At the load cell, the automated system uses Delta robots to orient and form a pattern of unprocessed pouches, and then uses 6-axis robots to pick and place full patterns of pouches onto self-stacking trays at a rate up to 200 pouches per minute. A secondary 6-axis robot is used to stack the trays on top of each other, and then the tray stack is conveyed out to an existing shuttle system that feeds the retorts. After the pouches have been retorted, the shuttle transports the tray stacks to the unloading cell. Trays are de-stacked by a 6-axis robot and the full pouch pattern is removed from the tray by another 6-axis robot and placed onto a mass take-away conveyor.
As the pouches are moved down the mass conveyor, one row of pouches is discharged at a time to form a single lane of pouches, which are then sent to the packaging line. The 6-axis robot flips empty trays over to ensure there aren’t any remaining pouches. The robot then re-stacks the empty trays so that complete tray stacks can be automatically returned to the load cell for use in loading the next batch of unprocessed pouches. Full automation maximizes output while reducing headcount in the retort room and lowers the risk of damage to the packages and trays compared to manual loading and unloading operations.
This scalable and customizable system integrates the robotic tray loading and unloading cells with an automated tray tracking system to ensure unprocessed tray stacks of pouches can’t be sent to the unloader cell without being fully processed in the retorts. The latest generation of Allpax automation controls are employed and are integrated with the retort process controls. Intuitive human machine interfaces (HMIs) make learning, operating and maintaining the system simple, the company says. Like the equipment described above, the control system is designed and manufactured at the Allpax Covington, La., facility and uses off-the-shelf components for ease of replacement and serviceability. The Allpax engineers who design and build the system also support it. Customers can opt for 24/7 remote-access technical support for even quicker assistance, thus minimizing equipment downtime.