Food Process Automation at its Best

Wrabacon’s Pizza Shell Handling System: Mergers, Diverters, Conveyors, and a WHOLE lot of Pizza.

Whether you’re ordering or making it fresh – pizza night is a pretty painless process in most households.

Think about it this way: Americans eat about 100 acres of Pizza a day and purchase approximately 3 billion pizzas a year. When you break it down, each man, woman, and child in America eats – on average – 46 slices of pizza a year (Source: Packaged Facts, New York). When you consider the numbers behind all of that pizza, the amount of work that goes into a single pie can really add up. No matter how you slice it, the businesses producing the pizza have their job cut out for them.

This reality created a bit of a “Pizza Problem” for one of New England’s favorite regional convenience store chains. Fortunately, creative automation from Wrabacon was able to provide a convenient solution that increased productivity and efficiency.

Solving “the Pizza Problem”

What our customer needed was a pizza shell handling system that could quickly and efficiently transfer pizza shells from a topping line, to a tunnel freezer, and into a shrink-wrapping machine. On top of this, since the machine would be working with food – it all had to be made of washable and USDA approved materials.

First, Pizza shells exit the topping line in single file. To maximize the efficiency of the tunnel freezer – our creative automation team implemented a 1-3 servo controlled diverter, seamlessly splitting a single row of pizzas into 3. Once aligned, a gate is released and the shells are transferred into the freezer tunnel.

After the pizzas are frozen, they need to be returned to a single row before passing through the shrink-wrapping machine. At this juncture, the Wrabacon solution was a 3-1 merger that consolidates the 3 frozen rows. By gating pizzas exiting the freezer and then releasing them back into a single file using a series of guides, our solution was capable of more effectively processing the frozen product through the shrink-wrapping machine. This enabled our customer to realize an incredibly consistent and reliable throughput rate of 25 shells per minute. With each pizza wrapped, it is then transferred downstream to a hand pack-off area where the shells are placed in shipping cartons and delivered to stores throughout the area.

The Wrabacon Difference

Approaching any foodservice application can be a tricky prospect for some automation providers. For Wrabacon, it’s something we regularly contend with, but ensuring that each piece of the system meets USDA requirements is only the beginning. From diverters and mergers to conveyors and controls used throughout the system, each element is carefully considered and implemented to make a difference for the operation at hand and thespace it has to work with.

Ultimately, by optimizing our customer’s automation system, Wrabacon was able to help our customer increase throughput by at least 300% while making production smoother, more consistent, and more energy efficient.

For this project, Wrabacon provided:

  • (1)1-3 diverter
  • (1)3-1 Merger
  • (1)Infeed Conveyor
  • (1)System control & communication design/installation

When Dealing with Size, Timing, and Control: Creative Automation Makes a Difference

No matter what industry you’re in – if you ever deal with automation, you understand that it has a lot of moving parts (and that’s not exactly a pun).  The moving parts you find in an automation system run the gamut from feeders and conveyors, to diverters, stackers, and everything in-between. But what really matters are the “parts” that influence an automation system without ever actually being a part in it – like the space it exists in and the characteristics of the product it’s built to accommodate.  For our team at Wrabacon, this is what makes the difference between simple automation and creative automation.

Consider for example the challenge posed by one customer in the glass converting industry.

With a fragile product in 4 different sizes, a small amount of space to work with and strict timing parameters to accommodate – creative automation is exactly what they needed.

 

 

The Problem   

Transfer four different size glass sheets from an existing screen printing machine to an existing oven infeed, allowing inks to cure on the glass sheeting.

What is a transfer system? A transfer system is a safe, reliable, efficient system that transfers products from one step in the process to the next with little to no human interaction.

The client produces screen prints on 4 different sizes of glass sheeting.   The entire process took place in a 16 x 15-foot production area.

Before creative automation, the process was slow, unpredictable, and antiquated. It required 2 employees to maintain glass alignment on the system and the need to maintain the proper gap between the sheets prior to the transfer of the sheets into the curing oven. It also relied on outdated parts, software, and controls that prevented the business from scaling with demand.

Wrabacon’s task was to introduce a more modern, efficient, and effective system that improves efficiency and control, while operating within the existing room layout, with less manpower.  

The Process

How the Glass Transfer System Works

Industrial Automation Transfer System
Schematic of the glass transfer system

 Step 1:  The glass sheets exit the screen printing machine single file and transfer onto a 90-degree rotating conveyor.

Step 2:  The sheets transfer downstream on conveyor 2 to the pop up transfer zone.

Step 3:  The glass sheets enter the pop up zone which is made up of conveyors 3, 4 and 5.   There are two pop up sections, one for each glass sheet. The first sheet travels over the first pop up zone to the second zone. When sensed, the pop up extends upward, lifting the sheet off the rollers.

Step 4:  The next sheet enters the first pop up zone and when sensed, is lifted off the rollers.

