Historic bakery maintains its famed craft cake quality and gets faster tray format changeover by using a flexible packaging line with agile robotics.
As the snow softly wafts across the streets of Zermatt, Switzerland, the Accola family laughs as they’re gathered at the dinner table by the fireplace telling stories about their sledding adventures that day. Christmastime is special for them, and mamma Lena is ready to serve the family’s favorite dessert: a yellow and chocolate cake with candied frosting that’s only available during the holidays. But when Lena opens the package expecting the fresh delight, the edges of the cake and much of the frosting crumbles out of the package onto the table.
What a disappointment after waiting all year for this special dessert.
Food quality is essential. For Italian company Galbusera, formed in 1938 in Morbegno, in Valtellina, the quality of its baked products — biscuits, snacks and crackers — has always been a priority. In 2014, Galbusera acquired Tre Marie, a Milan-based brand that produces Italian panettoni and colombe (many types of cakes, different flavors, some candied, etc.), and planned to modernize its manufacturing lines. Since January 2018, Tre Marie makes its colombe and panettoni in a new plant in Vellezzo Bellini.
Tre Marie products are known for their craft-made taste. “Seventy-two hours are needed to produce a panettone or a colomba,” explains Franco Ronconi, technical director at Galbusera. “Our technicians keep the craftsmanship of our products alive even if the process is highly automated We bake and package 1,800 colombe per hour and 2,200 to 2,400 panettoni per hour."
Robots vs. Human Hands
When Galbusera transferred the production line from the Tre Marie headquarter in Milan to the new production site, a major renovation involved the leavened packaging process. Leaven is a substance, such as yeast or baking powder, that causes fermentation and expansion of dough or batter.
Livetech, a company providing engineering, consulting and production of packaging systems, proposed an innovative solution for the secondary packaging of panettoni and colombe a system based on an automatic wrapping line that forms a display tray, or couvette from a cardboard die-cut. The line includes three robots that place the packed products on the tray.
Federico Scornaienchi, area manager at Livetech, explains: “The display tray is a smart solution for the employees in stores (retailers), as they don’t have to extract the products from any closed box to expose themhe so-called couvette is therefore a plus for Galbusera when contracting with deliverers and an interesting marketing tool, because the product is immediately visible and accessible to the end user as soon as the tray is placed in the store.”
Furthermore, the secondary packaging process is more flexible than the previously used process, because a cardboard die-cut forms different tray models, while the previous box has standardized dimensions. Also, it helps to save materials used for the secondary packaging, because additional background and cardboard internal dividers aren’t needed.
Common Software Environment
Robots have to load the tray not only with carton-packed products, but also flow-packed products, which are conceived to be sold in outlets.
“Products in bags have to be picked and moved more delicately, because they are less protected than they are in a carton box, and we initially had some perplexities: ould a robot deliver the same care as an operator’s hand?” Scornaienchi says. “Thanks to special gripping tools and advanced control configuration, the robots can offer delicate handling, preserving the product in both cases.”
Livetech designed a multiformat line to form, fill and close the trays. The first station comprises an automatic unit that loads and forms the die-cut cardboard. Three robotic islands are the core of the line. They take the products coming from the conveyor belt — which is connected to the primary packaging machine — and place them on the tray in the correct numbers. Different gripping tools are used depending on the package of the single product (case or bag).
When a format changeover is needed, robots rotate toward the operator, who can replace the gripping equipment. The tray then passes to a weighing station, where a cell verifies weight parameters. If the tray contains the right quantity of pieces, they move to the next robotic aisle, where the robot puts glue to the edges of the cardboard die-cut and folds them, forming a containment perimeter.
Then another piece of cardboard is placed above to cover the products. The trays are stacked one on top of the other, up to a maximum of three, and move to the palletizing station.
The automation architecture is based on an Allen-Bradley® CompactLogix™ 1769-L36 programmable automation controller (PAC) from Rockwell Automation. This automation platform helped to minimize installation and start-up time in the Galbusera plant, because of a common software environment and an integrated axis control, which met the precision and speed requirements of the robotic islands.
Two Allen-Bradley Kinetix® 5500 servo-drives are connected to the controller, while four Allen-Bradley Kinetix single-cable VPL servo-motors are connected to the servo-drives. An Allen-Bradley PowerFlex® 525 variable-speed drive, an Allen-Bradley PanelView™ Plus7 graphic terminal and several Allen-Bradley POINT I/O™ modules complete the architecture.
Galbusera now has a more automated secondary packaging process, without compromising the high quality for which its products are known. Ronconi points out that in Galbusera automation is adopted where it delivers the most value. “The secondary packaging of small batches is still manual,” he says, “and our operators have the possibility to control and supervise the line.”
The new automation platform also helped improve the flexibility of the secondary packaging line “We initially wanted to standardize the trays, but while developing the system, we changed our minds and chose a flexible solution that had to be able to adapt the bottom of the tray according to the quantity of the pieces to be contained.”
The CompactLogix PAC with integrated motion allows operators to perform quicker format changeovers and doesn’t require the plant to be stopped upstream.
Preserving and handling products correctly throughout the process is a must for Galbuseraand it can be sure that its colombe and panettoni come to the consumer in perfect condition.
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