A highly automated solution from Cama has replaced manual
loading and older-technology equipment to streamline the
operations at a US-based confectioner to meet customer needs
Chicago-based World’s Finest Chocolate has invested in robotics to better handle its entire range
World’s Finest Chocolate is a Chicago-based chocolate company whose chocolate bars have been used for fund raising efforts by schools and other organisations since 1949. And because its customer base is rarely retailers but more likely to be schools, churches, clubs and other organisations, orders come through in a huge variety of formats.
To accommodate these customer needs, the company has installed a highly automated solution that does away with manual loading and older-technology machine loading of its work in process (WIP) corrugated totes. Robotic loading of custom-made and reusable plastic WIP totes are now the order of the day.
Also new is the automatic removal of primary packs from these plastic totes and their placement into variety packs.
Like the upstream tote-loading robotics, the placement of individual packs into corrugated variety packs is completed on a system from Cama.
At the plant, six Cama IT 285 systems load primary packs into reusable plastic WIP totes that are taken to a Cama IG 270 system that stretches a total of nearly 14 metres. In the Cama IG 270 are 13 delta-style robots.
The first ten robots pick primary packs out of the totes and place them into a dual-lane flighted conveyor running down the centre of the Cama IG 270.
In operation, one of the six Cama IT 285 robotic tote loading systems is loading $1 bars. In this case, bars exiting the flow wrapper are fed by an infeed belt at 400 bars a minute. Each bar is fed into a flighted carrier on a Cama race track conveyor running off at a right angle.
As soon as 24 bars are all in their flights, that carrier is indexed into a pick station and a second carrier on the Cama race track conveyor begins collecting the next batch of 24 bars. Meanwhile, a robotic tool uses vacuum suction cups to pick 24 bars and then load two layers of bars into plastic totes, 12 in one tote and 12 in the other.
Automatic tote indexing
When 16 layers are in each tote, it automatically indexes out to a station where an operator can place it on a pallet.
The Cama robot, however, doesn’t wait for two new totes to occupy the loading station.
Instead, it begins filling two totes right beside the two that have just been filled.
Meanwhile, empty totes move automatically into position so that they are ready when it’s time for them to be loaded.
In total, the company runs 23 different combinations of primary packs that have to be handled. Also, if it is a variety pack being produced, all five flavours have to be facing upwards on the top row when the case is opened.
Cama says most of its delta-style systems like this load directly from a Cama race track or vision conveyor belt into a case or carton, but here each product variety has to be visible on every layer. The only way to achieve that is to first create the equences of all flavours with the first ten robots and then use the last three robots to pick and place each layer into the cases.
Interestingly, no vision system is needed to send pack location information to the robotic pickers as all necessary location information is in each recipe’s software program. So each of the ten tote unloading robots knows precisely which flight it needs to put an item into and the three case-loading robots know precisely which flight they need to pick from each time.
Because so many varieties of primary packs – not just bars in three sizes but also folding cartons and even flexible packs – are being picked and placed into the corrugated variety packs, the flights in the dual-lane conveyor have to be completely adjustable.
Empty plastic totes drop onto a conveyor belt beneath the Cama IG 270 and are conveyed to a station where they are manually palletised. These pallets are then positioned next to one of the six Cama tote loaders, and an operator loads them into the tote loader as needed.