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KUKA robot serves chocolate pralines at Zotter

At the Zotter chocolate factory in Austria, visitors can watch KUKA robots at work up close.


The world's first chocolate and praline robot in action at the Zotter chocolate factory.

The theme park at the Zotter chocolate factory of Managing Director Josef Zotter receives more than 270,000 visitors per year. Since March 2019, this world of chocolate in the Austrian village of Bergl near Riegersburg has boasted a new attraction. The world’s first chocolate and praline robot from the automation specialists KUKA now delights young and old, serving guests chocolates and pralines entirely to their taste. “The main thing for us was the fun factor”, said Zotter. “We wanted to let everyone experience the latest in robotics.“ But, since 2017, two KUKA robots also have been at work behind the scenes in production, where they turn chocolate into pralines or bars and handle the temperature-sensitive raw mass with the utmost precision.

 

The chocolate robot at work.

Several chocolate robots at work

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 model robots pour liquid chocolate into the appropriate mold, while in the visitors’ aisle, a third KR AGILUS provides guests with finished chocolate products. Chocolate lovers can use a touch panel to choose their favorites from among the various pralines and bars.

KUKA chocolate robot takes care of the guests' well-being and serves chocolates according to their wishes.

Traditional craftsmanship blended with the latest in robotics

From saffron and pistachios to pink coconut and gummi fish, the Zotter chocolate factory – founded in 1987 – now has more than 500 chocolate varieties in its range. With a site in Shanghai and another in the USA, Zotter employs more than 200 personnel, now including three KUKA robots. In the production area, two KUKA KR AGILUS robots process liquid chocolate. Why? They have been specially developed for precise and extremely accurate working processes in the low-load range, exactly the right characteristics to work with chocolate. Zotter's aim was to blend traditional craftsmanship with the latest in robotics. The special challenge was handling the raw mass of chocolate, which reacts sensitively to any fluctuations in temperature. The compact robot KR AGILUS masters this task perfectly.

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.

Reinhard Nagler, Country Manager Austria
KUKA cleanroom robot takes care of processing liquid chocolate.

Food-grade robots integrated in chocolate production

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.

At Zotter Chocolate Manufactory, KUKA robots supplement the activities "that they can do better than humans". The chocolate robot is fast, precise and eagerly takes on monotonous tasks on the assembly line.
In Riegersburg, the cleanroom robot serves Zotter chocolate.

KUKA creates flexibility in future chocolate production 

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.”

Insight into the Zotter chocolate factory in Austria

The world's first praline and chocolate robot is located in Riegersburg

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