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Optimizing Efficiency: A Case Study for Automation Improvement in Food Industry

Automation in Food Industry

Introduction:

In this case study, we focus on of of our clients in food industry that did not achieve the desired outcome from their first attempt at automation. In this industry, managing costs and maximizing production efficiency are extremely important for staying competitive in the marketplace. Automating tasks such as palletizing is an easy way to achieve these objectives for a plant with high production rate. However, the implementation of robotic solutions poses inherent risks. Mishandling this process can result in significant setbacks. In food processing plants, where operational continuity is critical, and downtime is costly, unreliable automation is not an option.

 

Challenges Faced:

Despite implementing a robotic solution, the need for backup labor persisted, leading to inefficiencies, wasted labor, and increased wait times. Many issues bugged down the production system, some of which are listed below:

  • High costs and operational disruptions persisted due to line stoppages and equipment malfunctions, despite the robotic palletizing system being reliable.

  • Frustrated labor with underperforming automation solution

  • Ineffective cell layout and conveyance systems continued to cause bottlenecks and hinder smooth product flow.

  • Quality issues with labels and product identification methods persisted, impacting traceability and customer satisfaction.

  • Inadequate performance of vision systems continued, resulting in errors in product detection and placement.

  • Unreliable end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) and vacuum systems persisted, causing handling issues and reduced efficiency.


Solution: Automation Assessment and Systematic Approach:

To fully understand the issues and their impact on production, we first began by creating a value stream map (VSM) and performing a time study of each operation. That process revealed many issues with the way the whole system was designed and implemented. Having that full picture of the desired outcome and target, we then worked with the team closely to identify problems, define projects, develop, and implement solutions. Some of the activities performed are listed below:

  • Interviewed operators, quality, and maintenance personnel to identify failure modes and utilized Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) to assess risk and prioritize projects.

  • Assisted the customer in scoping out related projects upstream and downstream and collaborated with suppliers to develop and select solutions.

  • Provided regular status reports to keep ownership informed of progress.

  • Implemented solutions to address identified issues, including:

    • Redesigning cell layout for smoother product flow and reduced downtime

    • Increasing reliability of the vision system through better programming and improving label quality by adding secondary identification methods

    • Designing a more reliable end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) with enhanced vacuum system and better instrumentation

    • Enhancing the quality of zero-pressure conveyors (ZPA) for improved product transfer

    • Implementing a pneumatic blow-out system to improve suction cup functionality.


Benefits and Results:

The automation assessment and improvement efforts resulted in increased throughput, and efficiency, reducing labor costs and waste. The tracked Key performance indicators (KPIs) such as downtime and line stoppages were minimized, improving overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), and ensuring uninterrupted production flow. These enhancements optimized resource utilization, enhanced product quality, and strengthened competitiveness, showcasing improved efficiency, reliability, and customer responsiveness.

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