CKF Systems Ltd., the UK provider of central palletising systems, employs around 50 engineering personnel at its modern 25,000 sqft premises in Gloucester.
The company operates primarily within the food, pharmaceutical and automotive industries, providing automated solutions across almost every aspect of the production cycle with the design, build and installation of Central Palletising Systems where CKF has gained the most recognition.
Typical examples of recent systems would include Cadbury in Sheffield, where CKF designed and installed a new palletising system incorporating three robot-palletising cells, each comprised of an ABB IRB660 robot with a vacuum gripper together with a pallet handling system including pallet dispensers and high speed stretch wrappers. The robots also have the ability to handle three separate pallet sizes with weights of up to 250 kilograms each, resulting in multiple box pick-up to reduce cycle times and maximise throughput.
The CKF solution has provided Cadbury with fast, flexible palletising capabilities and productivity has vastly improved. It has also further strengthened Cadbury's high standards of safety and reduced its carbon footprint. By increasing stacking heights to 1.7 metres, more products can be stacked on a single pallet; adding more pallets means a greater volume of stock is delivered using fewer vehicles and better utilising warehouse space.
CKF was also appointed by one of the world's most popular snack brands to improve the versatility of its production plant and increase line speeds. The project's objective was to deliver its current eleven production lines, housed in two separate factories, into a centralised palletising system, capable of handling the full range of pallet types and stacking patterns.
The handling of over 30 different products was a particular challenge as these included a wide variety of light weight, delicate product types, packed in an equally diverse range of cardboard outers, sleeves and trays. Further challenges related to case orientation, variable centres-of-gravity, overall stability and susceptibility to twisting and misalignment through the buffer zones. These handling considerations extended from the basic conveyoring through to the robot tooling and spiral wrapping of the pallets. Stacking patterns included over 40 options across the full range of product types and formats.
"It was a 12 month programme with real complexity and we worked to a very strict timetable and alongside the existing operation to ensure no loss in production," explains Kevin Staines, Sales Director, CKF Systems Ltd. "That meant a full factory acceptance test of one of the three robot cells at our premises before installation. The new system incorporates effective interfacing, localised buffering and merge stations; whilst providing clearly defined routes for personnel and material movement. A series of spiral conveyors, inclined belts and driven roller systems have been configured to interface with the production lines and existing high level conveyors."
The movement and control of the cases through the distribution area is monitored by strategically positioned barcode readers checking each individual outer and initiating merges or diverts. The menu selection from the main control panel determines the ultimate destination of each outer and the distribution system performs the required actions to direct the cases accordingly; including a facility to remove unidentified outers whilst operating at exceptionally high speeds and flow rates.
Integral to the system is a comprehensive control system and management interface plus associated product handling, wrapping, labelling and monitoring equipment. The control system incorporates a 4-bay panel in the palletising area and a separate panel in the link area, both linked directly to a localised operator console. This centralised unit holds a full set of CSV files and contains the unique information relating to each product i.e. product type, pallet type, stacking pattern, etc
"Robots have increased the versatility of the 24/7 business, labour costs are down, line speeds improved and quality control has been tightened," enthuses Kevin Staines. "There have been significant Health & Safety benefits and warehouse space can now also be better utilised with packaging materials removed from the manufacturing area and product pallets delivered straight to despatch."
At the Banbury manufacturing plant of Barry Callebaut, the world's largest manufacturer of cocoa and chocolate products, CKF was commissioned to design, build and install an integrated robotic central palletising solution. The new system provides greater flexibility and reliability, utilises limited floor area, simplifies operational procedures and reduces maintenance costs. In addition, it was designed to overcome the challenges of picking up multiple sizes of boxes (between 10kg and 25kg), increased cycle rates and fully compliant with the company's stringent health and safety disciplines.
Designed around a single robot cell with the ability to palletise three different SKU's at the same time, the cell incorporates an ABB IRB 660 with a bespoke gripper to handle the full range of case sizes, weights and configurations. The case feed system comprised a high level interface complete with divert station and barcode detection, to direct the flow of designated cases to the robot cell and separate in to three defined collation stations. Each station incorporates an identical conditioning section to orientate and collate the cases into defined rows and counts for the robot pick to create the associated pallet pattern. A dedicated pallet load station was positioned at the end of each collation station and the cell also included two separate layer sheet feed sections to handle both Chep and Euro pallet sized sheets.
The overall system included two dedicated pallet denester's, a loaded pallet discharge station and twin shuttle car. The complete operation is fully contained within a guard enclosure incorporating strategically positioned light beams, roller shutter door and interlocks to meet the very highest safety standards with zoned safety areas to maximise overall system efficiency. Reliability has increased and the capability of the single cell has more than doubled, from 300 to 700 cases per hour.
"We are delighted by the initial results and the mindset shown by CKF," explains Barry Callebaut Chief Engineer, Mike Parkins. "CKF understands our business and the very high standards we demand. The new line fits perfectly with the company's long term capacity-increase model. It's easy to operate, requires minimal maintenance and reinforces the company's commitment to improving health and safety. We now have a system that is faster, more robust, requires minimal maintenance and meets all of the business investment expectations."
CKF's achievements span three decades and it continues to utilise latest technologies and engineering excellence to provide its customers with a competitive edge. In recent years the automation and robotics specialist has invested heavily to strengthen its in house capabilities and moved in to new premises a cost of £1.5m.
"At CKF we are able to take full responsibility of everything from the end of line conveying through to a centralised location including the installation of a full robotic system," concludes Staines. "It can include stretch wrapping of pallets, labelling if required, double stacking prior to despatch and the moving of product through to the departure bays. We work across a range of industries where the challenges of central palletising invariably have a high degree of complexity."