Cermex automates palletisation for dairy co-op

Monday, 11 May, 2015

03 gebo cermex laita

The Laïta dairy cooperative in north-west France prides itself on creating mutually beneficial relations with the 4000 dairy farms from which it collects its milk, as well as ensuring the wellbeing of its 2400 staff.

At its Créhen plant, the cooperative produces the Madame Loïk range of whipped cheese. For this range, tubs are hot filled and then cooled by going through a cold room. Historically, the tubs were transferred from the filler to the cooling unit by hand.

Laïta needed to increase production to cope with growth in demand. However, accelerating the manual transfer of tubs onto the racks was discarded as a solution as the task was identified as being repetitive and unergonomic.

Automation was the best solution, but offered challenges, including:

  • frequent recipe and format changeovers (at least 20 times per day) needed to be possible without increasing line downtime;
  • the product accumulation capacity needed to be at least maintained, so as not to affect the upstream of the line, in particular by stopping the filler;
  • the overall organisation of production had to be complied with.

During the project, the logic of automating a second line became apparent for Laïta. This new approach would reduce the arduousness of the manual work on both lines, and it was more cost effective to invest in one unit with two product infeeds to manage both of the high-speed lines in the factory.

After filling and sealing, a Cermex Pal-Vite 410 two-station robotic unit now palletises the cheese tubs layer by layer. It manages the infeed of products on two lanes, coming from the filling machine of each line. The maximum speed is 15,000 tubs per hour and the robot can handle up to four different heights of tub, with the possibility of handling two different heights simultaneously.

The unit ensures individual and contactless product handling up to gripping in four stages:

  1. The products are spaced out by an infeed system with upper and lower belts.
  2. A system of retractable fingers stops each tub to keep them spaced out.
  3. The row of products on the layer preparation table is transferred positively by a servo-driven pusher.
  4. The step-by-step advancement of the layer preparation table is controlled by a servomotor.

The gripping tooling equipped with 96 suction cups enables a whole layer to be palletised in one go. Compared with the previous manual solution, the product accumulation capacity was tripled.

Gilles Meurou, head of Laïta’s fresh product division, said: “We have managed to increase output very significantly as well as eliminate two zones where tasks were particularly repetitive and potential sources of musculoskeletal disorders. We are really satisfied with this solution that is entirely in tune with our values focused on performance while protecting employees.”

Benefits for production and for maintenance:

  • Upgradability: For example, square tubs could be handled in the future.
  • User-friendly control panel.
  • Assistance with locating faults and with restarts, which is much appreciated by operators.
  • Simple and easy to maintain: The robot tilts and orients its tooling vertically for cleaning and easily replacing suction cups.
  • Integration into the line: Signals are exchanged with the upstream equipment so as to avoid product accumulation if the line is stopped.
  • Possibility for Cermex to intervene remotely.

Benefits for product image:

  • Structural integrity of the tubs is maintained by pressureless handling, preserving the shape of the cardboard tubs, which are the historic brand image of Laïta.
  • The soft cheese is kept level as the tubs advance smoothly throughout the process, improving the visual appearance of the contents after cooling.
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