Efficient Handling of Convenience Foods
In a pioneering MRC (Man-Robot Collaboration) pilot project over a fixed period, Bischofszell Nahrungsmittel AG, a subsidiary of the Swiss Migros Group, has sought to achieve two objectives, namely the efficient production of food and the humanization of the workplace.
A company based at Bischofszell near St. Gallen specializes in the production of convenience foods. They make delicious ready-made meals that would not be out of place in a haute cuisine setting. Customer demand for these products with their quality and convenience of preparation is on a sharp upward curve. In a pilot project, the company investigated whether man-robot collaboration (MRC) could increase capacity to the level required while at the same time reducing risks to its human workforce.
Specifically, the development team were designing a system that would assist in stacking trays of fully packaged convenience dishes in multiple layers on the trolleys used for conveyance to the pasteurization/sterilization unit. The task, when performed manually throughout, entails injury hazards and health risks for employees.
While the distribution of the ready meals on the aluminum trays and the placing of spacers between the individual layers are among the more agreeable jobs on the packing line, stacking the large metal trays on the trolleys is by no means a popular activity. Manhandling the trays, which weigh in at a hefty five kilos, is heavy work. The trays have to be slotted accurately into the trolley, which brings with it the risk of crushed fingers.
The entire handling process was therefore considered a prime candidate for sharing between man and machine working in close proximity at a single compact station without the need for a protective barrier: the agreeable tasks would be assigned to the human employee and the strenuous operations involving risk of injury to the robot.
In consultation with Stäubli, the right robot for this man-machine interaction was identified in no time at all: a TX2-90L