With two ABB Flexpicker robotic cells in its production line, Ilchester Cheese Ltd has benefited from savings in labour and materials.
Almost two years after adding two ABB robotic cells to its production line, Ilchester Cheese Ltd, which is thought to be the UK's biggest producer of speciality cheeses, continues to maintain improved labour and material savings. Since the installation, product consistency and levels of productivity have also improved at the factory in Ilchester, Somerset.
The company currently exports to over 20 countries and, within the UK, delivers its products to a wide range of food manufacturers, wholesalers, supermarkets and independent stores with both pre-packed and deli counter cheeses. Recognising the need to keep up with its global competition, in 2005, Ilchester Cheese approached RTS - a high-technology business supplying engineering services, products and integrated systems - with the requirement for a new automated production line to help improve labour efficiency and increase product yield.
Working as partners, RTS and ABB quickly examined the key stages of the production line to determine what the robots would need to achieve and how. The answer was to provide Ilchester Cheese with two IRB 340 Flexpicker robots, capable of handling 150 picks per minute, to ensure cheese blocks are moved quickly and precisely, one at a time, from one location to another.
Operating in two, eight-hour shifts, the Flexpicker robots have now reduced labour by half. Now only two employees are needed to monitor and maintain the smooth running of the production lines, reduced from the four employees who previously carried out the task of picking and packing.
Helping Ilchester Cheese meet its own stringent requirements, ABB's Flexpicker robots can ensure Illchester's product consistency by selecting only 'perfect' products. As the robot control system 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 the production line again.
Tony Helyar, Engineering and Business Development Manager at Illchester Cheese, comments: "Since installing the ABB robots we have seen significant improvements in our productivity. 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"
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