UR10e Cobot Keeps the Coffee Flowing

Napco Brands

In Short

Two palletizers powered by Universal Robots and Robotiq help Chicago-area Napco Brands grow its private-label coffee business despite labor shortages, increasing productivity 15% and reducing injury risk while freeing up eight workers per day for more valuable tasks.

The Business Transformation

“At Napco, we have a lot of capability to pack for private label,” explains Eric Latsch, VP of operations for Napco Brands, that roast and packs coffee beans. But finding enough workers to support the private label business has been a challenge. To address labor shortages and employee safety, and to boost productivity, the company installed two AX10 automated palletizing solutions from Robotiq featuring the UR10e collaborative robots (cobots) from Universal Robots (UR).

Latsch had looked at many different types of packaging equipment to improve production but found the costs to be prohibitive. “There’s a large barrier to entry when you’re talking millions of dollars in a single packaging line that may or may not help you,” he says. Collaborative robots were a much easier and more cost-effective option. In fact, the Robotiq Palletizing Solution paid for itself in less than a year, freeing up eight valued workers per day.

Napco Brands

Industry Food and beverage
Country USA
Number of Employees 65
Cobot used UR10e

Installing the Robotiq Palletizing Solution with UR cobots was definitely the easiest thing we’ve ever done. I don’t even know if it was more than a shift to get it up and running from when they delivered it. I couldn’t imagine it going any better

Eric Latsch, VP of Operations, Napco Brands
Watch the Robotiq Palletizing Solutions with UR cobots transform the end-of-line palletizing tasks at Napco Brands, enabling the company to successfully bid on more private label business

180,000 coffee cups per day

The cobot palletizers run two shifts, operating 18 to 20 hours per day. Each palletizing cell fills 1,500 boxes, totaling 180,000 single-serve coffee cups packed daily between the two cells. The robots have helped to increase productivity at Napco Brands by about 15 percent. Because costs are now fixed rather than variable, and the system has significantly reduced overtime, the company is able to be more aggressive on bidding new business. Latsch says, “Having this automation with a higher efficiency has made it possible for us to acquire new customers. We have several new private-label customers that we couldn’t have dreamed of two years ago.”

Watch how UR Certified System Integrator DesignHawk Innovations quickly deployed the Robotiq Palletizing Solution, then ‘handed the keys’ to Napco to handle operation and changeovers in-house.

How They Did It

The AX10 Robotiq palletizing solution came recommended by UR distributor FPE Automation due to their ease of deployment, its ability to handle a wide variety of pallet heighs, and long track record of success. FPE brought in UR Certified Systems Integrator DesignHawk Innovations to integrate the packaging line, which included the two new cobot palletizers picking up boxes as they arrive on a conveyor through the automated box sealer and placing them on pallets.

The Robotiq Palletizing Solution is the intuitive online configurator that enabled DesignHawk to quickly map out the application. Once box sizes, pallet dimensions, and format are entered, the simulation provides an accurate cycle time for the process. Benning says, “That’s always one of the difficult parts of our job, determining exactly how the final system will run. It was a huge benefit knowing that we’re going to meet the cycle time we need. After seeing the simulation software and realizing that Robotiq had the whole palletizing package, it was a really obvious choice.”

Surprised by the small footprint

Surprised by the small footprint

When the Robotiq solutions were installed, Latsch was surprised by their small footprint and how fast they were to set up. On the day of installation, Benning showed the Napco team how to run the system and were available for the next few days for any additional needs. Latsch says,

The overall packaging line uses a PLC to communicate, but the cobot palletizers use the built-in UR controller with no additional PLC needed. Jeff Benning CEO of DesignHawk explains, “All the robots know that the other exists, so if there’s an issue with one, it’ll be transmitted to the others.” The box that arrives at the palletizer is detected by the sensors Robotiq provides with the palletizing solution. The sensors communicate with the Robotiq software and send the signal to the UR10e to go ahead and grab the box. According to Benning the built-in controller in the UR cobot eliminates the need for additional hardware. He notes, “It’s all right there, it’s less to diagnose, it’s less to program, it’s less that we have to teach Napco to maintain, and then ultimately, it’s just less that can go wrong.”

The collaborative palletizer has reduced opportunities for injury and the high turnover that results from repetitive, boring jobs

Eric Latch, VP of Operations, Napco Brands
Takes ownership with minimal training

Takes ownership with minimal training

A key advantage of the collaborative palletizing system is the ease of programming and ongoing use. DesignHawk’s Benning focuses on working with customers after deployment to make sure they feel confident to maintain it and take ownership of it over the system’s lifetime. That’s made easier with the intuitive UR collaborative robots and Robotiq palletizing software environment.

Eric Matthews, Napco Brands production floor manager, had no robotics experience before being handed the keys to the new palletizing system. He says, “It did take a little bit of training, but it was a very easy course to go through. After I was showed, I was relieved. It was a pretty easy task to take over from there.”

Quick changeovers

Quick changeovers

Changeovers with the Robotiq palletizing software are very easy, taking less than a minute on the cobot’s own touchscreen to change the size of the box, how many boxes go on a pallet, or the direction of the boxes. When a new product comes in, Matthews is able to take an existing installed program and modify it for new requirements. He explains, “It’s a very simple process. I can take any size box, with any parameters I want, and program it myself.”

Key value drivers:

  • ROI in less than 12 months
  • 15% increase in thoughput
  • Increased competitiveness enabling more business

Tasks solved by collaborative robots:

  • Palletizing boxes of single-serve coffee cups

Automation challenges solved:

  • Automating smaller palletizing cells in confined spaces with operator interaction
  • Handling high-mix production with numerous change-overs
  • Freeing up manual labor from unergonomic hand stacking tasks

Get in touch with Universal Robots

Thousands of businesses rely on Collaborative Robots to...

- Increase productivity
- Adapt to changing product demand
- Improve employee well-being and retention
- Staff through labor shortages

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