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Food-packaging robots double line speed for Belgium waffle producer Greymans

Task: Install six FANUC food-packaging robots equipped with advanced functionality, including iRVision, visual line tracking, load balancing, collision guard and an Ethernet encoder, to pick and place the food (in this case, waffles) on the packaging line.

Solution: The number of pieces of food on the conveyor and their position is communicated to the robots via a camera. The robot controller, divides the waffles equally among the robots. Using FANUC’s duo pick feature, each robot grips two waffles and places them on the line, saving time and enhancing transfer speed.

Result: The robotic line is 50 percent faster than the old food processing line. Plus, quality and hygiene has improved. There is also less waste since human operators were prone to breaking off the edges of the waffles, something the robots do not do when packaging delicate food.

Download PDF to find out how food-packaging robots improve efficiency

Six M-2iAs help packaging waffles sold in your supermarket

Biscuiterie Thijs in Herentals produces waffles for household brand supermarkets like Aldi, Lidl, Carrefour, Albert Heijn, and Jumbo. In 2013, the waffle maker decided to automate the packaging line of one of its food production lines. The Dutch company Greymans Paktech has equipped the zone between the supply line and the actual packaging machine with a row of six delta food-packaging robots of the make FANUC M-2iA.

Automated food packaging: Hygienic and 50% more productive

Geert Smolders, assistant manager of Biscuiterie Thijs: "We opted for robots to avoid human contact. It's better for the hygienic conditions, and it makes the line more profitable. We received more and more orders for this type of waffle, and we often had to produce larger quantities."

"Initially, we wanted to hire more operators, but we could not find enough on the labor market. Few people want to do this kind of job, and sometimes, they are not able to do the food handling work because it is intensive and requires a high level of coordination. A food robotic line is faster. Previously, we were able to pack 300 waffles per minute, and now we can do 450, which is an increase of 50 percent." 

M-2IA is ideal for packaging delicate pieces of food

This has significantly improved the quality of our waffles. We create less waste because the edges are not broken off so easily. The waffles we produce on this line are round and have a jagged edge. Therefore, they cling to each other and get stuck when they leave the refrigeration unit. The operators had to intervene and the fragile jagged edges often broke off."

"When the FANUC M-2iA was launched on the market, I immediately proposed to replace the old packaging line and allow the food-packaging robots to assume the pick & place process. The M-2IA is ideal for picking up delicate pieces of food and positioning them on the packaging line," says Johan Greymans, owner of Greymans Paktech.

Integration of smart features for improved packaging line

"M-2iA robots operate with an R-30iB control unit and integrate functions such as:

  • iRVision,
  • visual line tracking,
  • load balancing,
  • collision guard,
  • and an Ethernet encoder.
The waffles are placed at random on the conveyor belt. Using these features, the robots pick up the pieces of food from the conveyor belt and place them on the packaging line. Each of the six food-packaging robots therefore receives an equal load of the supply capacity. A major advantage of FANUC is that you can individually adjust each movement of the robot to create fluid motion."

iRVision: scanning pieces of food

"The conveyor belt consists of two tracks. On each track, four waffles are placed one beside the other as they are packed by two. A strip correctly spreads waffles. Therefore, the cameras of the iRVision system are better able to detect the contours of each waffle. A camera hanging above each track scans the waffles. To further increase accuracy, we illuminate the conveyor belt from the bottom up. The camera detects the food perfectly." 

"The cameras are connected to the robot controllers. They transmit the number of pieces of food located on the conveyor and their position. At the same time, they divide the waffles among the robots. We have written the software ourselves to have the robots communicate with the packaging line. Each food-packaging robot grips two waffles and places them on the line. By opting for the duo pick, we save time and enhance transfer speed."

The cameras are piloting the robots

"We also experienced an extra challenge, since the supply chain should operate with the flow. The last row of robots has less than a meter to pack the pieces of food and place them on the line before they disappear into the flow packer. With FANUC software in the control units and iRVision, we are able to adjust the speed of pick & place depending on the speed of the lines," says Johan Greymans, owner of Greymans Paktech.

"Technically, the packaging line is at a much higher level," adds Greymans. "The two cameras are the only control techniques that need to be considered. The other packaging lines are equipped with photocells, and because the new line involves fewer mechanical parts, there are fewer failures. Moreover, operators can clean the line three times faster than before. All this means that there is less down-time, and therefore, increased production."

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"I am more than satisfied with FANUC," concludes Johan Greymans. "The software that came with the control units covered 70 percent of what we needed. The remaining 30 percent was programmed with the help of FANUC. We have developed the overall pick & place process of the packaging line together, and the support we received was invaluable."