Two FANUC robots are helping a leading European foam products producer, Recticel BV, to achieve totally automated production of its new Polygrow products.
Recticel’s Polygrow is a polyurethane foam product used by the horticultural sector, in particular vegetable growers, which provides a substrate for the growth of plants. The innovative product helps increase yield, and improve product quality by limiting the risks of disease and crop failure.
Producing mattresses at its Kesteren factory in the Netherlands, Recticel saw this as an ideal opportunity to implement its first robots on the site. Polygrow is a system of two foam elements, the Grow Block – a 65 mm cube with a recess to take plant plugs for establishing growth and a Plate – a 0.9 Mtr to 1.33 Mtr length of foam wrapped in foil onto which the Grow Blocks are placed when plants are established.
"Mattress components are very heavy and awkward to handle so Polygrow was ideal for us to consider full automation," explained Carel Groothuis, Technical Manager, Recticel. "We start with a slab of foam 26 Mtr long and 1.2 Mtr high and slice it down to form the Blocks. Robots made a ready solution for the palletising and we saw no point designing special equipment."
Abar Automation, a strategic partner of FANUC and specialist in end of line palletising systems, initially carried out trials to assess the feasibility of handling the 0.9 Mtr to 1.33 Mtr long Plates. On the basis of the trials, FANUC robots were selected for two operations; collation of Plates and palletising.
Finish manufactured Plates, which are foil wrapped, arrive in the robot area on a buffer conveyor where a FANUC M-10iA robot picks three up at a time with a vacuum gripper. The three plates are then placed into a collation area where the robot neatly stacks a further three layers of three plates. The collated four layer stack is then transported by conveyor through a tape wrap machine presenting itself as an individual bundle for palletising.
A four axes FANUC M-410iB manages the palletising of all bundles to a pallet 1.2 Mtr square and up to 2.4 Mtr height. This allows for two bundles alongside each other per layer and 10 bundles in height.
Abar Automation engineered a multi-function gripper which allows for empty pallets to be placed accurately in the palletising position, to allow a layer sheet to be placed where required and for pallet bundles to be lifted and placed accurately.
Commenting on the effectiveness of the overall system, Carel explains, "Our brief for this project was always clear – total automation to meet a production requirement of 60 Mtr of foam product per minute and to be complete within a very tight deadline. This is a new product for Recticel and we needed it to be available for the start of the growing season to coincide with product launch.
"Robots were always the first consideration as we knew they were a known process and would work. We have achieved the objective – we start with a 26Mtr block of foam 1.2 Mtr high and produce 1.2 Mtr Plates x 6 cm thickness at a rate of 60 Mtrs per minute – and all this is achieved with one person per shift to cut the foam to slabs and one person to inspect output and keep the pallet stock loaded."