January 28, 2013      

The food and beverage industry has consistently contributed to increased robot installations worldwide. Still, as with any consumer industry, producers of soda, beer, water and other liquids must contend with changing purchaser preferences and frequently adjust their packaging process accordingly.

Smaller or larger bottles, different container groupings (e.g., cases of 24 cans for some stores, cases of 30 for others) and similar factors typically mean expensive new configurations for an end-of-line production system, with adjustments made to palletizing robots and stretchwrappers.

The Freeway System from Viano, Italy-based Electtric 80 S.p.A, which operates in the U.S. as Elettric 80, Inc., is designed to meet a manufacturer?s changing needs with robots that work across the entire supply chain, from production to warehousing to shipments.

?We?re a fully integrated end-of-line solution producer,? says William Nelson, Elettric 80 president. ?We have the know-how and the equipment to design and build a complete end-to-end system.?

Elettric has grown from 29 employees in 1992 to 435 today. The company has also more than tripled its sales since 2003, with clients such as Carlsberg Sweden, Fonti di Vinadio SpA (Italy), Metsa Tissue AB (Sweden), Gerber Juice Co. Ltd. (United Kingdom) and a couple of U.S. firms that Nelson declined to name.

The company has experienced 50 percent growth in the beverage industry, says Nelson, who expects the success to continue, largely as a result of its Freeway System.

?Companies like the flexibility of the system,? Nelson said. ?It offers access at the floor level, so it is very safe and easy to use. It is fully automated.?

The end-to-end system starts with Elettric 80?s warehouse management system (WMS), which integrates with multiple WMS or enterprise resource planning systems such as SAP WMS, RedPrairie and other legacy systems, meaning relatively simple integration, according to Nelson.

Elettric?s WMS works with a variety of Elettric laser guided vehicles, the Elettric Dragon palletizing robot and the Elettric Silkworm stretchwrapper to move packaged goods quickly through production to shipment.

The laser guided vehicles can find packages throughout a warehouse, and can work with heights up to 12000 mm and weights up to 1200 kilograms. Some work with one pallet at a time, while other vehicles can handle two. Fork lifting speed runs as high as 40 centimeters per second.

The Dragon robot includes barcode read capability and a universal gripping head in order to handle a variety of package types and sizes without any mechanical adjustments. It can work with a variety of pallet patterns, with one or two robots working on the line, depending on the customer?s needs.

The Dragon robot offers remote diagnostic, software updates and troubleshooting capabilities. The remote capabilities and simplified cleaning features provide the Dragon robot with higher uptime than other palletizing robots, according to Nelson.

The Dragon can handle seven to 10 layers of packages per minute.

Electrric 80 offers six different stretchwrappers, ranging from the Silkworm LS Basic 30-50 to the Silkworm Turbo, which is equipped with a FANUC robot for high-speed lines. Each can wrap products of a variety of sizes. The modular machines offer flexible and customized configurations. The stretchwrappers can use film thicknesses from 15 to 50 microns, meaning reduced film breakage and higher speed wrapping, according to Nelson.

The Silkworm units offer eight hours of continuous operations with the optional 60 kilogram reels and the automatic film head change over. The Silkworm Turbo can handle up to 160 Euro pallets or 190 Euro half pallets per hour, while the LS Basic 30-50/LS 100 can work with up to 96 Euro pallets or 460 Euro half pallets per hour.

Nelson said that the Silkworm stretchwrappers use 30 percent less film than competing products.

Overall, the Freeway system enables users to significantly shorten production lines, so company production facilities can have smaller footprints and lower costs, according to Nelson.