The labelling solutions from Minebea Intec not only fulfilled this objective, but also helped to increase workplace safety while preparing for future automation.
“The WPL-A has transformed the way we do labelling by automating the process,” explains Tony Helyar, continuous improvement & capital projects manager at the cheesemaker. “It means we’re getting a much more polished product every time without relying on manpower that we were struggling to source in our vicinity.”
Norseland has over 30 Minebea Intec products in use within its manufacturing plant in Ilchester, Somerset, where it has a diverse and versatile offering. The company can provide cheese for every occasion from slices to large blocks and snacking portions. Its brands include Jarlsberg, Applewood and Mexicana.
Producing this diverse product range relies on a varied and flexible equipment base which has seen Minebea Intec supply the company since 2007.
The requirement for new labelling machinery was driven by the need to automate the process, increase the efficiency and accuracy and combat a shortage of available workforce near the plant. Minebea Intec was chosen as its preferred supplier for several reasons: the durability of Minebea Intec products, the hygienic standards of the products, the aftersales service and the ability to adapt products to the company’s exact requirements.
In response to these demands, the WPL-A was manufactured to accommodate the label sizes required by Norseland and the WPL-S was adapted to fit into its existing line.
This new machinery is in addition to its existing 16 checkweighers; Synus and CoSynus used for end of line weight checks and metal detection. Norseland also has EWK portion weighers which control the size of the cheese portions and Flexus’ which are used to control the cutting of the smaller portions of cheese.
The company also has six Vistus metal detectors, two Combics scales used for sampling for legal records and 1 SPC Enterprise software package which provides real-time reporting on the factory processing.
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New robotic integrated controller will make
mass personalisation a commercial reality
Omron has launched a robotic integrated controller (RIC) which it says, gives brand owners the power to put consumer preferences at the core of their strategy for the first time.
Drawing on its combined control, motion, vision and robotics expertise, Omron has developed the RIC which it bills as a control platform with the ‘brainpower’ to coordinate personalised FMCG production. What could previously only be done manually and on a very limited scale can now be executed via a fully automated workflow - seamlessly, efficiently and profitably. This, it says, opens opportunities for the FMCG industry to add value, differentiate and enhance the consumer experience.
The essence of this concept is the ability to empower consumers to self-select the combination of products they want and in the pack formats and sizes they want. There is huge potential for seasonal and special occasion gifting products, such as nail varnish gift sets in colours selected at the point of order, self-picked cheeseboards or gin advent calendars in which the bottle behind each door has been individually chosen for the recipient.
Up until now, such products have been very niche and very expensive because they have had to be manually assembled. Omron says the RIC makes automated production of these bespoke selections not only feasible, but also cost effective.
The opportunity is by no means limited to luxury, niche gifting items. The RIC can be linked with an online retailer’s ordering platform, allowing consumers to select customised versions of everyday items, such as multipacks of crisps or yoghurts. Consumers could not only choose their preferred product combination, but also their preferred pack size.
“The personalisation potential promised by this innovation is unrivalled by anything that exists on the automation marketplace today,” says Dan Rossek, marketing manager for Omron UK.
“The RIC redefines ‘flexibility’ in a production context,” he says. There are companies who are supplying flexible manufacturing systems, but their definition of flexibility is making changeovers quick and easy to allow small batch production.
“What we are talking about here is flexibility at a unit level - the ability to make every single product unique.”
He continues: “There has been a lot of talk about mass personalisation in the last few years - the big brands have all expressed aspirations to offer made-to-order options to their online customers, but there has been no automation solution to turn these ambitions into anything more than discussions.
“With the development of our RIC, the solution has arrived, and we can’t wait to see how the market embraces this opportunity.”
Unit-level manufacturing flexibility requires seamless synchronisation of all the automation elements within the line, from conveyors, motors and drives, to vision systems and robots. As the only automation specialist to have a portfolio that includes robotics, vision, control and motion capabilities, Omron says it is uniquely placed to take on this challenge.
By taking a total integration approach, the company’s engineers have conceived an omni-control unit for these automation elements. Motion, logic, sensing, inspection and robotics are integrated on a common network and programmed via common software. Rather than having a separate PLC, motion controller and robot controller, the RIC controls everything.
From an end user point of view, the entire line can be easily managed from one interface, which makes for highly simplified operation. From a machine builder perspective, development time is massively reduced as the integration of the various automation elements negates the need for protocol development or complex programming.
“Essentially, the RIC enables machine builders to programme the line as a harmonised system rather than programming discrete elements and synchronising them,” says Rossek. “This level of integration would usually require a prohibitive amount of R&D investment, but because all the different automation elements in our architecture ‘talk the same language’, we have created a plug and play control solution that can support any FMCG line.”
To show what the RIC is capable of, Omron has built a demonstration packaging line incorporating this automation infrastructure, housed at its Automation Centre in Barcelona.