At its production facility in Morahalom, Hungary, Beltaste N.V. mass-produces kebabs. What makes this factory so special is the unique, fully automated Pick & Skewer line which exemplifies “Food Processing 4.0” - the fourth generation of manufacturing technology.
The automation of food production presents immense challenges, not least because of the stringent hygiene standards and the difficulties involved in handling the products. PINTRO bv of Belgium has come up with a novel solution: their fully automated Pick & Skewer system for the preparation of kebabs is a world first.
Shashlik, souvlaki, kebab and satay – all variations on the theme of skewered meat – enjoy great popularity with consumers. The 160-strong workforce at Beltaste N.V.’s production facility in Morahalom, southern Hungary, produces mainly shish kebabs. In the eyes of automation experts in this field, it is considered a pioneer of “Food Processing 4.0” - the fourth generation of manufacturing technology.
The Pick & Skewer has enabled a quantum leap to fully automated production of kebabs. Depending on the desired output, a minimum of two and a maximum of five robots pick all of the ingredients and hold them ready for skewering.
Beltaste opted for the version with five top-of-the-line Stäubli TX2-60L HE robots. Because a single six-axis robot is capable of picking and skewering up to 3,000 separate ingredients per hour, the system achieves a maximum throughput of 15,000 ingredients. At 10 per skewer, that is equivalent to 1,500 kebabs per hour.
The robots are guided by vision systems and work their way through a list of recipes stored in the controller. In doing so, they are not only fast, but also highly versatile. The ceiling-mounted Stäubli robots grip and position each ingredient with an accuracy of ± 0.1 mm. Precise positioning and alignment are not the only criteria that matter here. It is also important that the kebabs look as if they have been handmade.
In addition to speed and precision, hygiene and cleanability also played key roles in the selection of the robot. The HE (humid environment) version of the six-axis Stäubli TX2 robot is waterproof and thus eminently suited for this requirement profile. It is fully encapsulated and lubricated with food-grade NSF H1 oil, able to withstand the cleaning routine without any impairment of function.
In the Pick & Skewer, PINTRO has developed a worldwide first for the food processing industry, clearing high hurdles along the way – for example, with the design of grippers that pick and place onion slices and cherry tomatoes at speeds almost too fast for the human eye to follow. Because the system handles raw meat, the entire process must be carried out under the strictest hygienic conditions, which is thankfully not a problem for Stäubli HE robots.
From the perspective of the early adopters, the concept offers clear advantages: the quality of the kebabs is consistently high, the ingredients are skewered precisely, and there is a free choice of ingredients. Cleaning and disinfection times are extremely short, and the robots can be hosed down at the same time. This is the future of kebab production. With the first Pick & Skewer line having been such a huge success, a second one has recently gone into operation at the Beltaste factory in Hungary.