Two RollBot™ depanning robots from ABB Flexible Automation serve up sweet savings for Awrey's Bakeries in Detroit, MI. The robots transfer three-, four- and five-inch-diameter sweet rolls from baking pans onto an icing line, and pay for themselves in faster production, less waste and lower maintenance, according to Dave DePoy, Awrey's project manager in charge of the system's installation.

Awrey's previously counted on a 20-year-old pick-and-place unit depanning approximately 18 pans of sweet rolls a minute. "We needed something faster," says DePoy. "Plus, we were experiencing up to six percent product damage, and machine maintenance took nearly 40 hours a week."

Awrey's chose ABB because of its reputation in the robotics industry and its willingness to pursue this unique application. The RollBots --the first in the country --were installed during the summer of 1998. Ancillary conveyors handle pan infeed and empty pan discharge.

Awrey's currently de-pans about 23 pans per minute. The goal is to standardize at 25 pans per minute, although the robots could handle up to 30 pans per minute. Awrey's curtailed its speed to keep in sync with the rest of production. While depanning used to be the bottleneck in production, the RollBots now make up the most efficient part of Awrey's entire line.

"The design of the Rollbots' needle pick-up gives them a very precise and delicate touch when handling sweet rolls," adds DePoy. "As a result, our scrap decreased from five percent to about one and a half percent, which is phenomenal in the bakery business."

Unlike more traditional depanning systems, ABB's system uses two-axis robots. Other depanning robots use mechanical and air-activated parts, adding to maintenance requirements. "Our old machine was all high-maintenance pneumatics," says DePoy. "We were constantly working on it."

Designed for flexibility, the system easily switches between different products such as cinnamon rolls, Danish and bear claws. Fast-change grippers and variable, programmable handling speeds let the system accommodate different products. It can also be fitted with a vacuum pick-up, and configured to transfer product to either a conveyor or packing line of formed trays.

ABB Flexible Automation Inc., Packaging Automation Division, 2487 South Commerce Drive, New Berlin, WI 53151-2717, Tel.: 414-785-3400.