Step 5:  When both sheets are positioned, the conveyor belts start and transfer the sheets side by side onto conveyor 6. This conveyor brings the sheets to the oven infeed where they are transferred for downstream processing. The area where the transfer occurs has an approximate temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 6:  We connected conveyor 6 to the existing oven variable speed drive. Using a 0 – 10 VDC signal, conveyor 6 follows the linear belt speed of the oven to allow for the proper gap between the trailing edge of the first sheet of glass and the leading edge of the second sheet of glass.

The ResultIndustrial Automation Transfer System

The resulting system for our client was a completely custom solution, that allows the customer to complete one full sheet in 18 seconds.  This has allowed the customer to drastically increase their output, provide more accurate lead-times, and grow at a faster rate.

Have questions about how creative automation can make a difference for your business or industry? Wrabacon is the authority.

How Creative Automation Made a Difference: Denesting, Labeling & More for a Major American Adhesive Manufacturer

The Problem: Denest, label and lid 3 pail sizes while improving throughput and minimizing footprint.

When a major American manufacturer of sealants and adhesives decided to invest in new automation equipment, Wrabacon Inc. was asked to create a proposal for the company’s pail denesters, lid denesters, lid presses, and pail turners.

What is Denesting? For the uninitiated, a pail (or lid) denester automates the pulling-apart of buckets or pails so that they can then be automatically placed into a system where they are filled, labeled, and sealed shut. Prior to installing a custom solution by Wrabacon, the facility’s only automation took place when pails were actually filled, and it could only be done as fast as an employee could manually move each bucket to and from the filling area. Denesting the pails, lidding them, and labeling them was all done by hand – which posed problems for ergonomics, production rate, and efficiency. By introducing a more automated solution, our customer could finally realize the fast, predictable, and effective throughput that would allow them to grow.

What Was the Need?

 

A system that could quickly and efficiently automate a pail filling line, while accommodating 3 pail sizes with their own fill rates, label and lid sizes.  

 

 

It Counts to Be Creative

After reviewing several other vendors for this equipment, the client chose Wrabacon’s proposed solution, not because our machine was fancier, but because it was tailor-made to meet their specific goals: a small foot print, and a high ROI. This was done by carefully considering their space and application.

To meet our client’s need, our creative automation experts went to work to carefully study the application, the environment, and the product at hand.

At Wrabacon, this stage in the process is critical. Not only does it give our engineers the opportunity to fully understand our client’s facility and process – but it enables our team to create a truly custom automation solution that accounts for the many possible variables at play with each application or environment.

The Solution: Wrabacon’s Denester

Reliable Throughput, Minimal Footprint

For our customer, the goal was to handle 3 separate container sizes, while ensuring both a small footprint and a high degree of reliability. Does that mean 1 complex system for all 3 sizes to save space? Or a hybrid solution that’s  slightly larger, but less intricate and more reliable? It’s questions like these that our team tackles for every custom system. 

Every creative automation project is a balancing act. Too much adjustability and size differential can cause problems with throughput and reliability. Too little, and the space required for each system component can become unwieldy.

 

Our team worked to strike the ideal balance. By carefully considering the customer’s facility and process, we made the determination that a single machine for all 3 pail sizes just wouldn’t meet their needs without sacrificing performance, reliability, and ROI.

Instead, our system uses one denester for bailed buckets in the two largest sizes, with a separate denester for non-bailed ½ gallon buckets. After the pails are denested, they then progress to a labeling area, a filling area (pre-existing), and a lidding area. Finally, each pail exits the system after being guided down an incline conveyor and manually removed.

Throughout the process, our design remains focused on carefully guiding each pail to its destination quickly and efficiently – with numerous stops and guides to ensure reliability and control.

Labeling

Orient, Adjust, and Label Pails in 3 Different Sizes

After pails are de-nested on their respective machines, they enter the labeling area where a pneumatic gate stops each pail before a set of side-belts rotate the pail to a preset position for labeling. After labels are placed, the system will release the pail from its position and lower a pair of stop gates to let the pail continue downstream to be transferred onto the client’s filling conveyor.

Lid Denesting and Rolling

Two Systems, Multiple Sizes, Greater Efficiency 

For this system, the two larger containers share a lid denester and placer while the smaller pails utilize their own lid denester and placer.  With hoppers that can be loaded at any time, the operation of this system halts each pail with a stopping gate so that lids can be released from above and dropped loosely onto the container. Next, they move downstream where each lid is rolled onto the container with a series of tapered rollers. The size difference between pails dictates the only change in functionality between large lid denesters and small lid denesters – which allows the smaller denester to handle two containers at once, with a dual vertical hopper.

The Result

Space Saving Reliability at a Competitive Price

Ultimately, our entire system was designed to be a simple and efficient automation solution to separate buckets and lids, while also handling alignment for labeling and lidding. In the beginning, all denesting, labeling, and lidding was done by hand. Today, the company experiences much greater productivity and efficiency – allowing them to accurately forecast throughput and productivity while more efficiently (and competitively) providing product to customers around the world.

