Robots help Swiss baker achieve productivity gains, energy savings

Tags: energy management

Roland Murten AG, a Swiss baker, has installed camera-guided robots from ABB to pack its crisp and brittle pretzels at high speed, reducing the amount of waste and cutting energy consumption by about 12 percent on its main production line.

Six lightweight robots from ABB’s FlexPicker series seize the pretzels from a conveyor belt and place them in plastic trays at a rate of 140 kilograms per hour, or about 80 pretzels each minute. They do so ever so gently, placing a rubber finger in each loop of the pretzel and extending the fingers outward until just enough pressure is exerted to lift it.

The robots have reduced the proportion of broken items to just 2.3 percent from about 15 percent, said Walter Fuchs, the factory’s production manager. This also reduced the amount of energy used, saving Roland Murten almost 19,000 Swiss francs (US$17,000) per year.

The dry, crisp pretzels, flavored with salt, sesame seeds or herbs, are a popular snack in the company’s main markets of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Roland, part of the family-owned Cornu SA bakery group, also exports them as far afield as Japan and Australia.

Extraordinary precision
Roland used robots to pack its pretzels before, but the suction mechanism used to pick them caused too many breakages and required almost constant monitoring. The ABB robots’ special PickMaster software program calculates the direction and strength needed to complete each motion, which results in extraordinarily precise and careful picking.

As ABB robots work unsupervised, employees, who used to spend part of their time checking the packing line, can now concentrate on their main job. The new robots are also a lot quieter, making for a more pleasant work environment in the factory.

Camera-guided robots
Each FlexPicker IRB 340 robot on the new line is aided by a camera monitoring goods on the conveyor belt and by the PickMaster software that uses the camera images to guide the machine’s arm to the nearest pretzel. When the camera spots a broken product, the robot is instructed to ignore it.

The software keeps track of the number of pretzels that are loaded into each molded plastic container, and when each one is full, the container is sent to be wrapped.

“ABB’s solution was not the cheapest, but you have to take more than just procurement costs into account,” Fuchs said. “The savings in operational costs also need to be factored in, and in our case we achieved significant reductions in costs for staff, energy and wastage.”

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