Solution and benefits
Sanofi has turned to Universal Robots’ palletizing robots, more specifically the UR10 models, that have a payload of 10 kilos and a reach of 1300mm. "Another advantage of the UR10 cobots is their compactness, very important for us since our production line’s ends are very tight. We can install an arm between two pallets," explains Gilles Marsal, new works manager at Sanofi Tours.
The ease of programming the cobots and their flexibility, making it possible to add grippers of different sizes in a few seconds depending on the size of the boxes to be handled, convinced the management, which therefore validated the project to integrate the cobots.
Collaborative robots installed at the end of the line work perfectly and greatly facilitate the loading and unloading of pallets; a task that is certainly necessary, but not very rewarding and exhausting for those who normally perform it. The application offers the possibility to change the pallets next to the palletizing robot in safe operation.
According to Sébastien Pain, Head of the Packaging Workshop at Sanofi Tours, the integration of these robots has brought "ergonomic benefits in terms of load carrying, travel, but also a reduction in terms of working time on the line for operators. " Indeed, on this line, Sanofi has gone from an organization of two operators per line to three operators for two lines. With the cobot, the reduction in working time on the task is estimated at 10% per day.
“Cobot Discovery Days”
More importantly, collaborative robots have convinced employees, an essential condition for the success of a cobot project. "To implement a project like this in France, you need to involve both the Health Safety and Environment (HSE) department and users at the very early stage of the project," says Gilles Marsal. "During the first steps, we organized Cobot Discovery Days where all the operators of the packaging lines, and supervisors and members of the management committee could come and test the cobots.”
All these steps (risk analysis, Discovery Day...) meant that the implementation of the first project took six months. The next installation took four-five months between order and implementation. One of the strengths of cobotics was a shorter installation than for industrial robotic arms.
Freed up for more rewarding tasks
From the employees' point of view, the palletizing robots were very well received. "The Discovery Day allowed us to see that the cobot was a good collaborator," explains Julie Debrincat, automated line operator. Operators had many questions about safety, especially in the event of a collision between the cobot and the human. "So we were able to express our feelings. We realized that the robot was a very good collaborator because, indeed, as human contact approached, the robot stopped and shut down.”
By no longer having to load pallets, which transported hundreds of kilograms a day, operators avoid the health concerns inherent in this type of activity. This allows them to focus on more rewarding and productive activities.
In the end, Sanofi calculated a return on investment of 24 months, much shorter than for a conventional industrial robot installation.
Sanofi is already planning to go further. Next step: a robot for loading the cartons on the production lines.