Aminolabs is a Belgian company with production facilities in Hasselt (Belgium) and Bleckede (Germany); its headquarters are located in Hasselt. They produce sports nutrition, dietary nutrition and health nutrition products, with an aim to be an innovation leader in Europe. In addition to the production facilities, they have an innovation centre with research facilities where they constantly study new applications at concept, product and production level in tight partnerships with customers, research institutes and universities.
Aminolabs applied to the SME support programme with the aim of finding an automated solution for a manual assembly step of their current production line. In the current processing, the automated filling of the jar with nutritional powder is followed by manual insertion of scoops, before screwing on the lid. This manual process needs an operator to perform a repetitive, tedious and not ergonomic task for long hours. This motivated Amoinoilabs to consider exploring automated systems, in order to not only solve the mentioned issue, but also free up the operator for other tasks.
This was quite challenging since any proposed solutions required to be flexible to handle a large variance of scoop sizes, shapes and colours, and also the production line needed to be easily switchable to a different product few times daily, with easy and intuitive reprogramming.
Moreover, the work-cell needed to provide a safe environment for an operator to work close to it. The minimal assembly rate is considered to be 20 jars/min.
Based on the project requirements, a conveyor combined with a vibrator feeder was selected as a flexible scoop feeding system, a smart vision for scoop detection, and a cobot for the automatic scoop insertion. The specification of each subsystem was identified based on the performed feasibility studies.
In the proposed solution, the conveyor is responsible to fill the vibrator feeder with an optimum number of scoops. This is performed using the smart camera mounted on top of the vibrator platform in order to keep track of the number of available scoops on the vibrator surface.
The scoops on the vibrator feeder are distributed over the surface, and are arranged properly to be picked up by the robot in the right way using the 3-axis vibration technology. A smart camera also helps the cobot to know where the scoops are for picking purposes. A cobot equipped with two grippers is selected to meet the minimal required assembly rate.
The performed feasibility studies showed that the 3-axis vibration technology (with the right selection of the size) can successfully separate and arrange the large variety of scoop sizes and shapes considered in the project.
The experimental tests also revealed that a smart vision (with the right specification) equipped with front and backlight can maximize the detection performance. A structured plate (pyramid-like patter) as a vibrator platform was observed to be necessary to minimize the stability timing of the scoops. Additionally, a cobot with two grippers was selected to increase the assembly rate.
Based on the feasibility studies, the maximum achievable cycle time with the proposed work-cell is estimated to be 35 scoops/min which meets the required assembly rate (20 scoops/min). The proposed work-cell also offers a safe environment for the operators to work close to it; thanks to the safety laser scanner, and the safety features of the cobot.
How could COTEMACO support you?
Via the SME support programme, COTEMACO engages with SMEs from the automotive and food sectors through field labs. These regional field labs in the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium and Germany are showcasing key production steps in the automotive and food industries, in order to tackle current low sectorial awareness and knowledge gaps. The field labs will exchange knowledge on different manufacturing tasks, such as handling and (un)loading.
With the COTEMACO programme, manufacturing SMEs are guided through the process of adopting collaborative robotic and shop floor digitalisation technologies, from the exploration of technological opportunities to the detailed definition of a business plan.
What was implemented and what are the benefits?
Within the COTEMACO programme a potential technical solution for the Aminolabs case was identified in order to automate their current manual step for the scoop insertion. The identified solution was based on employing a smart vision for scoop detection, a cobot for automatic insertion and a conveyor combined with a vibrator feeder as a flexible scoop feeding system.
The proposed solution is flexible enough to handle the variance of the scoops with a variety in sizes, colours and shapes. The cobot safety features combined with the laser scanner makes the work-cell a safe environment for the operators to work in the same area when needed. The intuitive robot programming of the proposed cobot and the intrinsic features of the work-cell minimizes the product changeover and makes it possible easily to switch to a different product.
A feasibility study on the proposed solution was performed; this includes the conceptual design of the work-cell, technical feasibility with validation testing, cycle time estimation, an overview of the estimated costs, and a list of potential subcontractors and suppliers.
Were your expectations fulfilled - technical implementation and support through COTEMACO?
Bert Aerts, Production Manager, Aminolabs:
“Thanks to the elaborate research with practical tests by the team of Flanders Make in the frame of Cotemaco project, today we have the necessary certainty that a robot automatization at our filling station meets all requirements.
We are extremely satisfied with the extent to which they think along about a solution that works in practice, thoroughly test and clearly report, and also provide all the necessary input for the concrete elaboration of our business case.“