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Fanuc Robotics has revealed how its robotic systems have helped G’s Fresh Vegetables to reduce labour requirements by 50 per cent and increase safety for its operators.

With Lean principles firmly in place, G’s has integrated six ABAR robot packing systems into its Cambridgeshire-based facility.

The Ramsey site is a contract pack operation for the G’s Growers co-operative and in a seven-day operating week grades and packs in excess of 1,000 tonnes of onions.

In 2006, a strategic review of its expanding production facility concluded that individual processes, which had been developed and added over the years, needed integration into the plant as a whole.

Investment in robot automation began with phase one in 2009 with an end-of-line packing system for loose onions.

Supplied by ABAR, the system comprises a de-stacker to place crates onto a conveyor, automated placement of a liner to the crate, conveyors to transport crates to the weigh heads and after re-converging the crates are check-weighed then baling arms closed and held in a pick-up area for collection by a Fanuc Robotics R-2000iB.

Crates are collected and stacked into piles of three before being palletised.

Complete pallets are then strapped and transported by conveyor to a fork truck collection point.

John Griffin, operations manager for G’s Ramsey plant, said: ’This first system was obviously important for us to get right so considerable time was spent evaluating suppliers and equipment.

’In addition, we needed to gain the confidence of our growers who invest in our business to continually improve for future growth.

’ABAR came out ahead for us – it has so much experience; over 10 years handling and moving fresh produce, in particular potatoes, which are not unlike onions when it comes to automation.

’Understanding the process and its limitations is essential to develop software to the required level.

’Throughout the evaluation process we involved our operators even to the extent of sending them to ABAR’s Amsterdam facility for the commissioning process,’ he added.

G’s has its own engineering team comprising six engineers, including one maintenance engineer.

They worked with the ABAR team to develop and install the system, which further supported its integration at the Ramsey facility.

Phase two was installed in March 2010 and packs bags of onions into crates and palletises them.

Comprising three ABAR LR-80B pick-and-place robots and two Fanuc Robotics M-710iC robots, bags of onions enter the LR-80B robot cell where they are picked and placed into a crate, which, when full, moves to a quality check area.

Here, an operator checks the packs are flat in the crate and closes the bale arms before sending the crate off to the Fanuc Robotics M-710iC robot for palletising.

G’s has aimed to keep its automation as un-complex as possible.

Involving an operator in the automation process provides for a quality check and also allows tasks such as applying crate cards and checking bale arms are closed to be carried out.

Operator stations also lift the crate up to a comfortable operator working height and a green ’pass’ button is pushed when the check is complete.

Further helping the systems to achieve expectations has been the implementation of overall equipment efficiency (OEE) as a key measure of Lean.

Data is collected from key parts of the production operation as a measure and cause of downtime; this requires operator/engineering input before restart and the masses of data produced help to identify where improvements can be made.

G’s is now entering the development stage of phase three and four of robotics.

FANUC UK provides industrial automation solutions ranging from the supply of CNC controllers, robots, drilling machines, EDM and injection moulding machines through to the complete integration of factory automation systems.

Providing a single customer support portal for its three core businesses, FANUC comprises FA — CNC controllers, motors and drives; robotics — industrial robots and systems; robomachines — EDM, injection moulding and drilling machines.

CNC

FANUC’s FA business manufactures CNC controls, drive systems and laser systems. With a 65 per cent market share in the global CNC control sector, FANUC is the market leader. FANUC CNC is the controller of choice for the world’s leading machine tool manufacturers; continuously developing functionality sees FANUC CNC control being used in a wide range of applications — combining powerful control and high precision with unparalleled reliability.

FANUC servo drives and motors are well proven — aimed at the machine builder, they offer the widest range of high-performance compact designs.  The high availability and ease of maintenance together with world-class, energy-efficient designs make them the motors of choice for thousands of OEMs around the world.

Robotics 

FANUC’s robotics business manufactures the widest range of robots in the world for applications from micro-electronics assembly to the forging of precision aerofoils for jet engines — in industries as diverse as pharmaceutical and potato processing — and with maximum payloads from 1kg to 1,350kg. More than 280,000 FANUC robots are operating worldwide, with production currently geared to meet demands of 5,000 per month. FANUC robots are truly ‘out-of-the-box’ automation designed to be totally flexible and, with application-specific options, straightforward to integrate.

Robomachine

FANUC’s robomachine business manufactures Robodrill machining centres, Robocut EDM machines and Roboshot electric injection-moulding machines. Using FANUC components throughout, the robomachine business builds on the advanced technology, reliability, energy efficiency and innovation of its own controllers, drives and motors. With a focus on energy efficiency and high reliability, the robomachine business developed the first all-electric injection-moulding machines — Roboshot — changing the mould shop into a much cleaner and quieter environment.

Customer support

From initial sales contact with FANUC through the life of the product, FANUC provides one single contact point to make sure support is always at hand with up-to-date advice, genuine warranted parts and, whenever possible, obsolescence avoidance solutions that ensure the lifetime delivery of maximum efficiency.

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