Picking Your Pick and Place System

At Wrabacon, we deal with automation systems every day. Some of the most common components we deal with are pick and place systems. With that in mind, the number of variations available with a modern pick and place system can make the process a bit daunting. For that reason, we’ve come up with a few guidelines on how to more effectively identify your needs. Read on to learn more!

For businesses around the world, the pick and place system is undoubtedly the heart of just about every assembly process. Many times, it is also the most important equipment decision a manufacturer or business can make. Especially for electronics applications involving SMT production lines, a pick and place system plays an incredibly important roll and will ultimately have an effect on not just the quality of the end product, but the efficiency of the entire production line.

When identifying the right pick and place system, first it’s important to know your requirements. Ask yourself, how many total placements will you need the pick and place system to make in one cycle? For example, if your specific pick and place system is for PCB’s, you’ll need to know four important pieces of information.

Consider your needs now

First, it’s important to know how many total placements you will ultimately need on each PCB. Second, it’s important to know your specific component packages in order to identify the best feeder size and delivery method. Will tape work best? Or do your applications call for a tube and matrix tray? This is a very important step that will ultimately influence the reliability and efficiency of your system.

Third: You’ll need to identify the best feeder size and delivery method, you’ll want to know the total number of unique components that will be on the printed circuit board. This dictates how many feeder slots are required for your specific system. Finally, you must know your smallest, largest, and fine pitch requirements.

Consider your needs for the future

It’s not just important to consider your production needs now, it’s important to also consider your needs for the future as well. Given that your pick and place system is a central part of your automation system, having to make adjustments to meet future demands will not only hinder your productivity, but force you to make potentially costly adjustments as well. By taking advantage of modular automation system components, you can easily adjust your system to meet your demands now while seamlessly accommodating for your needs in the future as well.

Identify your production requirements

In order to build a system that effortlessly meets your production needs, you first need to know what your production needs actually are. Your production requirements per hour, day, week, and year will have a drastic impact on the makeup of your pick and place system and your required machine speed.

The Bottom Line

Any automation system needs to keep the future in mind while remaining cost effective and powerful for today’s needs. By making a couple smart choices now, you can potentially eliminate the need to make a very expensive choice in the future. In the end, this can be said for just about any automation system. While SMT placement works as a very good example for how useful a pick and place system can be, pick and place systems have important applications in businesses and industries of just about every variety.

Click here to learn more about pick and place systems by Wrabacon Incorporated.

What Makes a Successful Pick and Place System

Here at Wrabacon, we have a knack for creative automation. Why? Because it makes a difference.  Ever since the Roman period, automation has been used to make all kinds of tasks easier. After all, you’ve probably heard the saying, “Work smarter, not harder” haven’t you? That saying could very well be at the heart of automation. Since then, the science has become a central part of the industrial and manufacturing worlds. But before we can get into the incredible possibilities of modern pick and place systems and what makes them successful, it might help to take a look back at where it all began.

Consider for a moment the industrial revolution. One of the most important industries during this time, the textile industry, experienced unprecedented growth that changed the world in a number of ways – all due to automation equipment like the spinning jenny and the Spinning Mule. These inventions, while primitive by today’s standards, were used to spin cotton and other fibers into yarn. You might be wondering, “What does that have to do with a pick and place system?” But consider it this way: In terms of innovation, this was the cutting edge. A machine was being used to produce a new product. To, “place” one component into another.  In the very same way, modern pick and place systems are used to more effectively produce all kinds of products, from food to electronics. While 19th century automation systems were “placing” one product into another to create yarn, modern pick and place systems go so far as placing surface mount devices onto printed circuit board. They might be different products, but the same principle is at play.

So what made textile automation successful so many years ago, and what makes a successful pick and place system possible today? First, it has to be efficient.  Looking back, coming up with a groundbreaking automation system during the industrial revolution might seem relatively simple by today’s standards. However, automation systems for manufacturing electronic components, for example, are a bit more complex.  Efficiency relies on every aspect of the production line working together to be faster, more  reliable, and more productive. In order for that to happen, you must understand your feeder requirement and your speed and capacity requirements.  On top of that, it’s important to remember that a pick and place system shouldn’t be designed for just the present. It should be designed for the future as well. This is one major difference between the earliest automation equipment and the advanced systems used today.

On another level, a successful pick and place system also needs to be versatile. While this might have been impossible for early automation systems, any advanced pick and place system will be able to accommodate for changes in production, product, component size, and more. This might involve modular design to introduce new automation components, such as tray feeders, stackers, and vision systems. When it comes down to it, just about anything is possible these days.

For more on pick and place systems, take a look at the pick and place systems page on our main site. Or just give us a call!