Food Engineering

Cruise control option eases robotic conveying

November 1, 2008
New vacuum system handles cheese and produces some not-so-cheesy results.

Cheese rounds are picked up by robot with suction provided by PIAB’s Model P6010 PCC vacuum pumps. Source: PIAB.


Arla Foods, a co-operative owned by approximately 11,600 milk producers in Denmark and Sweden, produces 74 types of cheese every day. Proud of its longstanding reputation for providing the highest quality products and a healthy work environment, Arla strives to implement the latest technologies to improve overall satisfaction for its customers and its staff.

At the local farms, milk is aged and poured into large rounds, which are then covered with protective wax to ensure proper hygienic safety. Once covered in wax, the cheese rounds are shipped to the packaging plant where they are sent for mass market distribution. 

When the cheeses arrive at the packaging plant, they are transferred to large pallets holding six rounds on each layer. While in the company’s cheese storage facility, uncut Präst and other large, round cheeses are stacked to be delivered. As cheese is highly perishable, Arla ensures the most hygienic handling practices are used throughout the process.

“The primary protection for the cheeses is wax,” says Jan Selander, manager of waxing and high-rise storage at Arla Foods. The waxing facility at Götene’s distribution center is also Arla’s processing, storage and distribution facility for cheese in Sweden. The company waxes about 500 tons of cheese each week, and the cheeses are stored for a period between three and 12 months. Due to quality reasons, the wax is replaced every six weeks. “The cheese must be handled many times, and with great care, in order not to damage the protective wax,” says Selander.

The handling of cheese had already been automated, using vacuum grippers to lift the heavy rounds. Although the automation process was a major improvement from Arla’s original, manual system, the co-op wanted to upgrade its system to improve energy efficiency, reduce waste and decrease noise levels at the facility.

Arla decided to turn to its longstanding supplier, PIAB. “We had worked with PIAB in the past and had confidence that they could come up with the most efficient solution to meet our needs,” says Selander.

The supplier’s engineers removed Arla’s existing vacuum pumps and replaced them with its P6010 vacuum pumps, equipped with the company’s cruise control (PCC), which allows for an optimum vacuum level while improving energy efficiency. The pump operates quietly and can provide up to 40% more flow than conventional air-driven vacuum pumps.

The PCC automatically maintains a pre-set level of vacuum to ensure a consistent vacuum level is provided at the suction point. This was important because it allows a reliable product hold, accommodates the speed of the robot and doesn’t crack the wax or damage the cheese.

The new pumping system paid immediate dividends in fewer product rejections and reduced compressed air consumption, which lowered overall energy costs. Additionally, the new system cuts the noise level in half, providing employees with quieter working environment.

“By using new grippers and the P6010/PCC, the number of damaged cheeses has been drastically reduced. We are now less vulnerable to variations in feed pressure, and we can see that the system is a lot less sensitive to occasional leakage,” assesses Selander. “Additionally, we have reduced air consumption by 53%.”  

For more information, Ed McGovern, 781-337-7309, edmcg@piab.com.