Robotics is not just a solution for industry. Robots also increase productivity enormously in the skilled trades. In our series “Robotics. A hammer for craftsmen”, we introduce you to three craft businesses where robots are lending a helping hand.
When Austrian chocolate manufacturer Josef Zotter was looking for a system solution for his production line, he found it in the form of KUKA robots. The space-saving design and precision of the KR AGILUS convinced the chocolatier. In the meantime, the world’s first chocolate robot has become a visitor magnet in Zotter’s chocolate experience world.
New paths in chocolate production
For more than 30 years, the Zotter family business in the Austrian province of Styria has stood for the highest quality in bean-to-bar chocolate production. The organic company from Bergl near Riegersburg has won numerous prizes with its creative chocolate bars filled with marzipan and almonds or pecans with tamarind. But a few years ago, the business faced a challenge in setting up a new facility. “We were severely limited in terms of space and were looking for a compact but also precise solution,” says Alexander Hödl, a technician at Zotter. After all, the difficult processing of liquid chocolate was involved. The solution: two robots from KUKA.
In production, two other KR AGILUS help with the manufacture of chocolate bars.
Precisely shaping liquid chocolate
KUKA KR AGILUS robots are used at the site in Austria. A robot picks up the mold into which the liquid chocolate is to be poured, moves to the pouring system and fills it. It then swivels the mold with extreme precision so that the chocolate is evenly distributed inside it, and places it in the refrigerator. This is where the second robot takes over. It takes out the cooled product and transports it to the output conveyor, where the finished bars are removed from the mold.
The space-saving solution at Zotter has led to additional employees being hired. They work to the robot by placing molds in the system and removing bars at the end.
Only advantages for production and employees
“If we had chosen a setup with conveyor belts, not only would the plant have been larger, but the work steps would also have been longer,” says Hödl. Now we have the advantage that we can respond specifically to customer wishes and also produce smaller order quantities. The decision in favor of automation did not result from the company striving for greater efficiency or wanting to cut jobs – on the contrary: since the integration of the KR AGILUS robots, Zotter has hired three additional employees at this line. “They work to the two robots,” says Hödl. In other words, they place the molds in the system and remove the bars at the end.
The world’s first chocolate robot is located in the Zotter Chocolate World of Experience in Austria, which is open to visitors. The two KR AGILUS use suction cups to grab the chocolates and serve them to visitors who have selected them in advance via a touch panel.
Visitors can marvel at robot precision
Two more robots in the Zotter team take care of the physical well-being of the guests in the Chocolate Experience World, the in-house chocolate theater complete with cinema, cocoa roastery and tasting areas. Visitors can select their favorite chocolates there via a touch panel. The robots grab them via a suction cup, provide entertainment with a little dance number and then serve the chocolates via a dispenser. “We show the precision and flexibility of the robots in an entertaining way,” explains Hödl. And the company is already planning further: “We are already planning to acquire more robots for our packaging line.”