with their time. Now they can focus on the things that we can’t get a robot to do.”

Grant Pitel, Vice president of Engineering, Magna-Power.

Read the case study and watch the video here: MiR improves Global Competitiveness of Magna-Power

2. Online shoppers have high expectations for fast, accurate orders

Canadians have been gradually doing more shopping online over the past few years. And e-commerce skyrocketed during the pandemic. Some experts predict this is a permanent change in shoppers’ behavior. Online customers expect accurate, fast orders. If your company falls short in accuracy and speed, you can lose out to competitors.

Automation in logistics can improve your company’s order accuracy and speed. Sometimes, robots are intrinsically faster than humans. But even when they’re slower, they don’t get distracted or bored and make mistakes like humans do. AMRs deliver the right products to the right place at the right time. Higher accuracy means that there’s less need for rework to correct mistakes. Less rework means faster orders. Fast and accurate orders mean happier customers (and fewer returns).

“An inefficient order-picking process can lead to high operational costs and dissatisfaction among employees and customers.”

3. Warehouses can be unsafe environments for employees

Warehouses pose many risks for employees. As well as human safety, warehouse managers also need to consider the financial costs of these risks. The costs of insurance and time lost due to injuries (such as repetitive strains) and accidents (such as forklift-pedestrian collisions) can be considerable.

“Warehouses are dangerous environments for people. Many things can go wrong, including employees slipping, tripping, or falling from heights, accidents occurring while operating or working around equipment like scissor lifts and forklifts, pallets can fall and in severe cases racking can collapse. Such accidents often result in serious injuries and generate significant costs and revenue loss. The average work-related injury results in $38,000 in direct expenses and $150,000 in indirect costs.”

“According to the US Occupational Health and Safety Administration… one in six [industrial] accidents comes from a forklift event… and at least 80% of forklift accidents involve pedestrians.”

Warehouse automation with AMRs can make facilities safer for employees. For example, to replace a forklift in your warehouse, an AMR could be configured with a lifter module (with a payload up to 1000kg) to lift, transport, and deliver stacked pallets.

Other top modules — such as hooks, racks, and conveyors — can be attached to AMRs. The top modules are easy for employees to change so the same robot can be used for different tasks. 

AMRs can even have cobot arms attached to them so they can move around the warehouse to pick and place products, reducing human repetitive motions and decreasing the risk of injury.

4. Inefficiency

Given the expense of labor — and the difficulty of hiring workers — you may be seeking to maximize the value of each employee and to ensure each one is working as efficiently as possible. If workers are spending a lot of each workday walking from place to place in your warehouse, or doing other mundane, low-value tasks, that is not the best use of your labor costs.

Using mobile robots for warehouse automation so employees spend less time transporting inventory means they can focus on higher-value tasks that are more strategic, creative, and collaborative.

“For example, Amazon employees walked 18km in the order picking process during a shift. After introducing cobots, the performance improved which led to a reduction of the employees’ walking distance by 40–70%.”

Here’s a video about a Danish manufacturing company that’s using AMRs to improve its internal logistics. The robots reduce the amount of time employees spend moving materials around, and they also increase safety: MiR500 mobile cobots make traffic safer in Kverneland’s factory.

Are AMRs a good fit for your logistics operations?

If you’d like to increase the efficiency, accuracy, and safety of your logistics operations, AMRs may be a good fit. Get in touch if you’d like to chat about how autonomous mobile robots might help in your warehouse.

How To Match The Right Robot To The Right Task

How To Match The Right Robot To The Right Task

Written By Brad Henrie

Like any other industrial machine, robots need to be properly selected for their intended task. If they aren’t they can become a process bottleneck or require more maintenance. Sometimes a needlessly complex and expensive robotic solution is chosen when a simple economically priced one would work instead. Multiple types of robots exist and each excel in different applications while falling short in others. With so many factors to consider how do we select the most optimal robotic solution?

