Two KUKA robots support the palletizing operations of Serbian sugar manufacturer Sunoko

Today in Kovačica two KUKA KR 120 R3200 PA robots reliably handle the palletizing of 100 sugar packages at a rate of nearly 10 tonnes per hour

A sweet solution?

The Serbian company Sunoko has an illustrious, 100-year history of sugar production to look back on. Today, with a market share exceeding 50 percent, the company is the largest producer and exporter of sugar in the Balkan country. In order to ensure economically sustainable development, the company is continuously optimizing its processes. Since 2003, Sunoko has invested over 100 million euro in the expansion and modernization of its production facilities in Vrbas, Pećinci and Kovačica.

The modernizing strategy includes an expansion of production capacities, an increase of energy efficiency, investments in environmental protection and a reduction of production costs. In this sense, automation was unavoidable. This enabled significant improvement in the cycle time and the reliability of the packaging and palletizing operations as well as in the quality.

The KR 120 R3200 PA is palletizing close to 10 tons of sugar per hour.

Enabling further growth

Sunoko provides the market with sugar in various package sizes. These include packages of 750 g, 1 kg, 5 kg and 10 kg for household use as well as 25 and 50 kg packages – not to mention the jumbo sacks filled with of 1,000 kg or 1,200 kg of sugar. The company has registered strong growth in recent years. It was rather difficult for the production facilities – particularly the filling, packaging or palletizing processes – to keep pace with this development.

To ensure that this did not endanger growth, Sunoko contracted the integrator multi-tec to automate the 10/1 kg sugar packaging at the Kovačica plant. The goal: to expedite the output of sugar packages in order to be able to increase production volumes in the future as well. The packaged units – consisting of ten 1 kg packages wrapped in thermoplastic shrink film – are delivered on a roller conveyor system, stacked on Euro pallets and then film-wrapped for transport. In opting for automation, Sunoko was looking not only for a significant increase in productivity, but also a reduction in damage to packaging as well.

At the same time, the decision makers wanted to ensure maximum safety in the workplace. Multi-tec, based in the Serbian town of Temerin, specializes in the development and implementation of conveyor, packaging and palletizing systems for various branches of industry. The integrator possesses particularly strong expertise in palletizing projects. Their wealth of experience stretches from conventional palletizing to robot-based automation. 

Flexibility required in a minimum of space

Due to on-site structural conditions, implementing the automation solution presented multi-tec with a several challenges. The filling systems for the 10/1 kg packages are located close to further filling installations, thus significantly confining the available operating space. Beyond this, the working areas were restricted by the fork lift truck routes. Multi-tec thus opted to use modern robots, whose flexibility allows for integration into already existing transport lines.

KUKA was first choice to help meet these challenges since the two companies had already worked together on a number of projects. The robots had to be positioned in such a way that they could easily access the pallet stack, the protective wrapper feeder and the stretch wrapping machines. Due to these special requirements, the robot type KUKA KR 120 R3200 PA was selected. 

Capacity for further production increases

Since the commissioning of the robot-based automation, a conveyor transports the 10/1 kg packages to the workspace of the robots. These then lift the packages and stack them reliably on a Euro pallet. The robots then apply a protective foil between each layer to serve as a slipsheet. Here, pneumatic catchers specially developed by multi-tec are employed. In total, each pallet is loaded with 100 sugar packages weighing 10 kg each.

Each robot on the line handles 480 packages per hour. As a result, the two KUKA KR 120 R3200 PA robots package nearly 10 tonnes of sugar every hour – an amount that would be impossible using manpower alone. As soon as the pallets are fully loaded, the robots wrap them in protective film, and the pallets are then ready for onward transportation. 

The KUKA KR 120 R3200 PA – The palletizing professional 

The KUKA KR 120 R3200 PA is a palletizing robot from the KR QUANTEC series. This special series was developed with a robust yet streamlined design specifically for palletizing. The robot is available in three payload variants: 120, 180 and 240 kg. Each of these variants has a reach of 3200 mm with a stack height of 2500 mm. The series’ further strengths consist in the small workspace it requires, fast cycle times and high reproducibility. Installation of the robots in Kovačica was carried out with a minimum of effort. Together with the concept developed by multi-tec, the flexibility and reach of the KUKA KR 120 R3200 PA allowed the pallet store, protective wrapper feeder and pallet wrapper units to be quickly integrated into the workspaces of the robots.

Expectations fulfilled

The robots at Sunoko have fully met expectations in every respect. The high physical strain on employees due to constant bending over and carrying heavy loads at alternately high and low temperatures has been significantly reduced. The employees are now responsible for controlling and monitoring the process. Beyond this, the palletizing process has become considerably more efficient since the speed and quality of the packaging have increased tremendously thanks to the automation. By implementing the automation, Sunoko is now well equipped for further growth.

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