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Save Cost and Lead-Time with Tray Palletizer

RARUK Automation has completed the installation and commissioning of four IEF Werner varioSTACK component palletisers at the Merseyside facility of the Filter Design Company (FDC). The project is a shining example of how specific functionality and efficiencies can be gained from a modular and largely standard product, thus saving both cost and lead-time.

Haydock-based FDC is a specialist in the design and manufacture of filter production machinery and equipment. However, when a high profile customer secured a long-running order to produce filters, FDC had to act quickly in sourcing and installing automated palletiser solutions for production lines.

By chance, FDC had already invited RARUK Automation, the exclusive UK agent for IEF Werner, on site to discuss a different project. During this meeting the company was introduced to the varioSTACK component palletiser and the potential benefits it could offer to the filter production lines, such as flexibility, compact dimensions and ease of integration.

varioSTACK systems offer a footprint of less than 1m² and the ability to load from the front or side. Although most applications require bespoke tray designs and gripper technology – after all, everyone wants to pick up something different – varioSTACK palletisers are also available with a wide range of standard accessories to optimise the handling process. These include gripper rotation, multiple grippers, reversing units and alignment systems.

Put simply, the open architecture and modularity of varioSTACK are key to its flexible application, and it was therefore possible to supply the optimum configuration for the application at FDC.

Each FDC-manufactured production line features two varioSTACKs. Filter cases arrive in the form of moulded halves stored in plastic tote boxes measuring 400mm wide x 600mm long x 400mm deep. Each tote contains 12 filter case halves per layer, separated by 12 blue layer cards – hence 144 parts per tote. The role of the first varioSTACK is to remove each filter case half and place it on the production line ready for assembly – the pleated paper filter element needs to be inserted between two moulded case halves before they are welded together using ultrasonic technology.

To start the process, a tote box is placed on a conveyor feed that allows it to enter the varioSTACK before being lifted to the pick and place station immediately above. Filter case halves are then removed one by one using an automated two-axis handling device with bespoke gripper. It takes six seconds to unload each component. Once a whole layer of parts has been removed to the production line, varioSTACK moves the tote to an adjacent position where another two-axis automated handling system lifts one of the layer cards to reveal the next layer of parts. The tote is then moved back to the component unloading station to continue with part transfer to the production line.

At the other end of the production line, another identical varioSTACK is deployed to perform the reverse operation, i.e. return the assembled filters to the tote boxes.

All this is achieved using a concept that is largely standard and modular. The only bespoke areas are the grippers and the program, which are both customised to suit the customer’s component. End users can also choose between conveyor feed and trolley feed – the application at FDC is the first tote box configuration in the UK. The only other bespoke element of the configuration at FDC is the addition of an extra handling system (to raise and lower the dividing layer cards) – most systems only require a component handling system.

To meet the end user’s specification, the system had to deliver at least one hour of unmanned operation. Using the conveyor system, up to six tote boxes can be loaded (along with one in the machine), which with a six second component load/unload cycle time, meets the 60-minute unattended requirement. A visual traffic light system is deployed to tell FDC that the varioSTACK is approaching the point when it needs attention.

Importantly, the varioSTACK palletisers have the ability to accommodate another size of filter. Using the same size tote boxes, other filter styles are separated by different coloured layer cards. The only elements that require changing on the varioSTACK are the finger tools on the component gripper, and the program, ensuring rapid set-up and production flexibility for the end user. Cleverly, the gripper also features colour recognition technology to ensure the process is error-proofed

With the configuration fully proven at IEF Werner’s facility in Furtwangen, Germany, all four varioSTACK component palletisers have now been commissioned at FDC. The final few remaining elements of the two production lines are now being completed before transfer to the end user’s facility.

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