Select your location:


Select your language:

  • German
  • English
  • German
  • English

Palletising robot provides labour savings

Rupp Food Austria numbers among the market leaders in the production of pet food. Automation of processes at the Vorarlberg site in Hörbranz plays a key role in this, not least because of the current staff shortage. For example, a KUKA robot ensures absolutely reliable palletising of boxes in a palletising cell, supplied by two packaging lines, resulting in a massive reduction in the strain on employees.

Founded in 1918, Rupp Food Austria GmbH sees itself as a down-to-earth family company which has now been passed down to the fourth generation and which has specialised in the production of premium pet food and food since 1975. It is one of the largest producers in Europe with around 20,000 tonnes of pet food and cereal products leaving the site at Hörbranz on Lake Constance every year. "In addition to our own products, we produce predominantly dog and cat food for private label customers with around 150 employees. We also supply the wholesale trade and some commercial breeders," explains Klaus Schiller, COO of Rupp Food Austria.

To meet this demand, the pet food specialist has almost 800 different recipes which are constantly undergoing further development and improvement. "Of course, we also produce to precise customer specifications as required. That's why we work according to strict processes in compliance with all raw material specifications. Careful selection and inspection of raw materials, strict controls during processing, analysis performed by external laboratories and our in-house laboratory guarantee our high quality standards," the plant manager affirms.

A KUKA palletising robot provides labour savings in production at Rupp Food Austria.

Automation is inevitable

The use of state-of-the-art technology and well planned and monitored processes ensure constant, sparing and perfectly hygienic production. This also applies for the packaging lines, on which the pet food is packaged into packaging of every conceivable size from so-called Doypacks, tubular bags or heat sealed sachets all the way up to big bags.

The KUKA robot palletises 14 boxes per minute.

"In order to remain competitive at the production site in Austria, automation of the separate work processes is inevitable," Schiller touches on the current labour shortage, even in Vorarlberg. A robot palletising cell, which is supplied with boxes from two separate tubular bag packaging lines and automatically arranges them on pallets, has been in use for a good four years, for example. "The primary reason for this investment was to relieve our employees of the need to lift heavy loads. Arranging boxes weighing up to 12 kg by hand simply isn't reasonable in the long term," says the plant manager.

Convincing overall concept

Rupp Food commissioned systems integrator Eberle from Dornbirn for the implementation of this automation project. "The overall concept that was proposed for our very limited space ultimately won us over completely when comparing providers. With their proximity to our site, Eberle were also able to guarantee us rapid service if needed," Schiller remembers. Eberle Automatische Systeme GmbH & Co KG from Dornbirn employs around 50 qualified specialists in the fields of electrical engineering, mechatronics and computer science and is broken down into the automation technology, image processing, IT and software divisions.

The KUKA robot also places thin intermediate layers between the box layers.

"Each division conducts its own development projects. Turnkey solutions are then put together in one place through cooperation between the divisions," describes one of the Eberle specialists, DI (FH) Christoph Muxel. As a KUKA system partner for more than fifteen years, the Dornbirn native also has a high degree of expertise in robotics. "KUKA offers a wide range of robots for all fields of industry and therefore makes it possible for us to offer customer-specific robot-based automation solutions for efficient production processes," Muxel elaborates. "Furthermore, KUKA is a strong and competent partner which also provides advice and assistance for ambitious and challenging projects." For the automation solution at Rupp, Eberle chose the KUKA KR 180 Quantec PA palletising robot including the KR C4 robot control system.

Implementing the current complex palletising solution with a wide range of products in extremely limited space was a major challenge. Eberle tackled this masterfully.

Klaus Schiller, COO of Rupp Food Austria

14 boxes per minute

At the end of two separate packaging lines, the filled feed bags are first manually packed into boxes by two employees. The boxes then pass through a labelling unit and two infeed tunnels to the layer preparation area of the palletising cell. There, the boxes are aligned into partial layers using pneumatic cylinders and positioned for the robot. 

Before palletising, the feed sacks are manually packaged into boxes at the end of two packaging lines by two employees.

These partial layers, comprising a maximum of five boxes, are picked up by the robot using a vacuum gripper and arranged according to a pre-defined stack pattern in one of the two pallet spaces. The robot meets the required cycle time of 14 boxes per minute masterfully here and also carries out other tasks. In order to further improve the autonomy time of the cell and thus free up the system operator, the robot also moves Euro pallets from a pallet stack to one of the empty pallet spaces. "Up to 15 Euro pallets can be stacked on top of one another on the pallet stack. The height of the top pallet is determined using a laser sensor, the robot picks it up and places it in the empty pallet space," Muxel explains in detail. The KUKA robot also places thin intermediate layers between the box layers as required.

Clever, well thought out gripper system: Boxes and intermediate layers are gripped with a vacuum suction plate system, the KUKA robot picks up the Euro pallets with a clamping gripper.

Clever gripper system and reliable operation

Eberle developed a clever, well thought out gripper system for this. The robot picks up Euro pallets with a clamping gripper, while the boxes or intermediate layers are gripped with a vacuum suction plate system. "In order to be able to reliably handle the different box sizes from 2 to 12 kg in various partial layers, as well as the intermediate layers, each of the four vacuum suction plates can be controlled individually," Muxel sums it up. A KUKA six-axis robot with a range of 3,200 mm was chosen in order to be able to cover the entire working area (layer preparation areas, palletising areas, intermediate layer space and Euro pallet space) effortlessly. The fully stacked pallets then travel to the collection point via roller conveyor system. "The operator is barely involved in the process. They just have to remove the completed pallet with a lift truck and make sure that the empty pallet stack is promptly refilled with Euro pallets," Schiller is satisfied.

For safety, light barriers are used to create a two-zone system inside the palletising cell. "If an employee enters the safety-critical zone 2, the robot immediately initiates an emergency stop. But if an operator is in zone 1, for a pallet change for example, the robot continues working at a reduced, safe speed thanks to the KUKA SafeOperation option," says Muxel.

The operators simply have to remove the finished pallets from the collection point with a lift truck.

After four years of using the palletising robot, Klaus Schiller is certain: "Implementing the current complex palletising solution with a wide range of products in extremely limited space was a major challenge. Eberle tackled it masterfully." The complete system was developed using a digital twin and put into operation in the digital model. "As a result, questions about ergonomics or accessibility can be checked in advance, for example, and faults can be detected at an early stage. Cycle time analyses are generated in collaboration with the customer or the user interface is tested in advance," Muxel emphasises. It is then also possible to get things up and running much more quickly for live operation.

KUKA offers a wide range of robots for all fields of industry and therefore makes it possible for us to offer customer-specific robot-based automation solutions for efficient production processes.

DI (FH) Christoph Muxel, Customer Relations at Eberle Automatische Systeme
Palletising is done automatically (from left to right): Klaus Schiller (Rupp Food) and Christoph Muxel (Eberle)

Plan for expansion already in the pipeline

For the plant manager, there is no question that automation of the individual processes is absolutely essential in order for the Austrian production site to remain competitive. So he is already looking to the future: "The plan for expansion is already in the pipeline. Along with a warehouse expansion, a fully automated packaging line including automatic palletising will be put into operation in the new hall. The automation specialists at Eberle are sure to be out first port of call for this major project as well."

Find KUKA system partners in your area

Find the right partner for your industry or specific challenge here.