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Robotic solution increases cheese packing productivity

22 July 2014

The introduction of palletizing robots has enabled dramatically increased production levels for one of Britain’s oldest cheesemakers.

AJ and RG Barber is a family-owned farmhouse cheese producer based in Somerset in the UK, which produces a specialist range of cheeses including West Country Farmhouse Cheddar, Red Leicester and Double Gloucester.

In the manufacturing plant at the farm the cheeses are packed into boxes and loaded onto pallets, before being moved to the stores where they are matured for anything up to three years.

 Due to the physical limitations imposed by manual handling of the boxes, production had been restricted to 35 tonnes per day and the company wanted to find a way of increasing capacity without incurring any health and safety issues or losing staff. Julian Ing, head of engineering at Barber’s explains:  “We had quite a task ahead of us as there were several physical factors working against us. Firstly, the location for the cell offers a very small footprint. Add to that the challenges of a low sloping roof and a busy fork-lift truck access area and we knew we had our work cut out. At the same time, Barber’s is a major employer in the local area, and it was very important that no jobs were lost as a result of introducing robots into the plant. This wasn’t about streamlining the workforce.

 “The KUKA name is synonymous with robots, so we were confident that with KUKA we would be able to concentrate on robots and not let extraneous ideas interfere with the central aim of the project. The first system was installed by Gudel before SCM became KUKA partners. SCM Material Handling, a KUKA System Partner was conveniently local so it made sense to approach them when we needed a second robot cell.

Today, two KUKA KR100-2 PA models are being used at Barber’s Maryland Farm in Somerset in separate areas of the plant. The installation of the first robot enabled the plant to go from producing 35 to 65 tonnes per day – an increase of 93%.

Commenting on the first robot, Ing said:  “It was a real success story, and everyone was very pleased with the way the system ran. We spent quite a lot of time developing the right solution given the physical limitation of the space. As well as helping to address health and safety concerns by reducing the amount of manual handling, the switch to automation also achieved a more efficient strapping process, an important part of the operation that had previously been problematic.”

The second KUKA KR100-2 PA robot has been installed in the packaging plant. In this area, the matured cheeses are de-stacked and fed into the cutting and packing lines. There are extra cleanliness regulations in this area, compared with the box packing line, so the introduction of a robot reduces the risk of contamination. Similar benefits have been seen in potentially increased production levels.

Ing said: “We have installed the second cell with no problems. Barber’s is a major employer in the local area, and it is important to our Company that no jobs have been lost as a result of introducing robots into this plant. We have been able to redeploy all the workers formerly employed in physical tasks to more rewarding jobs so there are winners all round.”


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