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GMP Pharmaceuticals Fully Automated End of Line System: Debuting Australia’s Smallest Palletiser.

Fibre King’s Compact Modular Palletiser provides a flexible, affordable and compact palletising solution that is proving popular within Australian facilities.

The Challenge: GMP Pharmaceuticals wanted a fully automated end of line system within a very tight footprint. GMP Pharmaceuticals Girraween facility specialise in healthcare products, natural health and dairy products. With further increases in sales within the Dairy product sector, GMP needed to improve output within their facility to match the predicted demand. The Dairy product line required automated case packing and palletising solution but only had limited available space. This meant that traditional solutions were not suitable.

The solution: Fibre King employed a combination of existing and newly developed machinery to efficiently case pack, case label and palletise complementary healthcare products, natural health and dairy products.

Services Rendered:

  • Bespoke design solution using industry experience

  • Project management and line integration of all equipment

Fibre King Equipment Used:

  • Top Load RSC Case Packer

  • Compact Modular Palletiser

  • Dual level infeed and outfeed pallet conveyor

Fibre King’s end of line solution for GMP Pharmaceuticals included two new innovations done recently that were developed by taking into account common problems by customers: Safety, small footprint, simple to operate, flexibility to run a range of product SKU’s, add new SKU’s.

With the criteria defined, Fibre King’s engineering team went to work and upgraded their popular top load RSC Case Packer and developed what is now known as the CMP (Compact Modular Palletiser). The CMP is compact, taking up only 2x3 metres of factory space in its standard configuration. It is the configurable nature of the machine which makes it modular with 3 standard configurations. In the standard configuration pallet handling is manual with a pallet placed on the ground. When quick pallet changes are required the CMP is supplied with a pallet handling conveyor which allows the operator to load empty pallets on a lower section of rollers and full pallets exit the CMP at a higher level, the pallet changeover is automatic. For customers with higher throughput requirements the CMP is supplied with full pallet handling including pallet dispenser.

The machine features a pick and place vacuum gripper which is entrusted to a cantilevered, gantry-style mechanical structure.

This mechanical structure, in conjunction with a multi axis-control system, allows the vacuum gripper to pick, and very accurately place the product. The vacuum gripper head supports a fourth rotation axis to allow complete freedom of movement for a variety of palletising requirements. The standard CMP supports the direct placement of pallets on the floor, inside the palletiser.

As space was tight, there was not enough room to accumulate cases on a long conveying system. This required the pallet changeover to be swift, as not to stop the upstream equipment.

The pallet change over needed to be automatic so the options to include a dual level infeed and outfeed pallet conveyor was ordered. This option enables the operators to load empty pallets onto a low-level pallet infeed conveyor, and retrieve the completed pallets from the high-level pallet outfeed conveyor. With a dual level pallet conveying system in place, the line can run continuously without being reliant on an operator being on permanent stand-by.

The other machine used was the new model Top Load RSC Case packer, which has proven to be very reliable. Traditional Top Load case packers utilise a pick and place mechanism to pick products from a product collating conveyor (infeed) which is aligned with the machine. The product is lifted, transported over the top of the erected RSC case and lowered into the case. This increases the cycle time of the machine especially when the product weight increases and inertia and momentum effect the stability of the load. Traditional pick and place machines are usually bigger as the infeed conveyor is mounted beside the case erector and loading area. For GMP Fibre King was able to minimise the width of the case packer but removing the need for a product collating conveyor mounted on the side of the machine. A single lane product conveyor brings products into the case packer, when it is in line with the loading area of the machine the product is indexed at 90 degrees towards the loading area. The product is then conveyed over the erected RSC carton by a retracting belt which continues to run even when products are being loaded. This means that products in the correct configuration for loading are accumulated above the case, picked by a vacuum gripper and lowered directly into the waiting case as soon as the feed conveyor has retracted.

By working with GMP Pharmaceuticals, Fibre King was able to design solutions that worked within their constraints and improved their output and efficiencies and rewardingly can be applied to other applications to help manufacturing companies facing the same issues.

“Fibre King supplied us with a fully automated end of line system within a very tight footprint that has improved our output to match predicted consumer demand. The CMP was newly developed for our project to accommodate our space constraints as the luxury to accumulate cases on a long conveying system was not available. This required the pallet changeover to be swift, as not to stop the upstream equipment, the CMP was the optimal solution.” - Lakhvinder Singh |Deputy General Manager GMP Pharmaceuticals

James Windsor, CEO of Fibre King provides further detail on the innovative CMP and what it can mean for Australian Businesses.

