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The Beauty of Automation For Faster Time to Market

While speed to market is important for any personal products manufacturer, it’s especially critical for companies supplying the packaging. In the cosmetics and skin care industry, innovation and quick response to fashion trends rely on fast packaging design and production.

In addition to introducing their products rapidly to a global audience, manufacturers of cosmetic and skin care products, and their customers too, now also seek cost-efficient and eco-friendly packaging solutions.

Environmental sustainability and biological hygiene are also at the front of consumers’ minds. For one leading producer of plastic beauty and personal care product packaging, automation is the key to meeting its goals of increased production speed and maintaining sustainability in manufacturing operations. 

Headquartered in France with 31 facilities worldwide, the Albéa Group generates more than $1 billion in revenue yearly.

 The company’s product portfolio covers multiple market segments, creating and manufacturing responsible packaging including tubes, lipsticks, mascaras, fragrance caps, skincare jars and turnkey solutions for several leading cosmetic providers, including L’Oréal, ESTEE LAUDER, COTY, SHISEIDO, TOM FORD, La Mer, Kielh’s, MAC, NARS, Coty, MK, Revlon, OLAPLEX, Avon, BELCORP and more.
KR AGILUS industrial robot used here for injection molding.

The Beauty of Automation

Intelligent automation leads to increased flexibility and versatility for different applications for Albea's production of cosmetics and personal care goods.

Modern packaging must feature striking visual design and in many cases be recyclable and refillable. Albéa offers short lead times that enable large prestigious cosmetic brands, such as those from L’Oréal, to keep pace with smaller, agile competitors.

At the Albéa facility in Matamoras, Mexico, operations manager Francisco Espinosa said, “Automation helps us move quickly by providing flexibility and mobility for different applications.” Robots perform two essentially different functions at the facility. Non-value added applications in plastic manufacturing include moving materials into and out of machines and from place to place within the facility, while value-added work covers packaging assembly and decoration.
Examples of cosmetics packaging manufactured at Albéa facility in Matamoras, Mexico.

The facility pumps out about 50 million products a month and has more than 70 robots, all of which are from KUKA Robotics. The KUKA robots range from smaller, agile KR3 540 robots to larger KR150 and KR210 models.

The six-axis KR AGILUS robot has a maximum reach of 541mm and is designed for a rated payload of 2kg for maximum speed. It also can handle up to 3kg maximum payload in certain load center arrangements. The smaller-capacity robots are fast (167 cycles per minute), and Antonio Rios, head of automation at the Albéa Matamoras plant, said, “These robots are the perfect size and speed for applications in packaging and decorating.”

The rated payload of KR QUANTEC robots, on the other hand, is 210kg, and with a maximum reach of 2696mm, they are mainly used to move heavier payloads during injection molding operations at Albéa.
Combining the capabilities of different robots enables Albéa to complete multiple operations in a continuous sequence without human intervention. Molding, component assembly, silk-screen decoration, packaging and finally palletizing proceed without delay or possibility of contamination.
Albéa facility in Matamoras, Mexico.

Flexibility is key to responding quickly to changing demand.

For that reason, the KUKA robots in the Albéa Matamoros plant are not generally set in fixed locations but are intended to be disconnected and moved from one application to another in a manner of minutes. The robots are mounted on tables that can be rolled from machine to machine and be arranged to carry out a specific process. As a result, the plant has been able to launch more than 200 different applications and do so using fewer than 100 robots.

Albéa operates all of its KUKA robots under strict safety guidelines.

 The KUKA SmartPAD teach pendant enables programming flexibility and convenience, and the robots employ Windows-based KUKA System Software operating system (KSS) that contains the basic robot operating functions.

Rios said that in addition to their mobility and flexibility, the cost-effectiveness of KUKA robots is a great advantage. He added that KUKA provides complete automation systems, training and support that allow Albéa staff to maximize the robots’ productivity.

Customer input continues to shape packaging designs for the cosmetic companies Albéa supplies. “Customers have pushed for more flexible and sustainable packaging that can be filled quickly and easily,” Espinosa said, “and can also be recycled and reused.”

The robotic systems make some of the packaging that is used to transport the products, “It then goes to the customer then comes back to be reused,” Rios said.
Production processes have evolved to take advantage of the robots’ capabilities. Customers seeking innovative packaging concepts have developed new packaging designs that are not possible to be cost-effectively fulfilled by humans alone.
Processes are flexible at Albéa with automation quickly adapting to new applications.
“In these situations, the goal is to use robots to help humans increase production. We are trying to develop the interaction of humans and robots to work together,” Rios said. The KUKA robots’ flexibility and mobility make it easy to involve the robots with human workers because “we are designing applications from zero.” Rios said, “We are not trying to replace human labor; we are trying to increase productivity and get better.” He said he continually considers, “How many people can I help with this system of automation?”

We are not trying to replace human labor; we are trying to increase productivity and get better. How many people can I help with this system of automation?

Antonio Rios, Head of Automation, Albéa Matamoras

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