The world's first chocolate and praline robot in action at the Zotter chocolate factory.
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At the Zotter chocolate factory in Austria, visitors can watch KUKA robots at work up close.
Managing Director Josef Zotter wants to embrace the future and move with the times. “Sometimes you have to think laterally to come up with innovations,” he observed. That was 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 our partner because we share a drive towards innovation,” said Zotter. In the production area, two KUKA KR AGILUS CR model robots pour liquid chocolate into the appropriate mold, while in the visitors’ aisle, a third KR AGILUS CR provides guests with finished chocolate products. Chocolate lovers can use a touch panel to choose their favorites from among the various pralines and bars.
Zotter did not just want to increase the efficiency of the production line, but to embrace innovation with enthusiasm for the possibilities of modern technology.
On the production line, the first robot grips the appropriate mold, goes to the caster and fills it with liquid chocolate. It then swings the mold with the utmost precision to distribute the chocolate evenly within it, and then places it in the refrigerator. Now, the second robot takes over. It collects cooled goods from the refrigerator and places them on the output conveyor.
The third robot on the Zotter team sees to guests’ refreshment in the visitors’ aisle, where they can choose their favorite pralines via a touch panel. The robot uses a suction cup to grip the pralines, provides a little entertainment with small rhythmic movements and then serves the treats through an outlet.
Josef Zotter will continue to use traditional handwork, but also wants to broaden his options using KUKA robots. His motivation was not greater efficiency or a reduced workforce. On the contrary: since the KUKA robots came on board, Zotter has recruited new employees. Instead, Zotter decided to include the robots because of their precision, which cannot be achieved by hand.
“The KR AGILUS can work accurately in the hundredth of a millimeter range,” said KUKA Country Manager Reinhard Nagler. “The quality also remains consistently high even after the 100,000th praline.” Another advantage is flexibility. With robotics, Zotter can produce several varieties within a very short space of time.
And Josef Zotter is thinking ahead. In the future, he would like to produce completely individualized chocolates – entirely in keeping with Industry 4.0. Based on collected customer data, the factory will create pralines that take into account individual customer wishes and preferences, including the ability to accommodate fructose intolerances or other allergies. “This scenario is still a long way off,” said Nagler. “But with advances in technology, it will be achievable in a few years.”