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Robotics Case Studies

Robot Cuts Costs, Increases Efficiency

Columbia/Okura, LLC.

When asked how his Columbia/Okura robot is perfomring, Big J Milling Co. President John reese jokingly remarks, "it puts in a 24-hour day, it doesn't get sick, and it always shows up on time."

Of course, robots will always have an edge over human employees when it comes to issues such as endurance and reliablity.

But perhaps the most importnat reason Big J Milling, Brigham City, UT, is sold on the OClumbia/Okura robotic system, besides ifts efficient performance in stacking flour bags, is that it doesn't receive a paycheck or medial benifits.

"The robot allowed us to reduce our labor costs," Reese says.  "We were able to cut our workforce by three (one packer per shift)."

How It Works

The Columbia/Okura (www.columbiaokura.com) robotic systems can stack bags weighing up to 100 pounds in an overlapping ba pattern at a rate of up to 1,600 cycles per hour.

The sytems are capable of handling a wide variety of bag types and sizes and can be integrated with metal detectors, check weighers, and bag flatteners.

Reese notes that Vancovuer, WA-based Columbia/Okura offers two robot sizes, with operating speeds ranging from 10-24 bags per minute.

Big J Milling, a 2,000-cwt.-per-day mill that processes hard wheats, uses Columbia/Okura's smallest robot, which is set to pack 10 bags per minute, he says.

At Big J Milling, the flour bag goes through a bag flattener, which helps provide uniformity.  It then is moved by a roll conveyor and stops in fron of the robot, which grabs the bag and stacks it on a pallet, Reese says.

"Sometimes the packing machine can't keep up with the robot, because it's so fast," says mill supervisor Jeremy Bischoff.  Bischoff said the only problems with the robot have stemmed from operator errors and the mancine has only needed routine maintenance since it was purchased two years ago.

"We've had to grease it a few times and that's about it," he says.

Reese adds that the computer program that operates the robot is simple and were set by Columbia/Okura before the robot was installed in the mill.  However, employees can adjust the program to meet their specifi needs.

A Big Decision

Reese says the company spent about two years doing their homework on robotic systems to make sure that replacing human workers with a robot would be cost-effective and more efficient.

Before purchasing the system, Reese and his two sons-in-law who work in the 87-year-old, family-owned mill, visited the Columbia/Okura plant for a demonstration.

Impressed by what they saw, the decision boiled down to several important factors, he says.

"it helps us cut our labor costs, it eliminates injury problems associated with employees lifting bags, and the robot fits perfectly into the area its located," Reese says.

He adds that, since the robot has been installed, the number of broken flour bags has decreased.

Reese says the company still uses on e employee in the packing area per shift to move full pallets that have been loaded by the robot to the warehouse.

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