The British-Dutch consumer goods company, Unilever, is addressing rising levels of spending in the Middle East-African market, acknowledging that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a strong trade corridor, connecting the East and West, with significant growth potential and a world-class infrastructure. The Dubai factory produces 500 million items per year, handling hair and skincare products under the world-renowned Dove, Fair & Lovely, Lifebuoy, Vaseline, Clear, TRESemme and Sunsilk brands.
Unilever was looking to build two high speed lines (350 products/minute), able to handle eight different container formats with a large scope of sizes (from 100 to 900 ml), yet targeting a maximum 10-minute line changeover with multiple changeovers per day. For shaped-bottle handling, not allowing mass flow accumulation, the critical point for end-of-line operations is at the batch collation level.
Unilever opted for a product management through six robots, using FlowDesigner®, the Gebo Cermex flow management and product tracking intelligence for gentle bottle handling and continuous batch preparation. By taking a robotic approach at the product collation stage, the team ensured a streamlined solution with easy access to the heart of the machine, allowing for precise product positioning on the shrink-wrapper infeed conveyor and faster changeovers.
Changeovers have been further simplified by supplying a single, universal gripping head for all eight formats. Produced via 3D-printing, its light-weighted characteristics reduce the overall payload and consequently help optimise the robot size as well as the associated energy consumption. Changeovers can now be orchestrated directly via the HMI without manual intervention.
For shrink-wrapping, this translates to a thermo-sealing solution for a high-quality pack, a limited number of product transfers adapted to shaped or unstable bottles, and the possibility to process from one to three lanes of products – with a single film reel for improved operability.
The case packer is a secured Pick & Place solution with a gantry robotic manipulator that allows for fast and simple changeovers thanks to its quick release systems for tooling. The case erector and case sealer reliably work at a notable speed of 40 cases/minute. Lastly, the shock-free, electronic spacer infeed system secures a high product protection at the layer preparation of the high-level layer-by-layer palletiser.
The Unilever case clearly demonstrates that Gebo Cermex has an impressive portfolio of adapted handling/infeed modules, a wide robotic capability with extensive gripping tooling design know-how, and a comprehensive approach to end-of-lines with packing, shrink-wrapping, palletising, and AGV solutions.