High speed, fewer errors with the automatic beverage palletizing
Fully automatic mixed palletizing is considered the supreme discipline among palletizing robots. At the Pepsi branch in Jordan, a KUKA robot masters this task with flying colors. For five years now, the KR 700 PA has been ensuring that supermarkets and other stores are supplied quickly and reliably with the selection of soft drinks they require. Bottle by bottle, can by can, layer by layer, pallet by pallet.
“By using the robot, we have been able to increase productivity and significantly reduce the error rate caused by manual inter-vention,” says Bechara Nassar, Sales Manager of Technica International SAL, a Lebanese provider of automation and robotic solutions who installed the robotic station at Pepsi.
KR 700 PA takes center stage
Everything there now revolves around the KR 700 PA and the robot around the beverage packages to be palletized. It stands in the middle of a hall, with five to six pallets of various bottles and cans already packed into small packages around it. Pepsi stocks more than 500 product variants of its 23 brands such as Lipton, 7UP and Pepsi itself – and in different sizes. This is a challenge for any robot, which has to grip the packages and place them precisely. First, a forklift truck brings the pallets with the beverages to the robot station, as well as empty pallets and necessary intermediate layers.
Challenge of mixed palletizing mastered
Then it starts: after it has placed an empty pallet on the loading station, the KR 700 PA grips a layer of beverages with its gripper arm and lifts them onto it. It then sucks in an intermediate layer by means of a vacuum function, places it on top of the beverages, and picks up the next layer. The heaviest beverages go to the bottom, lighter ones to the top. This has optimized the workflow between the warehouse and the palletizing system at Pepsi in Jordan. Once the robot has finished its part, the pallets are transported away via a conveyor and finally delivered to the truck loading area.
Precise, fast, powerful
The KR 700 PA has a payload of up to 700 kilograms – for beverage cans of 0.33 liters, this corresponds to more than 2,100 cans. Even with the maximum payload, the KR 700 PA works precisely and quickly, achieving up to 4 work cycles per minute thanks to powerful motors for the automatic beverage palletizing. And it works exactly according to plan. Bechara Nassar explains: “Different types of beverages are stacked on the pallets according to a predefined system. The customer defines the sequence per layer and per pallet via the software.” This offers enormous advantages, especially for retailers: the pallets can be individually loaded with beverages, matched to the requirements in the store. This makes it easier to restock the shelves on site, for example.
The task now performed by the robot was carried out manually by numerous employees in the Pepsi Jordan warehouse until 2016. One of the customer’s wishes: to relieve the people who have to perform this heavy physical work through automation. “Automation was the only way to make the process maximally effective. And KUKA had the most suitable robot for us“, says Bechara Nassar, explaining the choice of the KR 700 PA. This is because it was important to Pepsi that the automation system use as little space as possible. With its reach of up to 3.3 meters and its compact design, the KR 700 PA was therefore well suited to the warehouse of the beverage manufacturer, which in 2020 had worldwide sales of over 70 billion US dollars.
First cooperation with KUKA
The team from Technica International SAL worked with KUKA for the first time on the installation, the automatic beverage palletizing – and was very satisfied. “KUKA provided optimum support for our engineers on site in integrating the robot,” says Bechara Nassar. The company has been providing automation solutions since 1982 and is considered a pioneer in the Middle East and Gulf Region for systems with robots.
Technica plans to expand this palletizing solution to other plants in different industries worldwide. Bechara Nassar goes on to say, “We also want to add an extra step to this system and offer our customers a Tetris palletizing solution. So even within the same layer, different types and sizes of beverages could be stacked.” The biggest challenge here: each layer must reach the same height so that the next layer can be stacked on top of it. The corresponding software can also calculate and plan this precisely in advance.