Meal time! How KUKA Robots Facilitate the Way from the Field or Farm to the Plate
Robots are a natural part of more and more companies in the food industry. And this is no longer limited to palletizing or packaging – although this is still where most robots are used in terms of numbers. KUKA offers versatile solutions: for example, robots that tie chicken, cut cheese or spread tomato sauce on pizza bases.
“In recent years, demand for robot-based solutions for the entire process chain has increased,” explains Dieter Rothenfußer, portfolio manager at KUKA. The future belongs to automation “from the delivery of raw materials to product processing and intralogistics.” Many customers and system integrators want everything from a single source, from one manufacturer. KUKA has accepted the challenge and is constantly developing its robot and software portfolio for the food industry. Whether it’s cereals and baked goods, beverages, fruit, vegetables, dairy products or meat, sausages and fish: there are tailored automation solutions for everything.
What arrives fresh from the field or farm at the company can today already be received directly by KUKA and then distributed. More precisely: by driverless transport platforms. The KUKA Navigation.Solution software ensures that everything arrives collision-free exactly where it is expected. Depalletizing and order picking are then handled by robots from the KR QUANTEC PA series, among others. An example: In France, at the family-run Moulins Bourgeois flour mill, two KR 180 R3200 PAs and three KR 300-2 PAs transport flour sacks. Each robot moves up to five 25-kilo flour sacks simultaneously. From the pallets onto the conveyor belt and then directly into the trucks – this happens at lightning speed. The five robots pick 2,000 sacks per hour. This is the only way Moulins Bourgeois can deliver 170 tons of flour per day to customers all over the world.
At the French company, the entire distribution center runs fully automatically. Other companies delegate individual tasks to robots that work side by side with humans. At the poultry producer Pilgrim’s Pride, which is one of the most successful companies in this industry in the USA, KR AGILUS HM tie chickens into bundles ready for cooking or frying, one animal at a time in five seconds. Pilgrim’s Pride enjoys fewer employee injuries, less chicken scrap in the first run, and more productivity.
The KR AGILUS HM is a real jack-of-all-trades when it comes to food processing. In Belgium it debarks cheese wheels, in the Netherlands it cuts cheese sticks, and in Italy it spreads tomato sauce on pizza bases. The “HM” in the name stands for “Hygienic Machine,” because hygiene is part of the design. Even disinfectants and chemical cleaners cannot harm the corrosion-resistant surfaces and stainless steel parts. The high-speed robot for small parts, the KR DELTA, is also available as a “Hygienic Machine” (HM), so that it can grip and pass on chocolates, bacon cubes, and much more.
The newly launched “Hygienic Oil” (HO) robot series from KUKA is also prepared for use in secondary food production. It makes no compromises – neither in terms of payload (available from 6 to 240 kilograms) nor in terms of safety. All robot axes, including the energy supply systems, are equipped with certified NSF H1 lubricants to prevent potential contamination of the food. This means that the robots are ideally equipped for handling dry foods such as bread, chocolate or fruit. Packaged food and the packaging material itself, such as cardboard boxes or film, can also be handled safely with HO series robots from KUKA.
Growing selection for Pick, Pack & Palletize Robots
As far as support for packaging is concerned, KUKA offers the food industry a kind of buffet. The ultra-compact KR SCARA, for example, not only provides the right wrapping for transport, but also checks its quality. The KR CYBERTECH series and the KR IONTEC are pure space-saving wonders and prove their worth even in cramped conditions. The KR CYBERTECH nano requires particularly little space and impresses with its maneuverability, flexibility, and reach. This is why six KR CYBERTECH nano robots are dedicated to packing baguettes in a fully automated pick-and-place line in the Netherlands. With their special pincers, the robots grip the bakery products and stack them both safely and neatly in boxes. Perfectly packaged, the food can then be palletized again by KUKA robots from the KR QUANTEC series and transported to trucks with the aid of driverless transport platforms such as the KMP 600-S diffDrive. Then it is off to the customers – for example, bakeries, butchers, and restaurants.
Dieter Rothenfußer is also pleased about KUKA customers who actually use robots developed for other industries and find tasks for them in the food industry. “In England, there is a company that wants to specialize in large kitchens and the mixing of large containers,” he cites an example. “A KR FORTEC is now being used there. It was developed for the automotive sector, but now handles large stainless steel cooking containers in England and does not come into contact with food.” Among other things, sauces and soups are stirred and cooked in the containers. “Afterwards, the KR FORTEC can immediately hold the pot under the steam jet cleaner so that everything is clean,” reports Rothenfußer.
From meat processing to baked goods and dairy products – learn more about the possibilities of automation in the food industry on the KUKA website.