Food Engineering

In a pickle

April 5, 2007
Robotic palletizer helps vegetable producer meet peak production demands.

A robotic palletizer helped Putter’s Foods meet demand during peak processing times, while increasing production, which actually created more jobs on the processing line. Source: Aliment Putter’s Foods, Inc.

Aliment Putter’s Foods, a family-owned Sainte-Sophie, QC-based producer of pickled vegetables, was, itself, in a pickle. The company’s manual end-of-line palletizing operation was limiting processing capacity, particularly during the July to mid-November peak season when Putter’s typically runs up to 12,000 cases per day while operating one 10-hour plus shift, five or six days a week.

The company employs 50 to 60 people during peak season when it produces primarily pasteurized, non-refrigerated products such as dill, gherkin and bread & butter pickles, hot banana peppers, sweet pimentos and sauerkraut.

Products are distributed under the Putter’s Food label to retailers and wholesalers in Canada and the US and are also sold under private labels. Products are packaged into 500- ml, 750-ml, 16-oz., 1-liter, 2-liter and 4-liter jars. Putter’s uses seven different sizes of cardboard cases, which include loose or pre-glued dividers. Jars are machine labeled and packed into a case by hand, then sealed with tape.

“Even with three people palletizing, we couldn’t take product away as fast as we could produce it during the peak season,” says Alvin Goodz, Putter’s owner and president. “Cases weigh up to 20 lbs. each. Stacking them onto pallets is a backbreaking, physically demanding job. Nobody wants to work that hard and people were quitting left and right.”

In September 2005, Putter’s installed a four-axis Motoman SP100x palletizing robot at the end of the line.

Cases of product enter the robot cell via a single-lane, powered infeed conveyor. Sensors indicate when cases are in the proper location and ready for pickup by the robot. For changeovers between product types, the operator selects a different program using the robot’s teach pendant and the system is ready to run the next batch.

The palletizing robot uses a single-zone vacuum gripper along with a pneumatically actuated mechanical side plate to securely grip and transfer the cases, regardless of size or weight.

The robot picks the smaller, lighter cases weighing 8 to 38 lbs. each individually, and palletizes them at a line rate of 10/min. (600/hr.). The robot palletizes the tall, narrow, 20-lb. cases, which each contain two 4-liter/1-gallon jars, two at a time at a rate of 20/min. (1,200/hr.).

The robot stacks cases onto wooden pallets located in one of two palletizing stations. Pallet layers for the various products contain 10 to 21 cases and stacking patterns vary. Full pallets are removed via forklift and replaced with empty pallets while the robot continues to palletize cases in the other station. Full pallets are shrink-wrapped prior to shipment.

“People always worry that robots will eliminate jobs, but this robot actually helped create more jobs in the plant. We’ve been able to hire more people for the processing line and increase production,” Goodz says. “The robot can palletize product as fast as we can produce it and our unit cost has gone down.

“The actual financial payback will take a couple of years, but in terms of peace of mind, the robot has already paid for itself,” he states.  u



For more information:

Mary Kay Morel; 937-847-6200; info@motoman.com