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Case Studies Of Industrial Robots

Robots in action can be found everywhere. Robot Manufacturers give examples of robot applications in different industries.

Fanuc Robotics Europe S.A., Luxembourg - IFR-Partner

68 robots perform farmer's work

September 2012

Agriculture is big business in the Murcia region of Spain, climatic conditions and soil type allow the production of vast quantities of vegetables that are a major contributor to the Spanish economy. The agricultural industry in the region understands the importance of technology to maintain its competitive position in European markets and actively applies research and development to keep ahead.

The value of technology has been firmly grasped and implemented by El Dulze, a family run business that produces lettuce. Its offices and packaging plant are based in San Javier, Murcia. Investment by this company is very apparent - the new facility has an ultra modern look more familiar to the technology sector than to farming.

The implementation of technology in this plant is confirmed throughout the plant and in the packaging area the company now uses 68 FANUC robots. The entire packaging system was installed by an Alicante based FANUC Robotics systems integrator, IT Robotics.

FANUC Robotics R2000iBLettuces taken straight from the ground are delivered to the plant in plastic containers stacked onto a euro pallet. These pallet stacks are located into a robot de-palletising area where a FANUC Robotics R2000iB removes one tray at a time and pours the tray contents onto the packaging line conveyor.

The input conveyor orientates the lettuces so that they travel longitudinally onto the system conveyors. Positioned centrally on the input conveyor, and spaced individually, the lettuces are directed to the robot cutting stations.

"Reducing the amount of people has made everything more hygienic and damage to the lettuces caused by handling is now minimal. The robots have reduced rejects from 20% to 5%."

"We have a very good commercial relationship with FANUC and it was clear from first discussions that they had a good understanding of the size of the project. We already knew that FANUC made no compromise on quality and this care of quality was apparent at all stages from product supply to customer support."

Each robot, an LR Mate 200iB, performs the same task and sensors on the conveyor direct lettuces to the next available station. At this point the lettuce is orientated lengthwise on the conveyor but the root end is randomly positioned.

A vision system at this point is used to weigh and measure the diameter to assess the density of the lettuce. Lettuces falling outside the acceptable parameters are rejected at this point. The vision system also identifies the root position to the robot which then picks up the lettuce with a specially designed pneumatic gripper.

FANUC Robotics R2000iBThe robot then positions the lettuce into a cutting machine where the root is removed. A second check is then made on the size of the lettuce as the robot holds the lettuce unter the camera again. Lettuces that pass this final inspection are conveyed to an operator working at the robot station and these are placed into a plastic tray. Full trays are placed back onto the conveyor and sent to the packing area.

The plant is capable of packaging 550,000 lettuces and is currently operatiing at 400,000 per day. The system is a major investment for El Dulze but has been seen as an essential step for the business to take. José Sánchez, Managing Director of El Dulze, explains, "The need to invest wasn't a difficult decision to make. Of course there are many reasons why this investment has been made but generally they all focus around delivering a consistently high quality product and keeping El Dulze competitive. This business has traditionally been labour intensive but today labour is increasingly unavailable.  

"This region has a major shortage of labour - many workers in the industry are immigrants but this hasn't solved our problem. As minimal skill is needed we have a real problem with labour and turnover of these workers is high - they just seem to come and go." By investing in automation to reduce labour shortage issues El Dulze has benefitted in many areas. The work force required to produce the current production levels manually would need to be 500 people, and would be a major management problem with many nationalities and languages involved - this has been reduced by 80% with 100 people producing this level of output.

José explains further, "Reducing the amount of people has made everything more hygienic and damage to the lettuces caused by handling is now minimal. The robots have reduced rejects from 20% to 5%."

El Dulze aims to increase its overseas sales and as it takes the business to a higher level the overall investment has had an important impact. Visitors to El Dulze from major retailers are now exposed to a high level of investment and quality throughout the business and this commitment has had a major impact on gaining new business.

The scale of the installation was a major factor in deciding which products to use in the project. Juan Martinez, General Manager of IT Robots explains, "The size of the project dictated that a close commercial relationship with the robot supplier was of major importance. We knew that FANUC Robotics produced a high quality, reliable product and that support would be available when required."

Deciding which robots to use was a core decision as they are the heart of the system. Juan Martinez, continues, "We have a very good commercial relationship with FANUC and it was clear from first discussions that they had a good understanding of the size of the project. We already knew that FANUC made no compromise on quality and this care of quality was apparent at all stages from product supply to customer support."