Automated derinding of cheese ensures fully automated production at Dupont Cheese

Dupont Cheese in Bruges invested in a fully automated cheese derinding machine of the Dutch machine building company Groba. Working more ergonomically was the main motivation, but the automation also opens up extra opportunities.

Dupont Cheese is part of the Consumer Products & Services division of Milcobel, the largest dairy company in Belgium. In addition to the worldwide distribution of 2,000 types of cheeses from Belgium and Europe, the cheese company mainly cuts and packs cheese produced in Milcobel's factory in Moorslede. In total, the cheese company, with approximately 230 employees, processes no less than 10,000 tons per year on 16 production lines, including a line for cutting and packaging square cheese cubes in a transparent plastic tray.

24/7 production thanks to 2 industrial robot arms

The complete installation - the cheese derinding machine and the infeed and outfeed roller conveyors - contains 2 industrial robot arms from KUKA. The first robotic arm picks up the supplied cheese and places it on a scale after which the cheese enters the automatic derinding machine. The second robot then removes the cheese crust with a special milling tool. In the meantime, the first robot places another cheese on the scale, so that the machine is used to its full potential. The removal of the cheese crust is done with a KUKA AGILUS HM robot on which a fast-rotating round milling head with small knives is mounted. The design and material of this robot are absolutely hygienic compatible and therefore the AGILUS HM robot is extremely suitable for applications that require direct contact with food, such as cheese.
On the KUKA AGILUS HM robot a fast rotating round milling head is mounted for derinding the cheese.
The investment in the standalone, fully automated, hygienically designed cheese derinding machine was primarily made to improve the working conditions of the employees, but Dupont Cheese also provides several additional opportunities. Project manager Kurt De Guffroy explains: "Manually derinding coated cheeses is heavy work and very burdensome for the employee. It is therefore difficult to find people who want to carry out this job". Other reasons for the investment are a better occupational safety and an increase in work efficiency: 1 operator can operate the entire installation and carry out all the necessary work on a small surface area. At the same time, he oversees the entire process, from the infeed to the outfeed of the cheese. The operators who work in three shifts can take a break while the deriding continues.
KUKA and machine builder Groba worked together to provide the most efficient solution for the customer. 
Depending on the shape of the cheese, the production output is currently 20 to 30 cheeses per hour. The operation of the installation has been made very easy. The operator has a work schedule for his shift and just needs to select 1 of the 20 pre-programmed programs for the different cheeses, shapes and formats. The machine then fully adjusts itself. It couldn't be any easier!

 

KUKA develops custom made software for Groba 

However, automation at Dupont Cheese was not an easy task for machine builder Groba. They had to consider the limited space and the operational management that had to make it possible for the installation to run 24/7. Another important point of attention is that cheese is a natural product and therefore not every cheese is the same. Robot supplier KUKA has its own engineering department and therefore also the knowledge to find solutions for such challenges. For this specific application KUKA has developed the KUKA.DeCrust software. Each cheese is scanned in 3D by different laser scanners. This scan creates a point cloud that is read by the software KUKA.DeCrust. The software will then determine the different paths that the robot arm has to follow in order to derind the cheese as efficiently as possible. The software has been developed in such a way that Dupont Cheese can easily set its own recipes. For this automation Dupont Cheese does not need any extra, external hardware. The complete application runs on the KUKA robot controller.
The installation at Dupond Cheese contains 2 industrial robots from KUKA and ensures continuous production.
The knowledge that KUKA has gained because of its own engineering department made KUKA a reliable partner for machine builder Groba for this automation project. The cooperation between both companies was therefore very successful throughout the entire process. For example, there were several tests that had to determine in advance which milling head would provide the ideal result. There was also a lot of time was spent on the development of the scanning of the cheese, the image processing and the control of the derinding tool. The derinding machine has been further developed in such a way that it can be used as a standalone unit, as at Dupont Cheese, but also as a line by linking units. In this way, more capacity was created.
Dupont Cheese recently started collecting processing data in order to gain more insight into the process and installation and to adjust them wherever needed. The Guffroy lists some KPI's for the derinding machine: number of processed cheeses, weight of the cheese before and after the milling, loss of cheese etc. For example, we can already see that the loss of cheese is 2 to 3% less compared to the manual derinding, because the machine is more constant and more accurate. That's also an additional benefit due to this automation".
Cheese after KUKA robots have taken off the crust
Automated derinding of cheese by a KUKA robot
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