Experience KUKA chocolate robots live at Zotter

At the Zotter chocolate factory in Austria, visitors can watch the KUKA robots at work from up to close.

The world's first chocolate and praline robot from KUKA is located at Zotter in Riegersburg 

The theme park at the Zotter chocolate factory of Managing Director Josef Zotter receives more than 270,000 visitors per year. Since March 2019, this world of chocolate in the Austrian village of Bergl near Riegersburg has had a new attraction: the world’s first chocolate and praline robot from the company KUKA has been delighting young and old and serving the guests with chocolates and pralines entirely to their taste. “The main thing for us was the fun factor”, says Zotter. “We wanted to let everyone experience the latest in robotics.“ But, since 2017, two KUKA robots have also been at work behind the scenes in production, where they turn chocolate into pralines or bars and handle the temperature-sensitive raw mass with the utmost precision.

 

Robot at work. 

Several robots in use

Managing Director Josef Zotter does not want to shut out the future, but to move with the times: “Sometimes you have to think laterally to come up with innovations.” That is how the idea arose of incorporating the world’s first chocolate robots into the factory. As an experienced automation specialist, KUKA was able to meet Zotter’s requirements. “We chose KUKA as partner because we share a drive towards innovations”, says Zotter. In the production area, two KR Agilus model KUKA robots pour the liquid chocolate into the appropriate mould, while in the visitors’ aisle a third KR Agilus provides the guests with finished chocolate products. The chocolate lovers can use a touch panel to choose their favourites from the different pralines and bars.

KR Agilus CR in the visitor aisle at Zotter in Riegersburg 

Traditional craftsmanship blended with the latest in robotics

From saffron and pistachios to pink coconut and gummi fish: the Zotter chocolate factory founded in 1987 now has more than 500 chocolate varieties in its range, a site in Shanghai and another in the USA, and employs more than 200 personnel: among these, there are now three KUKA robots. In the production area in the Austrian village of Bergl, two of the robots see to the processing of the liquid chocolate. KR Agilus model KUKA robots are used here. Why? They have been specially developed for precise and extremely accurate working processes in the low load range. These are precisely the characteristics needed for dealing with chocolate. The aim was to blend traditional craftsmanship with the latest in robotics. The special challenge was the handling of the sensitive raw mass, which reacts sensitively to any fluctuations in temperature. The compact robot KR Agilus masters this task perfectly.

For Zotter it was not primarily about increasing the efficiency of the production line, but about innovation and enthusiasm for the possibilities offered by modern technology.

Reinhard Nagler, Country Manager Austria
Use in production 

The robot's tasks in production 

The robot grips the appropriate mould, goes to the caster and fills it with liquid chocolate. It then swings the mould with the utmost precision, so that the chocolate is evenly distributed within it, and then places it in the refrigerator. The second robot takes over here. It collects the ready-cooled goods from the refrigerator and places them on the output conveyor. The third robot in the Zotter team sees to the guests’ refreshment in the visitors’ aisle. Here they can choose their favourite pralines via a touch panel. The robot grips these using a suction cup, provides a little entertainment with small rhythmic movements, and then serves the praline through an outlet.

Zotter chocolate factury in Austria 
In Riegersburg the KR Agilus serves Zotter chocolate 

KUKA creates flexibility in future chocolate production 

Josef Zotter will continue to use traditional handiwork in future, but would like to broaden his possibilities by using KUKA robots. His motivation for this step was not a wish to strive for more efficiency or to reduce the workforce – on the contrary: since the robots were brought on board, Zotter has even recruited new employees. The decision to include the robots was instead due to their precision, which cannot be achieved by hand. “The KR Agilus can work accurately in the hundredth of a millimetre range”, says KUKA Country Manager Nagler. “The quality also remains consistently high even after the 100,000th praline.” Another advantage is flexibility. Several varieties can be produced within a very short space of time. And Zotter is thinking ahead. In the future he would like to produce completely individualised chocolate – entirely in keeping with Industry 4.0. On the basis of collected customer data, pralines will then be created which take into account individual customer wishes: this will include intolerances such as fructose intolerances or other allergies. “This scenario is still a long way off”, says Nagler. “But with advancing technology it will be achievable in a few years.”

Insight into the Zotter chocolate factury in Austria

The world's first praline and chocolate robot is located in Riegersburg
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