A busy family-run Belgian brewery has used industrial FANUC robots to process, fill and palletise its heavy-duty barrels.
The Haacht Brewery in Boortmeerbeek, the third largest in Belgium, processes 500 kegs an hour, predominantly for the catering sector. With an annual production of around million hectolitres (21 million imperial gallons), efficiency is paramount.
In 2010, the brewery decided to modernise production in its kegging hall.
“Filling kegs is actually more complex than it first appears,” comments assistant master brewer Koen Van de Velde. “Special techniques have to be factored into the keg cleaning, sterilising and filling regime to prevent draft beer from foaming when it is dispensed.”
In order to increase output while also lowering palletising maintenance costs, the brewery decided to install three FANUC robots. To visually inspect the beer kegs, a FANUC R-2000iB robot connected to FANUC iRVision via the robot controller was deployed. Two FANUC M-410 robots were installed at the end of the line to palletise the filled kegs.
Filling kegs is actually more complex than it first appears. Special techniques have to be factored into the keg cleaning, sterilising and filling regime to prevent draft beer from foaming when it is dispensed
Koen Van de Velde, assistant master brewer at The Haacht Brewery
There are more than 50 automated production controls, starting with a visual inspection of the empty kegs, which are placed on the production line by a FANUC type R-2000iB robot.
Data is submitted to the robot from a camera located above the keg pallet supply line. Lifting two kegs simultaneously, the dexterous five-axis robot presents the kegs to two additional cameras.
One of the main inspection tasks is to verify that the plunger shank at the centre of the keg is working properly, meets the sterilisation standards and that the cap is raised for filling to commence. Rejects are automatically placed on a conveyor and transported back to the cleaning station.
The big advantage of iRVision is that it is totally integrated in the robot controller.
“This means that the robot can evaluate each keg without having to communicate with the PLC,” says Filip Beyens, managing director of Lambrechts Konstruktie, the specialist company who developed the installation.
At the end of the line, when the kegs have been filled, labelled and checked one last time, two FANUC M-410 robots are standing by to palletise them.
The robots are an essential factor in the performance of the line as a whole. Operational since 2010, we have not had any problems to date with robot faults
Designed specifically for heavy-duty palletising tasks, these robots have a payload of up to 700kg so can easily handle a standard size filled European beer keg.
The team trialled and tested the application using FANUC’s Roboguide simulation software before selecting the final three-robot configuration.
For Haacht Brewery, programming the production scenario in advance improved performance across the process, which resulted in a conscious decision to install the smallest robot at the start of the line and the two larger ones at the other end.
“The collaboration with FANUC has been excellent,” adds Koen Van de Velde. “The robots are an essential factor in the performance of the line as a whole. Operational since 2010, we have not had any problems to date with robot faults.
“In addition, the cost of maintenance is much lower than that for conventional palletisers, while flexibility and productivity have increased significantly.”
Producing draught Pilsner beer, this busy family-run Belgian brewery has now successfully used industrial FANUC robots to process, fill and palletise the heavy barrels for six years – without, says the company, a single robot fault reported.