Collaborative Robots

Collaborative robots (cobots) are all the rage right now and they have certainly earned it due to their programming simplicity, human friendliness, and versatility. They are more like shop tools than robots, and have opened up applications that previously weren’t economical. For those unfamiliar with robots this is often the first contact they have with the technology and they can often get short sighted because cobots are so versatile. It’s possible to fit a cobot to almost every task, but it isn’t always the best tool for the task.

The Downside

For faster speeds or higher loads than cobots can handle traditional robot arms can be used. Initially designed for high-speed repetitive work in the automotive industry they are powerful, and fast. Their 6+ degrees of freedom arm design grants them more flexibility than other types of robots but payload capacity decreases the further the arm extends. 

High speed and large loads mean higher potential for injury, which means a comprehensive safety solution is required.  

SCARA and Delta

When applications don’t require the level of flexibility articulated arms provide there are simpler options like delta and SCARA configurations. They have 3-4 degrees of freedom which constrains the end effector to be parallel to the surface the robot’s mounted on. But this works for applications such as pick and place, soldering, and screw driving. Their simplistic design means that higher speeds and throughput can be achieved which lowers ROI. 

Simple designs and applications also mean that programming is simple and straightforward.

Cartesian and Gantry

Drawbacks of all arm designs are low payload capacity and low reach. Cartesian and gantry configurations overcome these limitations because they are constructed from linear slides and can be scaled to match the application. Being composed of linear slides means that they inherit the downsides of linear slides such as poor environmental ratings and take up more space than other robots. They have the largest payload capacity of all robots, but can also be constructed small enough to fit on a desk next to an operator.

Sometimes a simple linear slide or piston is enough. In some modern motion components the actuator, drive, and controller can often be combined into the same package allowing complex motions to be programmed and controlled easily.

So how do we choose a robot?

Shelley is uniquely positioned to answer this question. We carry over 5 different robotics lines and 5 different end effector lines, everything from gantry systems to collaborative robots, and large industrial robots. This diversity allows us to pick the best product for the job rather than just the one that will work. Contrast this with individual suppliers, who must pick a solution from their much smaller lineup. We also provide a complete solution by supplying peripherals such as conveyors, autonomous mobile robots, sensors, and safety systems.

Our sales staff know how to guide you through the process of selecting a robot. They are backed up by our engineering team who have intimate knowledge of all our product lines and know how to combine them into complete solutions.

If a project gets too big for us to handle we can work with engineering integrators who specialize in large projects, many of whom we have partnered with on a regular basis for years.

If you have been thinking about adding a robot to your production process give us a call and lets continue this conversation.

How to Achieve the Highest Warehouse Automation ROI

How to Achieve the Highest Warehouse Automation ROI

Written by Simab Khan

Maximizing margins is the primary goal of any warehouse business, and trying to get more in than you get out can seem like a daily struggle. Earning a worthwhile return on investment (ROI) can be a goal you are constantly striving for, but you can move a whole lot closer to it with automation in your warehouse.

Automation can save you money by cutting labour costs and increasing capacity, but how can it deliver that elusive boost to ROI, which can bring your company to the next level?

Assessing the potential ROI from automation isn’t a straightforward process but one which can be very rewarding. It is not simply about replacing one way of doing things with another, and although it will save and make you money in the long term, it requires an initial investment of time and capital.

Mapping Out Your Journey

Automation involves a fundamental change to the manufacturing and end-of-line process. Therefore, when moving from manual to automated operations, it is vital to map out the warehouse process.

To do this, you need to consider several factors. These include the space required for automation equipment. Even if you have machinery in your warehouse which handles end-of-line processes, automation equipment will have different dimensions and likely take up less space.

There is a requirement for a different piece of equipment to be placed together to ensure a smooth and efficient process.
That’s why mapping and designing is an integral part of the automation process and why they will help you more accurately your warehouse ROI.

