Robot pulling power gives traditional brewer the edge on loading
29 Jul 2019
Sometimes, it’s the most traditional brands that are at the cutting edge of automation. Adnams was convinced by Fanuc to swap manual loading for robot power...
Adnams Brewery has been in Southwold since 1872, says head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald, where it produces up to 40 different beers annually and some 100,000 barrels a year – “although by barrel I mean a brewer’s barrel, which is 163 litres.”
It still operates out of its original site at the heart of Southwold but fitting a 21st century brewery into a 19th century building is a challenge.
One area where the brewery has led the way is automation, prompted by the need for any brewer to offer an increasingly diverse range of product.
Says Fitzgerald: “At the end of our main cask filling line we had an old palletiser which took up a lot of space. We’ve got a very limited amount of space, so we have to be quite creative when it comes to using it as effectively as possible.
“We had identified a new piece of technology that we wanted to install to allow us to brew a 0.5% alcohol version of our Ghost Ship Pale Ale, but we had exhausted all available floorspace.
The answer lay in upgrading the end-of-line palletising systems used to process the core cask beer barrels once filled. Replacing its old palletiser with a more compact automated solution would enable Adnams to accommodate everything on site.
The brewer had previously brought its kegging process in-house, which involved finding space for conditioning tanks, filtration and kegging equipment with the addition of a FANUC R-2000iC/165F robot within the kegger, to lift and stack the newly-filled kegs. Once again it turned to FANUC to design a robotic end-of-line loading system.
In order to meet the significant load demands of handling metal barrels filled with over 160 litres of beer, FANUC specified its R-200iC/210L 6-axis palletising robot. With a maximum payload of 210kg, it could comfortably process the full casks at the required rate of 250-300 barrels an hour, to keep pace with the beer as it came out of the filling line.
Automation is much better. Not only from a consistency and speed perspective but [also] it takes away all the health and safety issues linked to manual handling
With a compact footprint of 771mm x 610mm, and a reach of 3100mm, it can easily operate within the confined working environment of the brewery. Crucially, the robot body is IP54 rated, to protect it from the residual beer found throughout the cask filling line.
Following the finished installation of the R-200iC/210L in 2018 and the FANUC R-2000iC/165F in 2017, all of the brewery’s cask and keg beers are now handled and loaded by robots.
Says Fitzgerald: “Compared to a manual process, automation is much better. Not only from a consistency and speed perspective – robot loading is twice as fast as manual loading – but for our production team, it takes away all the health and safety issues linked to manual handling out of the equation.”
Apart from saving floorspace the company also wanted to replace its wooden pallets with locator boards – durable plastic interlayer boards which allow barrels to be stacked securely and safely on top one another.
The FANUC R-200iC/210L can now stack 18 barrels, in three groups of six to be collected by forklift for delivery loading or storage.
Fergus concludes: “Plastic locator boards are light, they’re cheaper, they last longer; and they also enable you to get more product on a vehicle as you can take some of the weight out. Ultimately, there were lots of benefits.”