A Pal-Vite 410 unit from Cermex automates palletization of whipped cheese for Laita

7th May 2015

Logistics BusinessA Pal-Vite 410 unit from Cermex automates palletization of whipped cheese for Laita

The reputation of the Laita dairy cooperative is built as much on the excellence of
its products as on the quality of the relations it maintains with its members and
with its staff. To accompany the increase in production volumes of the Madame
Loik whipped cheese range at its Crehen plant, Laita has chosen the solution
proposed by Cermex in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre, part of the
Palletizing/Depalletizing Business Unit of Gebo Cermex. Downstream from the
filling operation, a Pal-Vite 410 robotic palletizing unit simplifies the transfer of
tubs to the cooling room. In substance, it radically improves the well-being of the
operators assigned to this task previously carried out manually. In addition to the
required increase in output, Laita particularly appreciated the pressureless and
almost individual handling of tubs during layer preparation. Ergonomics, ease of
maintenance and project management were equally decisive factors. The unit
installed in Crehen is a perfect illustration of Cermex expertise in robotic
palletizing units, combining the supply of standard modules with the capacity to
develop customized solutions to meet specific needs.

Automating a task that was previously 100% manual

Laita’s renown has grown through such brands as Paysan Breton, Regilait or Mamie Nova. Very
attached to upholding mutual benefit values in its relations with its 4,000 dairy farms from which it collects
the milk, the cooperative also gives priority to the well-being of its 2,400 staff. At its Crehen plant (Cotes
d’Armor), the cooperative produces the Madame Loik range of whipped cheese.

For this range, the tubs are hot filled and then cooled by going through a cold room. Historically,
the tubs were transferred from the filler to the cooling unit by conveying them onto an accumulation table
at the end of the line accommodating up to 50 tubs. The tubs were moved by hand onto metal racks
stacked on top of each other on trolleys that were then wheeled to the cooling unit.

To cope with growth in demand for its whipped cheese, Laita decided to increase its production rate.
However, accelerating the manual transfer of tubs onto the racks was discarded for technical reasons
(lack of space preventing the number of stations from being increased), but above all in order to spare the
operators a task that was identified as being repetitive and unergonomic by the plant’s Health and Safety
Committee. Automation consequently emerged as the best solution for accelerating transfer towards
the cooling unit.

For the cooperative, the challenge was three-fold, covering industrial, organizational and
occupational health aspects. Three points stood out from the specifications:

  • frequent recipe and format changeovers (at least 20 times per day) needed to be taken into
    account without automation increasing line downtime;
  • the product accumulation capacity needed to be at least maintained, so as not to affect the
    upstream of the line, in particular by stopping the filler; and
  • the overall organization of production had to be complied with. 

During the project, the logic of automating a second line became apparent for Laita. This new approach
would reduce the arduousness of the manual work not only on one but both lines. It was logically more
cost effective to invest in one unit (with 2 product infeeds) that now manages both of the high-speed lines
in the factory.

15,000 tubs per hour and 4 different heights of tub

After filling and sealing, the Pal-Vite 410 two-station robotic unit palletizes the cheese tubs layer by
layer, with reusable cardboard separators inserted between layers. It manages the infeed of
products on two lanes, coming from the filling machine of each line. The maximum speed is
15,000 tubs per hour. The robot can handle up to 4 different heights of tub, with the possibility of
handling two different heights simultaneously. The unit incorporates a magazine for plastic 800 x
1,200 Euro pallets and a layer card magazine on wheels (part of a set of 3 layer card magazines
rotating between the palletizing unit, the post-cooling manual depalletizing zone and the pre-shipment
palletizing zone.

The unit ensures individual and contactless product handling up to gripping in 4 stages:

  1. The products are spaced out by an infeed system with upper and lower belts.
  2. A system of retractable fingers stops each tub to keep them spaced out.
  3. The row of products on the layer preparation table is transferred positively by a servo-driven
  4. The step-by-step advancement of the layer preparation table is controlled by a servomotor. 

The gripping tooling equipped with 96 suction cups enables a whole layer to be palletized in one go.
With four vacuum zones, gripping of the batch is secured if one product is dropped and partial batch
gripping is possible (as little as one tub) in order to optimize runout phases during recipe or format
changeovers. The choice of suction cup is adapted to guarantee optimum gripping without marking the
cap seals.

The project is founded on Cermex’s recognised expertise in robotic palletizing units, combining
standard modules with customized developments to meet specific needs. With the two lines at
the Crehen plant, the robot as well as the pallet handling and stocking systems are
standard, whereas the gripping tooling and the product collating system are specific. The
unit has been divided into 2 zones (product handling/collation and palletization) in such a
manner as to enable access and work without interrupting operation of the entire unit.

Guillaume Demange, project manager for Laita:

“Efficient project management by Cermex, with delivery, installation, and commissioning on schedule,
gave us additional availabilities for starting up other internal investment projects. We had budgeted 40
man days for start-up/commissioning and assisting staff, and only 50% of that budget was actually used.”
manner as to enable access and work without interrupting operation of the entire unit.

Productivity maintained and operators satisfied

In addition to complying with the original specification to reach the new speed and limit downtime
(equipment availability of 98%), the Cermex solution integrated the automation of the second line within
the project. Furthermore, compared with the previous manual solution, the product accumulation capacity
was tripled. The preparation table can accommodate up to one and a half layers, allowing sufficient
accumulation to react to an incident on the palletizing station without stopping the filler upstream.
The operators, actively involved in the project by Laita, appreciated that the human dimension
was taken into account in the solution implemented by Cermex, robotization having been made
accessible by the simplicity of its Man-Machine Interface (MMI).

Gilles Meurou, head of Laita’s fresh product division: “We have managed to increase output very
significantly as well as eliminate two zones where tasks were particularly repetitive and potential sources
of musculoskeletal disorders. We are really satisfied with this solution that is entirely in tune with our
values focused on performance while protecting employees.”

Benefits for production and for maintenance

  • Upgradability: for example, square tubs could be handled in the future.
  • User-friendly control panel that is quickly understood by operators and maintenance workers.
  • Assistance with locating faults and with re-starts, which is much appreciated by operators.
  • Simple and easy to maintain: the robot tilts and orients its tooling vertically for cleaning and easily
    replacing suction cups.
  • Integration into the line: signals are exchanged with the upstream equipment so as to avoid
    product accumulation if the line is stopped.
  • Possibility for Cermex to intervene remotely. 

Benefits for product image

  • Structural integrity of the tubs maintained by pressureless handling: absence of jamming
    preserves the shapes of the cardboard tubs, which are the historic brand image of Laita.
  • The soft cheese is kept level as the tubs advance smoothly throughout the process, consequently
    improving the visual appearance of the contents after cooling. 

Jean-Marie Vasseur, director of the dairy product market for Gebo Cermex: “Through its various
product lines, Gebo Cermex brings together the expertise required to meet all the needs of the dairy
market (bottles, cartons, tubs, pots or cans). Gebo Cermex also knows how to adapt its solutions to meet
the requirements of a market whose players want to stand out by using packaging that is increasingly