Drawing up accurate plans for your new warehouse layout before installation means problems are less likely to arise later when equipment has already been installed.

By mapping out the layout, you can also help your staff to get an idea of where they need to be and how they can work with the equipment.

Mapping should also include a walkthrough of your typical warehouse process, including all aspects of order fulfillment at your maximum capacity, which will give you valuable insight into what automation can contribute to your business.

Selecting the Right Equipment

Mapping out space and designing your new warehouse layout is one thing; working out what to put in it is another. That’s where Shelley Automation comes in. We can help choose the correct automation equipment for your warehouse and advise you of the most efficient systems you will need to maximize your warehouse ROI.

When selecting the right equipment for your warehouse, you will need to consider what you have room for and what your budget can stretch to. In doing so, you need to be aware of the ROI an automated system will generate.

Many systems come with a significant upfront investment, although there are finance options and government incentive programs available. Through our partnership with DLL we are able to offer leasing programs to help get you started.

The equipment you choose needs to blend in seamlessly and augment your existing processes. It should also be reliable and come with the appropriate support and software. With Shelley Automation, you are in good hands in that respect. Everything from order-picking cobots to light-guided picking solutions to robotic palletizers will help speed up order fulfillment while providing accuracy and reducing waste.

Conveyors can speed up your operational process and increase capacity, which in turn can lead to more orders.
A MiR1000 order-picking robot, for example, can completely revolutionize your logistical operations. They are specially designed to effortlessly navigate a busy warehouse floor, lifting and setting down pallets with precision and efficiency.

No one knows your warehouse practices better than you, but our highly knowledgeable team is well versed in a wide range of manufacturing, packaging and shipping processes. That means they are uniquely placed to advise you on the equipment that will best suit your business.

We can provide and source equipment for every step of the order fulfillment process, which can streamline your warehouse and boost your ROI.

Training and Maintenance

While warehouse redesign and the equipment itself forms a large part of your investment in automation, you need to factor in other expenditures to accurately calculate your expected ROI. This includes training your employees to handle the new equipment and the maintenance costs involved.

While automation will replace many of your employees’ manual tasks, there will still be a need to make sure they are familiar with how to program and operate the equipment. Furthermore—but making manual processes obsolete—there may be the need to retrain staff to assume more value-added roles in the company. Training will involve a degree of investment, which you will expect to be offset with the more significant revenue generated by your move to an automated system.

The equipment we supply and the source from which we get it are reliable and efficient. To maintain those high standards will require routine servicing and maintenance. This cost should be factored into any warehouse automation investment to give you a more accurate idea of what kind of ROI you can expect.

Choosing the Right Partner

Whether your primary business is manufacturing, packaging or shipping, you’ll know the value of good customer relations. We know their worth too. That’s why at Shelley Automation, we are the ideal partner to start your warehouse automation journey with.

Before you even fire up the first machine, we will help you plot your path to automation. We can advise on the equipment which best suits your requirements, and which is going to bring the best out of your business.

Not only does our team know the technology capacity of the equipment we supply, but we also see how those systems fit together in the manufacturing and end-of-life process.

We perform proof runs of your selected equipment to make sure it is good to go on day one in your warehouse, wasting no time improving your productivity and efficiency—critical components in your goal of maximizing ROI.

We provide technical support and training so you can get the best out of the equipment, and our dedicated network of engineers can be there when you most need it.

We don’t just supply equipment; we understand how that equipment has the power to transform your business, and we want to be a part of that journey.

What’s Holding You Back to Start Automating Your Packaging Application?

What’s Holding You Back to Start Automating Your Packaging Application?

Written By Simab Khan

Time is money, or so the old saying goes, and when it comes to production, how you spend either of them is vital to your success. Directing your human resources to manual packaging can see both time and money eaten up very quickly, and what are you getting in return? Overworked staff, limited orders and stunted growth.

