The world's first chocolate and praline robot from KUKA is located at Zotter in Riegersburg
At the Zotter chocolate factory in Austria, visitors can watch the KUKA robots at work from up to close.
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.
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.
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.
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.”