Endoline Robotics’ palletising solution helps flour miller meet rising retail demands

A new robotic palletising solution from Endoline Robotics is delivering significant productivity gains for UK-based Carr’s Flour Mills.

With unprecedented demand for flour during the Covid-19 pandemic, Carr’s doubled its production for one major supermarket chain, from 120 to 250 tonnes per week.

Installing an Endoline Robotics’ palletising system, powered by a Fanuc M710 robot, has enabled the flour miller to efficiently manage an output of 167,000 bags of flour per week, and provided greater flexibility to run the line 24/7.

Carr’s are flour millers with a 200-year heritage. Producing a range of fine flours at its three UK based mills, Carr’s supplies major retailers across the country, along with local Cumbrian stores close to its flagship site, Silloth Mill.

Silloth Mill was packing 1.5kg bags of self-raising and plain flour for a major supermarket chain. However, at the start of March 2020, with customer demand for flour rising, Carr’s immediately increased output by 50% to 167,000 bags of flour per week to meet the retailer’s requirements.

Doubling its manual packing staff from 8 to 16 to manage the rise in output, Carr’s swiftly pushed forward with plans to automate the process. Having met Endoline Robotics, the strategic partner of Fanuc in the UK, at the 2019 PPMA Show, Carr’s had placed the order for the palletising robot, just ahead of the pandemic.

“We had always planned to automate the line. However, faced with the unprecedented rise in demand we employed a further eight manual workers on a short-term basis, until Endoline were able to quickly install the robot.” Explains Ben Clark, Operations Director for Carr’s.

Implementing shift patterns to man the production line, the M710 palletising robot was needed to keep the operation running 24/7 without the additional staff, while increasing the quality of the stacked pallet.

The M710 system features a robotic arm with a specifically engineered, smart, self-cleaning vacuum gripper. Manoeuvring ten, 1.5kg flour bags from the bag packer at once, the robot gently collates them into the required palletising pattern.

At a speed of 74 bags per minute, the system gently palletises the flour to produce neat small Dusseldorf pallets, placing interlayers for increased pallet stability.

Designed to a very small footprint for seamless integration with the existing equipment, the robot features an infeed product collation system with two separate safety zones and two palletising positions for continuous operation. This eliminates frequent start-stopping of the upstream bag filling equipment. Once the first pallet is filled with the required amount the robot continues palletising onto the second pallet, and an operator replaces the first one, taking the filled pallet for stretch-wrapping.

The pallets are then delivered to the retailer and placed on the floor for customers to pick products directly from the pallet.

“We were constrained by the manual process. Endoline’s robotic solution has enabled us to redeploy the original eight workers to other, more skilled areas of the business.” Concludes Ben. “Quality and efficiency has improved, and we now have greater flexibility to increase productivity for our customers.”



Endoline Robotics launches flexible plug&play solution for animal feed packers

Endoline Robotics, working closely with strategic partner FANUC, has created a ‘plug & play’ robotic palletising solution, to meet the needs of the animal feed industry.

The ‘in a box’ robotic solution can be customised to directly meet specific demands and overcome the challenges faced by the industry.

Worth over £5.5 billion in the UK, the animal feed industry produces food products which are often large and bulky, and difficult to palletise by hand. Products of differing sizes, weights and shape are frequently run through the same line, making automation challenging.

Offering a fast Return on Investment, Endoline Robotics’ palletising solution is built to a small footprint – ideal for animal feed factory floors where space is often at a premium.

Powered by a FANUC robotic arm, the system is fitted with a bespoke mechanical gripper which can be programmed to pick up and accurately palletise bags of varying weights – at a speed of up to 12 bags per minute. The robust grippers have been manufactured to handle the wide range of packaging, including hessian and glossy materials, associated with the animal feed industry which can be inherently difficult to handle.

Filled bags arrive at the infeed of the palletising cell, which is pre-installed with a special mechanism for flattening the bags, making them easier to manoeuvre, while enhancing the stack ability of the pallet.

The robot picks the bags and placing them onto the pallet, under a pre-defined pattern which maximises load stability. The full pallet is then either removed by the operator, or auto discharged on a roller conveyor. Offering 24/7 operation, with a long-life expectancy, manufacturers can typically expect payback on their investment within 2 to 3 years.

“Through our partnership with FANUC, we have created a solution which directly meets the challenges faced by the animal feed industry, while also helping them increase productivity and drive growth.” Grigory Belosky, Sales Director for Endoline Robotics. “The system has not only been built to a compact, space saving footprint, it can also be easily moved between production lines to manage output, offering infinite flexibility.”

Similar system design can be used in various other industries packing products into bags: Agriculture, Building products, Chemicals and others.

Endoline Robotics also offers additional options for manufacturers including, auto-replenishment of empty pallets, interlayer sheet, palletising multiple pallets simultaneously and stretch wrapping.

Robotic systems set to aid food manufacture growth in the wake of Covid-19

Robotics and automation is set to play an increasingly larger role in safeguarding the future of the UK’s food manufacturing industry, according to Endoline Robotics, the strategic partner of FANUC UK.

While most UK food manufacturers understood the efficiencies gained from automation, adoption was at a far slower pace than other countries. However, Covid-19 has emphasised the need to update manual manufacturing practices that will prevent many from recovering quickly once social distancing measures are lifted.

According to a recent post by the International Federation of Robots (IFR) in comparison to several countries across the world, the UK was the only country, over a 10-year period, to report a 9% decrease in productivity per person.

While coronavirus undoubtedly put a strain on global productivity, UK manufacturers faced significant issues because of workers being unable to work in production lines where they normally stand less than 50 cm apart on 12-hour shifts.

