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Robotics Case Studies

Robotic Bag Palletizing System Helps Forbes Chocolate Productivity

FANUC America Corporation

FANUC Robotic Bag PalletizerForbes Chocolate is a supplier of blended cocoa and flavorings used in the food industry. Forbes blends are used in products such as milk, ice cream, soft serve, frozen yogurt and baked goods. Based in Cleveland, Ohio, Forbes Chocolate is a unique company with a long history. The company was founded in 1901 and has been part of the Geringer family for 58 years.

While retaining the family-owned feel and responsiveness, Forbes has adapted in many ways to the changing industries that they serve. As part of this ongoing process, they have recently added a FANUC Robotics bag palletizing system.

System Requirements and Challenges
The Forbes facility had limited space available for palletizing automation. The robotic palletizing system needed to fit in an area restricted by existing equipment and had to allow complete access to adjacent aisleways. The Forbes operators also needed easy access to other process equipment around the robot system as part of the normal operation.

The palletizing system had to be capable of handling four different sizes and styles of bags and had to accommodate changes in each bag’s filled dimensions and firmness. The bag characteristics vary depending on the density of the Forbes blends used and the fill volumes required. The robot program had to allow flexibility to easily adjust palletizing positions to adapt to the bag variations.

The system needed to be capable of palletizing the product on two different sizes of pallets and to different unit load heights. The pallet type and load heights were to be pre-specified based on the Forbes Chocolate customer requirements. 

While the process rate requirements were well within the 25 bags per minute capability of the FANUC Robotics palletizing robots, the required rate had to be evaluated in detail during the proposal development phase due to the technical challenges.

To address these challenges, FANUC Robotics provided a demonstration of the Forbes system prior to finalizing the system proposal.  The demonstration validated the proposed palletizing system concept as well as system throughput requirements. Once the functional challenges were met, FANUC Robotics worked with Forbes to develop multiple iterations of system concepts to find an optimal configuration that met all of the process requirements with minimal disruption to the existing process.  

System Components
FANUC Robotics supplied palletizing system hardware consisting of the FANUC Robotics M-410iB robot, bag handling end-of-arm-tooling, in-feed accumulation conveyor, pallet accumulation conveyor, and a push button interface panel.

The M-410iB robot is a high-speed, four-axis robot designed specifically for palletizing applications. The 160 kg payload version was selected for the Forbes application.

The main interface point for the palletizing system is through the FANUC Robotics iPendant. The iPendant has a multiple window color display, which allows input and adjustment of system palletizing parameters, and provides quick access to diagnostic and help information.  In addition to the iPendant, a limited function push button interface panel was also included. The operator uses the interface panel to signal the robot when a pallet is staged and the peripheral components are ready for automatic operation.  

The end-of-arm-tool is a mechanical clamp style tool that provides three clamping motions. Two motions are used to square/grip the bag during pick-up, and one motion is used to prevent any bag movement during high-speed robot transfer.  The in-feed accumulation conveyor accepts bags from the Forbes label conveyor and consistently positions them for robotic pickup. Roll spacing and side rails were designed to allow smooth transfer of the bags and to provide access for the end-of-arm-tool.

The multiple zone pallet accumulation conveyor allows staging of an empty pallet, registers a pallet in the robot palletizing location and stages a completed pallet for removal.

System Operation and Performance
Based on the specific customer order, the Forbes operator uses the FANUC Robotics iPendant and Pallet Tool software to select the appropriate pallet pattern, bag size/type and number of layers to be palletized. 

The operator positions the appropriate empty pallet on the load end of the pallet accumulation conveyor and attaches a corrugated base to the pallet. Once the pallet is prepared, the operator pushes a button on the interface panel to indicate that the pallet is ready for transfer into the robot work envelope. The M-410i robot, powered by the R-J3iB Controller, signals the conveyor to transfer the pallet to the palletizing position where it is clamped to ensure consistent positioning for the palletizing process.

After passing through an upstream labeling operation, filled bags enter the robot work envelope. When in position on the in-feed conveyor, the robot picks up a bag and places it onto the pallet. The robot, which relies on operator input through the iPendant, continues the palletizing operation until the unit load is completed.

When the load is complete, the robot controller initiates the transfer of the pallet out of the robot work envelope where it is removed with a forklift. The multiple zones on the pallet conveyor allow the robot system to transfer in a staged pallet and continue palletizing after the completed pallet is transferred out of the work envelope.

The R-J3iB Controller with PalletTool software monitors various photo sensors and controls the transfer of bags into the robot work envelope as well as the flow of bags through the upstream processes.

System Benefits  
The main objectives of the robotic palletizing system were to relieve employees from heavy lifting and to increase production throughput – both objectives were achieved. Forbes operators that had previously palletized products are now performing more value added processes.
The Forbes operators have taken ownership of the robotic palletizing system, and in a short period of time, the overall efficiency of the fill line has improved.  In many cases, daily production volumes have already exceeded the previous manual process.
In addition, the powerful robotic system, which can stack product much higher than manual palletizers, has helped Forbes increase warehouse capacity and reduce pallet handling and forklift transfer. 
Forbes Chocolate has always had the reputation of being a company that emphasizes customer satisfaction, attention to detail and flexibility to adapt to customer needs.
‘‘Forbes is a company that continues to do business in support of Quality First,’‘ said Keith Geringer, vice president of Forbes. ‘‘The robotic system has helped us improve productivity, and that means that we’re well positioned to be more flexible and responsive to our customer’s needs.  This truly is a win-win situation.’‘



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