Aminolabs is a Belgian company with production facilities in Hasselt (Belgium) and Bleckede (Germany); its headquarter is located in Hasselt. They produce sports nutrition, dietary nutrition and health nutrition products, with an aim to be innovation leader in Europe. In addition to the production facilities, they have innovation centre with research facilities where they constantly study new applications at concept, product and production level in tight partnerships with customers, research institutes and universities. 

In the current processing, the automated filling of the jar with nutritional powder is followed by manual insertion of scoops, before screwing on of the lid. This manual process needs an operator to perform a repetitive, tedious and not ergonomic task for long hours. This motivated Aminolabs to consider exploring automated systems, in order to not only solve the mentioned issue, but also freeing up the operator for other tasks. 

This was quite challenging since any proposed solutions required to be flexible to handle a large variance of scoop sizes, shapes and colors, and also the production line needed to be easily switchable to a different product few times daily, with easy and intuitive reprogramming. 

Based on the project requirements, a conveyor combined with a vibrator feeder was selected as a flexible scoop feeding system, a smart vision for scoop detection, and a cobot for the automatic scoop insertion. The specification of each subsystem was identified based on the performed feasibility studies. 

In the proposed solution, the conveyor is responsible to fill the vibrator feeder with an optimum number of scoops. This is performed using the smart camera mounted on top of the vibrator platform in order to keep track of the number of available scoops on the vibrator surface. 

The scoops on the vibrator feeder are distributed over the surface, and are arranged properly to be picked up by the robot in the right way using the 3-axis vibration technology. Smart camera also helps the cobot to know where the scoops are for picking purposes. A cobot equipped with two grippers are selected to meet the minimal required assembly rate. 

The performed feasibility studies showed that the 3-axis vibration technology (with right selection of the size) can successfully separate and arrange the large variety of scoop sizes and shapes considered in the project. 

The experimental tests also revealed that a smart vision (with right specification) equipped with front and backlight can maximize the detection performance. A structured plate (pyramid like patter) as a vibrator platform observed to be necessary to minimize the stability timing of the scoops. Additionally, a cobot with two grippers was selected to increase the assembly rate. 

Based on the feasibility studies, the maximum achievable cycle time with the proposed work-cell is estimated to be 35 scoops/min which meets the required assembly rate (20 scoops/min). The proposed work-cell also offers a safe environment for the operators to work close to it; thanks to the safety laser scanner, and the safety features of the cobot. 

Bert Aerts, Production Manager, Aminolabs: 

“Thanks to the elaborate research with practical tests by the team of Flanders Make, today we have the necessary certainty that a robot automatization at our filling station meets all requirements. 

We are extremely satisfied with the extent to which they think along about a solution that works in practice, thoroughly test and clearly report, and also provide all the necessary input for the concrete elaboration of our business case