Robot moves stacks of pallets

Sept. 25, 2019
Mobile unit reduces fork truck traffic and improves worker safety on the manufacturing floor.

Show Daily Exclusive - Germany-based CABKA Group recycles post-industrial plastics into pallets and other material-handling products. Its plant near St. Louis, Missouri, CABKA North America (Booth US-7908), runs 24/7 to manufacture about 5,000 pallets/day but is challenged by labor shortages. A MiR500 robot from Mobile Industrial Robots (Booth US-8071) is a key component of a new, fully automated production line, which will be replicated throughout the facility to minimize dependency on temporary workers while improving product quality, worker safety and plant cleanliness and efficiency.
At CABKA North America’s 400,000-sq.-ft. facility, workers at 11 injection molding machines unload plastic pallets and manually trim and stack them for material handlers to transport to the warehouse using fork trucks or pallet jacks. The work is repetitive and physical, making it hard to retain workers, and the presence of fork trucks on the production floor leads to safety concerns.
A MiR500 robot is part of a new automated line that includes a six-axis robot to autonomously unload pallets from the injection molding machine, trim the pallets and stack the finished products directly onto the MiR500 unit, which is equipped with a MiR pallet lift. The MiR robot transports the stack off the manufacturing floor to a separate staging area as soon as the job is complete. In the staging area, the pallets can be checked for quality and wrapped. Then fork trucks transport the wrapped pallets to the warehouse and loading docks without having manufacturing workers present. This allows CABKA to eliminate fork truck traffic in the production area and replace them with safe, collaborative mobile robots.
The new line is intended to be the model for the eventual automation of all 11 production lines, with a fleet of MiR robots supporting them on a dynamic, highly efficient manufacturing floor in which each mobile robot can go where it’s needed when it’s needed to keep production flowing. CABKA estimates that the first MiR500 robot travels about three miles each day supporting one production line. With 11 lines planned for autonomous material transport with multiple MiR robots, workers and fork truck drivers will be relieved from many miles of manual material handling, allowing CABKA to redeploy those workers to higher value tasks.
The MiR robot’s user-friendliness is a key element of the project’s success, along with its cost-effectiveness, small footprint and safety features. And the MiR robots have proven to be the easiest part of the new automation project, even in an older facility with uneven floors, cracks and bumps. “With the MiR500, we are very happy with the payload,” says CABKA Project Technician Craig Bossler. “It’s handled everything that we can stack on top of it. We haven’t found out how high we can go yet. It’s very stable—it can make turns, go straight, and it can hit bumps, and it’s always very stable. The MiR [robot] definitely can handle all the imperfections in the floor.”
CABKA North America is looking at other ways to use the MiR robots such as prepping orders overnight in the warehouse so they will be ready at the dock for loading in the morning. Patrick Garin, president of CABKA North America, anticipates that other CABKA locations will be following the North American facility’s lead. He says, “We always have our corporate people come here. . . . they will definitely be very interested in seeing our progress.”
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