There is an established link between automation and increased productivity, so now is the time for UK manufacturers to look at long term growth and invest in robotics and automation to support labour intensive activities.

So, why have UK food manufacturers always been so reluctant to take the automation plunge?

Here, Grigory Belosky, Sales Director for Endoline Robotics, discusses the reasons why the UK lagged behind its global counterparts, how automated end-of-line packaging systems today meets manufacturer demands, and how machinery can be integrated into processing and packing lines quickly to ramp up output.

Demonstrating flexibility

For some food manufacturers, a wariness to change well established manual processes, and an aversion to the risks that new technologies can bring, have created major roadblocks, preventing them from reaping the many benefits robotic systems can yield.

Within food manufacturing, the variability of materials has played a major factor, particularly as many believe that uniformity plays a vital role in ensuring automation runs efficiently. To meet retail demand, manufacturers are producing an abundance of brand varieties in all shapes and sizes which can cause greater complexities, due to the variation in size, shape, quality, and weight of the product.

“Retailers are constantly vying for consumer attention, creating greater choices which are continually changing. Historically, this hasn’t always lent itself well to automation and manufacturers need assurances that the investment they make in robotic equipment is future-proof.”

Today, robotic systems can not only boost productivity and efficiency, they are tangible assets which can be moved or easily re-programmed to meet changing demands. Robotic palletising systems in particular, as they are outside high-care areas, are extremely flexible and can take the strain of monotonous and repetitive tasks off human workers, freeing up their time to complete more value-added tasks.

Health & Safety

Getting health and safety right has never been more paramount. Food manufactures need to adhere to stringent measures and are being set greater guidance on the use of machinery through the Food Standard Agency’s regulatory model, facing stiffer sentences if they are non-compliant.

Tougher governance around health and safety shouldn’t be a deterrent to automation, however it is vital that manufacturers do not take a CE certified machine at face value.

 “There are a number of other factors which need to be considered. Manufacturers need to understand the area the machine will be located in and assess the environment for any safety concerns such as access.”

Eliminating unnecessary downtime

Food manufacturing sites that are highly automated operate with fewer workers, resulting in a larger opportunity for uninterrupted processing. Manufacturers are currently seeking to mitigate the risk of sending people home in virus-susceptible areas within their facilities, and automation is a big part of this solution.

The risk of downtime, as a result of machinery failure, servicing or reprogramming has always been a bottleneck in the adoption of automation.

However, automation specialists have been driving the intelligence of robotic systems forward for some time, and there is now a greater emphasis on linking these systems together and integrating them into a customers’ own specific data network. Consequently, food manufacturers can capture, process, and analyse big data from the factory floor remotely, and improve productivity, avoid downtime through predictive maintenance, upload new case recipes, and optimise energy use.

“Systems built today feature an integrated, Industry 4.0 compatible HMI interface enabling engineers to easily re-programme the machine to allow for new configurations of case sizes remotely via a computer, tablet or even a mobile.”

Beyond Covid-19

Robotics and automation has always been an enabler to streamline and enhance efficiency and, as a result of the pressure created by the crisis on manual process, manufacturers should now be able to clearly identify which areas would benefit from automation.

Covid-19 has undoubtedly heightened the need for the UK to integrate robotics into their packing lines. By taking the steps to automate, manufacturers will be prepared for any future crisis or shutdown, while ensuring that their output levels and efficiencies remain high.

This will also make the UK more competitive on the global production field.


2020 must be the year for robotic automation within UK manufacturing

UK manufacturers must tip the balance in favour of automation in 2020 to avoid falling behind international competition.

As the only G7 country with a robot density below the world’s average, with just 74 units per 10,000 workers, the UK is behind 14 other European countries in robotic adoption, highlighting the challenge that British manufacturing faces to compete with foreign productivity.

The UK led the First Industrial Revolution by embracing new technologies and the opportunities these created. However, unless British manufacturers significantly increases its adoption robotics and automation, and take full advantage of the technology available, foreign productivity will increase and the UK will be left trailing behind in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Last year, Endoline Automation, capitalising on its four decades of success in automating global food manufacturing facilities, launched Endoline Robotics in a bid to not only meet rising demand but to educate UK manufacturers on the many benefits robotic integration can yield.

At the end of last year, Endoline Robotics’ strategic partner, FANUC UK, held an Open House as a way of bringing key industry figures together and open a discussion on what needs to be done to move UK automation uptake forward.

While raising a number of interesting questions on the state of automation, the event highlighted the major challenges which still need to be overcome, and, in particular, the misconceptions which still surround robotics.

While most UK manufacturers understand the efficiencies gained from automation, the belief that it is expensive is still a barrier, particularly for SME’s and manufacturers on short term retailer contracts. However, when you consider that, as a country, we are around 30% less productive per hour than a German manufacturer, then the financial impact of not automating is clearly far greater.

Today, robotic systems can not only boost productivity and efficiency, they are tangible assets which can be moved or easily re-programmed to meet changing demands. Robotic palletising systems in particular, as they are outside high-care areas, are extremely flexible and can take the strain of monotonous and repetitive tasks off human workers, freeing up their time to complete more value-added tasks.

For many, return on investment (ROI) can be a deal breaker. When looking to achieve ROI inside a year, manufacturers shouldn’t be swayed by price alone. A well-engineered solution will provide low cost of ownership for many years at a fraction of the cost of manual labour.

Therefore the risk we face is not robots taking over the UK workplace, but the risk that, unless UK manufacturers begin embracing the benefits of automation, other countries will continue to seize the initiative and take advantage of new technologies, not least the growth and jobs they bring, while the Britain continues to trail behind.