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RNA has developed a system that accurately and consistently loads fruit bars into a snack-food producer’s process line.

Previously, multiple operators manually loaded flighted pockets on an in-feed conveyor.

Three types of fruit bars required automatic handling: fruit bars type A (25g), type B (20g) and elongated shape type C (five flavour varieties).

One of the main challenges in this application was the inconsistent shape of the products, caused by the soft texture of chewy bars.

The challenge was going to be ensuring products were in the correct position for loading onto the customer’s indexing conveyors, where each index requires up to 10 products.

The variants of fruit bars and the proposed loading speed dictated a solution that used a minimum of five bowl-feed systems.

A further challenge was balancing the feed from each bowl-feed system and loading the products two at a time into a flighted pocket.

The edges of the wrappers overlapped and could tangle if not separated by the RNA system.

Additionally, the customer required a complete automation-friendly system with the following minimum requirements: each feed system had to be able to be used independently; the system needed to be adaptable for use with other products; each feed system needed to be removable from the main conveyor via pluggable, quick-released connection; and in-feed conveyor belts needed to be accessible from all sides.

With a five-bowl feed system, the request was to feed 80 fruit bars per minute from each bowl to give a machine-loading speed of 40 cycles per minute with two bars per cycle.

Operators now load fruit bars into a bulk hopper.

The bars are discharged end to end from the bowl to a transfer conveyor that connects a cross conveyor that queues the fruit bars prior to loading.

An escapement releases fruit bars on demand into a side shuttle that pushes them into the customer’s bucket.

The customer’s conveyor indexes and the cycle repeats.

Sensors control the flow of products through the system, re-circulating over-feed and checking that the fruit bars are always correctly separated.

The whole system is controlled by a PLC that communicates with the customer’s machine PLC.

Fruit-bar loading rate and performance depend on types of product and bucket designs: five bowl feeders work with a five-column bucket for elongated shape type C, performing at 400 bars per minute, while three bowl feeders work with a three-column bucket for fruit bars type A and type B.

The system is automation-friendly, providing a complete automation solution that allows both high-throughput and flexibility.

Fruit bars load at maximum rates of 400 bars a minute and the system also achieves a high level of efficiency.

The system reduces labour costs and downtime, improves quality and raises both hygiene and health-and-safety standards.

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