Collaboration HVL, MCA and APEX; compact palletiser
MCA, HVL and APEX together build a palletiser that meets the customer’s compactness requirements.
‘For a long time we were five centimeters short’
Getting boxes of product from the conveyor belt onto a pallet is not that easy. Certainly not if those boxes vary in size, are offered in a different way each time and have to be palletized very quickly. And certainly not if the palletiser has to be very compact. MCA, HVL and APEX Dynamics joined to work on a satisfactory solution as a team.
The name of the machine already reveals how it works. A vacuum gripper, equipped with suction cups, “flies in” from above to pick a box of products from the conveyor belt and place it in the correct position on a pallet. One action of four seconds per box. The pallet hangs at the top of a lift system.
As soon as a layer is filled, it drops just enough to be able to place the next layer on top. This process continues until the desired number of layers have been stacked on the pallet. Next, a second lift system opens directly next to it with an empty pallet that is filled in the same way. In the meantime, a forklift operator can take away the first pallet and place an empty one. The machine has five versions because palletizing is done in five, each slightly different ways, depending on the size of the box and the way in which the packaging machines place them on the conveyor belt one step earlier in the line. Five different transport modules rotate the boxes once or twice around the axis or turn them with the top upwards.
Robot not suitable
Broadly speaking, this is the operation of the different versions of the palletizer and the transport module. They are intended for five packaging lines in the Czech branch of client JDE (Jacobs Douwe Egberts) and are the result of the collaboration between MCA in Varsseveld, HVL Projects in Liessel and Apex Dynamics in Helmond. JDE’s order came in at technical distributor Rubix, of which MCA is a part, says R&D manager Bart te Braak. “Rubix is JDE’s MRO supplier and that’s how the order came to us.
We have developed such solutions before. Initially, a solution with a robot was considered, but it needed too much space and could not reach the speed of four seconds per box. So we came up with this solution. It was not easy, especially since the customer set such high standards for the compactness of the machine. ”
Lack of space was the biggest challenge
Because MCA is a drive specialist and not a machine builder, they took the first concept to machine builder HVL, with whom they have successfully completed projects for other customers in the past. Under the leadership of project engineering manager Thijs Kuijpers, HVL set to work to develop MCA’s technical specifications into a feasible whole. And the very limited space available presented the biggest challenge, he confirms. “One of our engineers worked on it full-time for six months.
Fitting the vacuum gripper with the drive into the top of the lift construction proved to be a major challenge. For a long time we were five centimeters short.”
Combining two gearboxes
To lift and move the boxes at the desired pace, a certain gear ratio and torque was required. Initially, these could only be supplied by the combination of a servo motor and gearbox that was too large for the available space. A solution that was compact enough was eventually found in a cooperation with the Taiwanese multinational Apex Dynamics, manufacturer of gearboxes, racks and pinions, a partner with which both HVL and MCA had collaborated more often. “There was no room for one large gearbox,” outlines Thom van Oss, general manager of Apex’s Benelux branch, “so we opted to combine a smaller spiral-bevel and planetary gearbox. Together they generate the required ratio and torque. A trick we had already gained experience with for solutions for other customers.”
Delivered and installed
The digital conversation with the three gentlemen takes place the day before Christmas. Meanwhile, in week 4 of this year, the five palletisers with transport modules have been delivered and installed in the Czech Republic. “The elevator principle in this solution is not unique and only existing technologies have been used,” says Bart te Braak, “but the end result is certainly not standard. This is truly an example of special machine construction.”
The three partners
Motion Control Automation and Stamhuis Lineairtechniek have been operating together in the market under the brand name MCA linear motion robotics for two years now. With bundled knowledge of and experience with linear technology, drive technology, control technology and robotics, the two companies automate and robotise a variety of production processes. Biesheuvel Techniek acquired both companies in 2015. Since the merger of Biesheuvel with Brammer in 2017, the group is operating under the name Rubix Group NL.
HVL has two departments: Projects and Metalworking. In joint teams, they design, develop and build solutions for the optimization of the business processes at customers. Metalworking offers the total package of sheet metal working, construction work, machining and assembly, so that the customer can suffice with one supplier. Once built and installed, HVL also provides maintenance, if desired on a contract basis.
Apex Dynamics supplies the essential parts for the mechanical drive of machines and robots. “And that doesn’t stop with gearboxes, racks, pinions and lubrication systems. Apex Dynamics stands for a movement forward. We create opportunities for our customers, the technical industry and the world around us to move forward and work together on advanced solutions for the challenges of tomorrow”, Thom van Oss defines. Apex Dynamics has its own offices worldwide with sales people and engineers.