For your company to take the next step and more wisely invest your time and money, you should consider switching to an automated packaging system.

The packaging market in Canada is expected to exceed the US $30 billion mark by 2025, so your company must be in the best position to get a sizable slice of the pie.

The Downsides of Manual Packaging

When you start a new company, or even when budgets are tight, there is an emphasis on cutting as many unnecessary costs as possible. That can probably be why many initially small operations carry out most of their packaging manually. It makes sense to start with – there’s no money to spend on large machinery, and everyone can pitch in and lend a hand when needed.

But when you’re not that scrappy little company trying to find its feet, continuing with manual packaging can be counter-productive. It can inhibit growth, slow down the process and lead to quality control issues.

Manual packaging will take its toll physically on your staff and will keep your Package Per Minute (PPM) rate low. The knock-on effect of this is that you will be limited in the number of orders you can take and how quickly you can ship them.

Not only that, but a physical injury to staff means more sick leave, and if your margins are tight, unplanned absences can be costly.

Quality can also be an issue when it comes to manual packaging. As dedicated as your staff are, it’s only natural that things can go wrong from time to time. A dropped box can lead to damaged packaging and the contents within. Not only can this cause problems for the product itself, but it can also damage the reputation of your company, contributing to a drop in sales.

What Automation Will Bring to Your Production Line

Automation can revolutionize your production operations. It involves letting machines and robots take the strain of lifting and packaging, so it quite literally lightens the load on your staff. It can significantly reduce the risk of injury on the shop floor, and the great thing about robots is that they never get tired. Repetitive tasks such as packaging can lead to fatigue in humans, increasing the risk of mistakes. An automated packaging system will cut out the potential for these errors.

This can also allow you to reassign staff members to other tasks, such as planning and logistics. These are areas where they can add value to your company instead of packaging and loading boxes. It will allow them to develop new skills and ideas which can have a more long-term benefit for your company. Automation can also increase your company’s capacity. Automated packaging can dramatically improve your PPM capabilities, which means the orders can be fulfilled much quicker. Therefore, you can confidently take on more orders which is a boost for your income.

Although automated packaging systems involve an initial upfront investment, the return on that investment can be considerable.

How Do I Know What Type of Automation I Need?

Several factors. For a start, your operation’s size will play a considerable part; however, if you have got to the stage where you need automation, chances are you are already a sizable operation.

That said, there are several different automation options depending on your need and budget. A case erector system or a case packaging system are quite dedicated forms of automation designed for a particular task.

A case erector can quickly assemble flat cardboard packaging into boxes in a matter of seconds, making them ready for storing products ahead of shipping. They are an essential tool at the end of a busy assembly line.

The great advantage is that they can handle large volumes rather quickly. If you have a relatively high PPM requirement, they are a solid option complemented with other automated systems.

This complex automation can involve a high upfront cost, but it can produce instant results and immediately boost production. This means they give you a reasonably quick ROI and allow you to hit targets, and even increase your capacity comfortably.

However, suppose you require something less rigid. In that case, you can look at soft automation systems, which allow for an element of reprogramming so that the machine can perform several different tasks as required.

These can come in the form of the robotic arm, which can perform the different tasks as and when needed, such as an automated palletizing system.

Once you decide to opt for automated packaging, deciding which system to choose is your first step. Take the time to look at your future orders over a three- or six-month period and calculate the time you estimate will be spent on manual packaging.

When you contact Shelley Automation to begin your journey, we will be able to give you an indication of how various packaging systems in Canada can save you time and money. You’ll get a good idea of the packaging capacity of machines and compare this alongside your current output. We are confident you’ll be happy with the results you see.

Where to Start

Whether you are simply looking for more information on automated packaging systems or want to find out where to buy palletizers in Canada, Shelley Automation is your one stop automation shop.

We can offer expert advice and a range of options to suit your operation and budget, as well as conduct feasibilities in our automation and robotics labs.

Take the strain off your staff today.