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Robotic Palletizer Improves Production, Efficiency, Safety

May 20, 2020
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Premier Tech robotic palletizing cells
Premier Tech robotic palletizing cells
Finger gripper grabbing a 50-lb flour bag
Finger gripper grabbing a 50-lb flour bag
Full pallet load of flour bag bundles
Full pallet load of flour bag bundles
Premier Tech robotic palletizer
Premier Tech robotic palletizer

In 2014, three of the nation's top independent flour milling companies--Cereal Food Processors, Milner Milling Inc., and Pendleton Flour Mills--came together to create Grain Craft. Headquartered in Chattanooga TN, with a satellite office in Kansas City KS, Grain Craft is the third-largest flour miller in the US, offering premium flour, wheat, pizza flour, tortilla flour, pastry flour, cookie flour, baking flour, bulk flour, and high gluten flour.

Keeping up With Demands
As flour is one of the world’s most largely consumed products, Grain Craft understood the importance of upgrading its aging control system to keep up with high demands. However, the decision to upgrade came with unique challenges, including limited floor space and the speed to reach the desired throughput. Additionally, upgrading the control system with tight deadlines and production schedules would also be a hurdle. Since shutdown was not an option, implementing a new system would need to be performed without causing delays. To achieve this, selecting the right partner for their automation needs was crucial. 

“We had a lot of things outside of the palletizer itself and so there were a lot of deadlines,” said Scott Robert, director of milling technology. “We didn't really have a lot of time to go with somebody that didn't really have the experience to do what we wanted to do. So I think we were attracted to Premier Tech because we knew that they already had a track record to accomplish everything that we were looking at and so we felt confident that we could concentrate on other parts of the project and not have to worry about, is this going to work at the end of the day?”

Adaptable and Flexible Solutions
Grain Craft mills and packages flour of various sizes, anywhere from 2- to 50-lb sacks. These sacks include the original W-R flour and private label flour such as Great Value, Kroger, and Bakers Corner. To handle the different package types, Grain Craft required a system with the ability to read the different box and package sizes, and adjust accordingly to patterns for stacking. By providing Grain Craft with an intuitive and user-friendly interface, users were able to modify existing palletizing patterns effortlessly and create new ones with precise bag positioning. 

“We were able to package all of our products or palletize all of the products that we make here and we're very diverse. We do everything from 2 pounds, 5 pounds, 10 pounds, 25 pounds, and 50-pound packages,” said Clint Church, plant manager.

Space-Saving Solutions
Adding another piece of equipment onto a production floor can be challenging for any manufacturer, especially those in the food and beverage industry. It was critically important that the upgrade addressed the practical restrictions of tight floor space, while allowing for easy maneuvering and changeovers. To ensure everything fit, Grain Craft’s existing infrastructure was adapted to integrate product variations.

With Grain Craft flour available in multiple stock-keeping units (SKUs), a palletizer with a compact footprint that could handle multiple SKUs at high speeds was essential. The streamlined design was possible thanks to a state-of-the-art, end-of-arm-tool that allowed the robot to pick and place different sized bags. Not only did the flexibility in layout allow for a smooth installation in a tight facility, it also improved workplace safety by providing maximum operating comfort.

“Some of our major concerns is just that it's all going to fit,” said Kyle Shifflelbein, head miller. “We initially had the problem where columns were interfering and we changed some things so your robot ties back into our packing lines. So all that needed to fit. I mean, multiple walls, multiple columns. There’s a lot of interferences and the building itself wasn’t quite constructed as drawn. So there were some changes there during construction. So with multiple changes, the robot was the last thing to go in, which potentially could have caused a lot of problems. It went very well. All the clearances were great. The fence went in just like it was supposed to and no interferences to any columns. It looks really nice.”

Improved Efficiency
Like any savvy company, Grain Craft recognized how automation could improve production, efficiency, and safety. To reap these benefits called for a solution that would best fit in terms of size and technical capabilities. Major factors in the successful design and implementation of this system were the addition of in-process sensing and the use of innovative conveying technology. 

“More and more orders keep coming in. So the ability to package multiple things at the same time or be able to change products or change packaging of those products dictates that we have to adjust and have a different packaging system,” said Donald Dailey.

Great Service from Beginning to End
“[Premier Tech] was fantastic to work with,” said Bob Lacey. “They answered all of our questions, even if they were busy working on the computer, if they were doing their own things. If we came up and interrupted them, they were very well receiving to our questions and wanting us to ask them and learn when it was convenient for us.”

For more information on Premier Tech, call 866-571-7354 or visit www.ptsystemsautomation.com.