Ilchester Cheese boosts efficiency with robotics

01 February 2008

Ilchester Cheese claims to have upped productivity and improved product consistency, at its Somerset factory, with two ABB robotic cells.

ABB Robot works on the Ilchester Cheese production line
ABB Robot works on the Ilchester Cheese production line

The news comes a year on from the launch of ABB’s robotics campaign, designed to increase the use of robotics in the UK manufacturing industry.

Power and automation technology specialist, ABB, said Ilchester Cheese, which now boasts improved labour and material savings, shows how important it is for companies to invest in robotics and automated plant technology.

Ilchester Cheese approached RTS, engineering services supplier, with a view to installing a new automated production line.

RTS and ABB joined forces to examine the key stages of the production line and determined what the robots would need to achieve and how. Their solution was to install two IRB 340 Flexpicker robots, capable of handling 150 picks per minute. The machines are now in operation, moving cheese blocks quickly and precisely, one at a time.

Operating in two, eight-hour shifts the Flexpicker robots have reduced labour turnover by half. Now, only two employees are needed to monitor and maintain the production lines, reduced from the four employees who previously carried out the task of picking and packing.

Ilchester Cheese claim ABB’s robots have helped it meet its own stringent requirements and said it had ensured product consistency by selecting only perfect products. As the robot scans the production line it identifies the optimum height of a block of cheese. If the product does not fit into the pre-determined height restrictions, the cheese is left on the conveyor, ready to be cut and sent through to the production line again.

Tony Helyar, engineering and business development manager at Ilchester Cheese said the improvements in productivity were ‘significant’.

‘Production errors have been greatly reduced, resulting in reduced wastage and increased yield on our products.

‘The solution has been successfully in operation for over two years and has already enabled Ilchester Cheese to recoup its initial investment

‘Our initial requirements have all been fulfilled and we look forward to implementing robotics elsewhere in our business.’

However, despite the overwhelming benefits of implementing robotics, the industry still seems reluctant. The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) recently reported an increase in sales by 11% across Europe, while sales in the UK had dropped by 10.5%.

Therefore, ABB has decided to relaunch its ’10 reasons’ campaign. Details of which can be found on the Control Engineering UK website, Click here

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