|Both gel packs and cartons are located precisely on their respective conveyors so the robot knows exactly where they are, thus eliminating the need for a vision system. This provides a considerable cost savings.|
Energy drinks and energy gels from GU Sports (Sports Street Marketing), Berkeley, CA, help athletes maintain peak performance, and the company’s latest packaging investment is also designed to run and run. A Doboy Presto robot from SIG Doboy (www.SIGDoboy.com) is linked to the production line from a horizontal form/fill/seal machine and a Doboy cartoner that produces the secondary packaging for the energy gel packs.
GU Sports makes energy drinks, but is famous for its gel products, which provide superior exercise-specific nutrition. To sustain energy, the gel is quickly absorbed by the body providing complex carbohydrates (glucose polymers), amino acids, vitamin A and C (antioxidants), muscle buffers and energy-enhancing herbs. The gels are packaged in conveniently sized oil packets on a horizontal f/f/s machine. The package top can be opened easily to get an instant energy boost.
The company realized that placing the gel packets into secondary cartons was repetitive, labor-intensive and stressful work, and that its employees could be better deployed elsewhere within the operation. So GU Sports invested in the Presto robot. GU Sports president Brian Vaughan consulted with Doboy sales partner, Scott Patrick, owner of Bay Area Packaging (www.baypack.com) to discuss the application requirements. The robot uses the latest Delta parallel-axis technology to provide consistent, automated packing in an amazingly small footprint of just 4 sq ft—an important consideration for GU Sports, whose Berkeley, CA facility is running out of floorspace in a 6,500-sq-ft warehouse, through volume growth.
The Doboy Presto robot, which has the capacity to handle up to 400 gel packs/min, places the product into varying size cartons with smooth precision. Continuous product flow and flexible grouping patterns are some of the highlights of this versatile machine. The GU energy gel carton is packed with alternate layers of packets orientated at 180 deg to each other to maximize packing density in six- or 24-pack cartons. There are six flavors, each in the two sizes, plus a variety pack. The robot changeover between these packs is straightforward, requires no tools and takes only a few minutes.
The gel packets posed a challenge in the setup since, not only are they warm when they reach the secondary packaging area, but they can also vary in profile according to how the gel has settled in the packet. The packets also have a slight tendency to wobble. Since the end effectors are designed to pick up almost any kind of product, simple adjustments to the robot via its easy-to-use and intuitive operator panel allowed the end effectors to adapt to the packet profile. The robot’s careful handling also provides a better pack presentation than manual handling processes.
An interesting feature of the Presto robot is its advanced tracking capability that enables continuous production flow, so there is no need to stop and start the conveyor to pick and place products. The robot picks up the gel packs while they are moving on the conveyor and places them into cartons, which are also moving. In this operation, the gel packs on the conveyor from the packaging machine discharge into pockets on a collation conveyor that maintains them in precise locations for pickup by the robot.
Simultaneously, cartons on the conveyor are metered into a set of parallel side belts that hold them precisely in place while the gel packs are loaded. Knowing the exact location of both the gel packs and the cartons throughout the pick-and-place operation eliminates the need for a vision system—a considerable cost savings for GU Sports.
“This robot installation made sense because it is designed for growth, and we expect to be able to reach a capacity of twenty million packets per year with the existing configuration,” explains Vaughan. “The robot is very reliable and easy to use, and it works tirelessly and without fatigue.”
Says Patrick, “While GU Sports is extremely successful, the company has a relatively small workforce. This goes to show that companies don’t have to be big to realize an investment in robotic technology and/or that automation provides ROI [return on investment] in a short time period.”
The Doboy Presto Robot was installed, commissioned and accepted in less than five working days due to Doboy’s philosophy of bringing new levels to standardized equipment. Linked electronically to the carton former, the robot enables an integrated and highly efficient automated packing solution for GU.
More information is available:
Robot, cartoner:Doboy Inc., 715/246-6511. www.doboy.com. Circle No. 213.
Robot, cartoner representative:Bay Area Packaging, 888/933-8700. www.baypack.com. Circle No. 214.