The CMP by Fibre King is a Compact Modular Palletiser suitable for operations with space constraints that still require a fully automated solution. Palletising speeds vary depending on size of products and the pallet pattern required. The CMP is a pick and place palletiser capable of operating at 10 cycles per minute. This equates to an operational throughput of 20 products per minute if two products are picked and placed with each cycle. The product gripper used is interchangeable to suit the style of product being palletised. The movement of the pick and place gripper is entrusted to a cantilevered, gantry-style mechanical structure. This mechanical structure, in conjunction with a multi axis-control system, allows the gripper to move in 3 directions and a 4th rotation axis is built into the gripper head mount to ensure proper orientation of the palletised product.

For configurations with automatic pallet handling the empty pallet will be fed in on the same dual level conveyor that removes the full pallets. The empty pallets are moved into the CMP at low level and a lift conveyor which operates hydraulically raises the full pallet which exits the CMP on the upper level.

Productivity Gains - What were the overall proven efficiency and productivity gains?

Productivity gains from automated palletising are twofold. You have the increase in throughput of products but you may also see a reduction in the number of injuries which occur when manually handling heavy or large awkward products at the reach required for palletising.

To palletise products at a rate comparable to the CMP, two to three people will be required plus a forklift operator per shift. When a CMP is installed a full-time operator is not required. This allows the company to redeploy two to three resources per shift to more productive tasks within the operation. If a fully automated pallet handling system with integrated stretch wrapper is utilised then a forklift operator may not be required either. The direct labour savings alone for two people across two shifts are conservatively $250,000.00 per year which allows the company to payback a CMP including basic pallet handling in approximately eight months.

In terms of efficient use of space the CMP utilises approximately 50% less space than a comparable high level mechanical palletiser and approximately 60% less than a comparable robotic palletiser. When compared to collaborative robotic palletisers the CMP will require slightly more space however, it does not have the same weight and speed limitations.

Due to the short travel distances and precision multi-axis servo control, the pick and place cycle time is extremely efficient.

Innovation - What were the design features or innovations and how did they improve end-user ROI, cost of ownership, productivity and efficiency?

While the CMP is designed to be a low cost compact solution we also wanted it to be functional and easy to use. Being able to physically fit all of the features of a full size palletiser into 50% of space is quite an achievement. The design of the cantilevered arm incorporating the 4th axis for rotation and the slip ring to allow vacuum and compressed air to be used on the gripper head while not restricting rotation is quite a neat design.

The mechanical innovations in the CMP are impressive but the software design has some great features. We have developed pallet pattern generation software which allows the operator to create new pallet patterns for new products directly on the CMP’s HMI. This feature is not only convenient but it saves the end-user a significant amount of money when marketing want a packaging change or a bonus offer. The end-user doesn’t need to pay an expert programmer to travel to site to create new patterns, they simply create the patterns themselves. The CMP is controlled by an industry standard Allen-Bradley PLC which might not appear innovative but it is a lot easier for maintenance personnel to troubleshoot or make changes to the CMP operation compared to the specialised programming requirements for robotic palletising solutions.

Fibre King’s predictive maintenance software is included as standard on the CMP. This software gives the operator an early warning as components approach the end of their useable life. This allows the operator to order replacement parts and schedule the component for replacement at the next maintenance window. This prevents the loss of production and associated costs due to unplanned stops on the production line. Being one of the last machines in the production line it is extremely costly to have the entire line stop due to a failure.

The CMP’s performance and production data can be monitored remotely from anywhere in the world, when a network connection is provided by the end-user. This is particularly important for customers in remote locations as our expert engineers can provide technical support to assist troubleshooting any faults without the expense of a site visit.

Market and market development - Is the market new or existing for your business and which markets or industries is your product suitable for?

The low entry price, small space requirement and simple operation of the CMP has opened fully automated palletising to end-users who previously didn’t have the space or capital to purchase a high level mechanical or Robotic palletiser. These smaller end-users are often in rapidly growing markets including Craft Brewery, Organics, Healthy Beverages and even Dairy.

Fibre King has national representation and as such does not have agencies in Australia. We do work with agencies in some international markets however we are not specifically promoting the CMP into these markets yet.

Other Benefits

Energy consumption is a major consideration for anyone looking to automate their production facility and the CMP utilises energy efficient components and key technologies to ensure continued energy savings. One of the biggest energy consumers which is often not considered when looking at machinery is compressed air. The CMP utilises software combined with specific hardware to monitor compressed air usage and detect leaks in specific devices. This allows leaks to be fixed before an increase in energy charges are incurred.

With an average connected load of 3kWh the CMP uses about one fifth of the power consumed by the average family home.

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