Oak State Products: Robotic Solution
Nov. 1, 2010
by Shane Whitaker
When a co-manufacturer has a customer who needs greater production of a particular product, the bakery either reacts to those needs or risks losing the business. That’s why Oak State Products, Wenona, IL, responded to its customer’s need. To accomplish this task, the cookie producer increased production capacity and added new automated packaging equipment on the line, according to Diana Craigmile, the bakery’s senior project engineer.
“The customer had an increased need for a convenience store product,” she said. “So we increased the entire production process by 20% and converted all of the packaging legs to run the convenience store as well as the retail product we had been doing.”
To increase production, Oak State lengthened the oven from 170 to 200 ft. However, much of the work was needed in the packaging area, where the company had to automate packaging of the convenience store product. Previously, the line’s row removal system fed four packaging legs, and only one of those lines was capable of making the convenience store (C-store) product, but it also had to run two legs making the retail product, which are then packed into cartons.
To meet the customer’s increased demand for the C-store product, Oak State turned to a packaging solution from BluePrint Automation, Colonial Heights, VA, that included adding two new robotic cells to place the C-store packages into trays. Each robotic cell receives products from two wrappers and has two independent indexing conveyors that handle up to 225 packages per minute, allowing each ABB delta-style robot to pack as many as 450 packages per minute.
“The infeed is used as a fourth axis for the robot,” Ms. Craigmile explained. “The robot travels with the infeed as it picks up packages on the fly, so the infeed never stops moving.”
Oak State also added a fifth wrapper leg to the line, and this leg is designed as standby wrapper that can be put into action when another wrapper is being restocked with cardstock or film.
The trays are then wrapped and loaded into cases. Oak State also purchased an HPP Case Packer from BluePrint that includes two separate in-feeds. “The case packer is unique in that it case packs either the C-store or retail packages,” she said.
Oak State had an older case packer, but Ms. Craigmile said, “Because we kept increasing the line speed on it, it wasn’t fitting our needs anymore. We had outgrown the old case packer, and it would go down quite a bit. We had standby packers available just to be ready for when case packer went down, so we wouldn’t lose any time due to the case packer.”
After adding the new case packer, Oak State no longer has to keep people on standby, she noted. “I have one machine operator who tells me almost weekly that the new case packer is the best operating piece of equipment we have in the plant,” Ms. Craigmile added.
The case packer has minimal downtime, and even when it has been down, she said, it generally is not the case packer’s fault but another problem such as the case erector making a box that is not correctly squared on bottom. “We ran the case packer 16 hours a few weeks ago with only 20 seconds of downtime,” Ms. Craigmile observed.
Also, the case packer is flexible and able to place either the trays with the C-store packages or cartons with the retail product into cases.
TIGHT AND FLEXIBLE.
Oak State looked at a two different vendors to provide a solution for doing the increased C-store business, according to Ms. Craigmile. “We had prior experience with BluePrint, and we had a good previous installation so that played into our decision,” she said.
Also, the bakery knew that it had spare parts for the BluePrint solution, which also worked in its favor, Ms. Craigmile added. BluePrint’s solution met the space requirements and speeds needed for the project.
Oak State began installation of the new packaging equipment in February, and the machines were up and running in early March. The flexibility and small footprint of the BluePrint solution were two of its major benefits. “If we wanted to do single-serve items and tray-pack them, we have the flexibility to do that,” Ms. Craigmile said. “And the changeover is pretty quick. I would say that in less than 15 minutes we could have the robots changed over to run different packaging schemes.”
Oak State has a lot of equipment because it is always making new products for its customers, thus it had a rather tight footprint in which to work. “One of the features of our lines is we try to maintain free-flowing access to all equipment, and that was a challenge to design the conveyance,” she added. “Yet there are no crossovers on this line, and machine operators can have full access to each piece of equipment and can get materials in and out without any issues.
“Trying to get that into the space we had available was really tricky,” Ms. Craigmile continued.
The company added between 700 and 800 ft of conveyors to the line, and new incline conveyors at the end of the wrappers take products overhead to the robots. “It is a unique line layout that we have here,” she said.
This kind of project can be quite difficult for a co-manufacturer, Ms. Craigmile said. “You know you’re going to end up running something else on this line at some point, so you have to keep that in mind when you install the line,” she explained. “It is a difficult balance to try to get as much automation but as much flexibility so you can change over to new products, and we have some of that.”