Win for flexible automation project

AMCOR Cartons, a global leader in supplying plastic, fibre, metal and glass packaging products, in conjunction with Robotic Automation created a winning global packaging system to solve packaging problems as well as address risks to staff and improve profitability.

The Robotic End-of-Line Solution, which won this year's Endeavour Award's Technology Application of the Year Award, sponsored by SMC Pneumatics, consists of three main component technologies including robotic palletising, automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) and automatic pallet wrapping. 

The design and integration, including R&D, manufacture, build, testing and final on-site installation and commissioning was performed by Robotic Automation to increase staff safety, product quality, and reduce costs while providing a strong boost to productivity.

Colin Wells MD at Robotic Automation said the use of AGVs has allowed a more efficient and flexible use of current floor-space and cost-free adaptability to changing needs. 

"Laser-guided accuracy optimises efficiency and safe motion of the vehicles," he said.

Accepting the award, Wells said he was very proud to accept the award, but was a little surprised that the project had won, and credited the win to the company's engineers who came up with the solution.

"Actually we didn't set out to do this in the first place. We didn't sell Amcor the system, we persuaded them. All credit to our engineers. It's great," Wells said at the event.

He said the best aspect of the entry was the technology used for the AGVs and the fact that the project has the ability to be moved around the factory. 

"The system has boosted productivity by 235% and opens up the Amcor factory. Instead of having a fixed thing moulded to the floor, we made a very flexible island of automation connected by AGVs, which are like forklifts without anybody driving them."

He said the AGVs have allowed a more efficient use of floor space and has incorporated cost free adaptability to changing needs with laser guided accuracy which best optimises the most efficient and safe motion of the vehicles.

The judges commented that the partnership between the two companies is what had lead to the success of the end of line solution.

"A successful strategic alliance between Amcor and Robotic Automation has resulted in admirable enhancements in productivity," the judges said.

To maximise space efficiency and utility, the team devised a solution incorporating AGVs which take no permanent space. This still offers staff and servicing access around all equipment as the AGVs safety features allow shared routes with pedestrians, plus AGVs easily reprogrammed laser-navigation paths allow greater flexibility to rearrange equipment layouts in the future. 

He said the AGVs also have the advantage of an easily scalable solution, allowing Amcor to efficiently invest in the full solution in workable stages, adding extra vehicles to the fleet as the solution is proven, investment returning, and Amcor ready to proceed.

The robotic palletising process involves each robot performing at a rate equivalent to two manual staff per shift, in up to three shifts per day without the obvious need for breaks or shift changeover. 

The six robots can do the work of more than 42 staff per day. With the RA team's extra improvements, the cells can now use a smaller amount of space and the smallest, best-value choice of robot payload-models, yet still have the efficiency of a multi-function gripper – able to handle sealed or lidless boxes as well as slip-sheets and layer caps.

Wells said one of the key advantages of the new end of line solution is the acknowledgment that staff are happier with the new system as there were many flaws in the old system. 

The manual loading and wrapping tasks were highly repetitive and physically very demanding, with strain and injuries a risk. Workplace OH&S incidents in the loading/wrapping area were numbering at approximately seven per year, with associated costs in management, labour, claims and lost production time.

There was also the risks associated with manually driven forklifts operating around manual-loading staff also which presented potential dangers and the associated OH&S hazards and costs. With the inherent variability of manual operations, and typically low personal commitment in menial tasks, staff performance in loading and wrapping is often less than best and presentation of the product to the customer suffers.

Image: Colin Wells MD at Robotic Automation (right) and David Jamieson, SMC Pnematic's Sales & Marketing Manager.