Universal Robots optimize the analysis of sugar beets at Nordic Sugar

When Nordic Sugar was researching a new generation of robots to automate the analysis of raw material samples, the most important criteria were flexibility, user-friendliness, and a reasonable price tag. With Universal Robots’ three UR5 robots as “colleagues,” the employees can now easily adjust the analysis process without having to consult robot experts.

The Nordic Sugar AB factory in Örtofta in Sweden is one of the largest sugar factories in Europe. During the production season from mid-September until mid-January, the factory operates 24/7. During this period, the factory receives 600 daily deliveries of sugar beets from approximately 2,000 Swedish beet growers.

“To ensure that each grower receives the correct payment for their raw materials, we inspect the sugar content and concentration in the beets,” said Bo Bergdahl, Production and Analysis Manager with Nordic Sugar AB’s testing department. A total of 45,000 samples are inspected during the four month season. In addition to this, the department performs 35,000 analysis samples for external partners.

On the lookout for a user-friendly robot

During the analysis process, the beets are pureed and weighed in stainless steel cans, then stirred and filtrated. Bergdahl introduced robots to solve the company’s monotonous tasks back in 1993. At that time, there were no small robots for automation on the market and the company chose a robot for spray booth painting which necessitated consultant services even for minor adjustments in the software. Plexiglass covers and light beams were needed as safety guarding and the cost of exchanging spare parts in the robots were high. Nordic Sugar was in need of a new generation of robots:

Previously, Nordic Sugar had to call expensive experts when they wanted to change the robots’ tasks. Now, employees can program the robots by themselves using the UR robots’ intuitive user interface. The employees can work right alongside them. Here, the employee monitors the robot in production, testing the content in the cans and how the content is poured in filters.

“I wanted a robot that my employees could program for other tasks and place in production by themselves. With our previous robot, we needed to call expensive specialists each time we wanted to make a change. That became too costly,” concluded Bergdahl.

At a tradeshow in Malmö in 2010, he had his first encounter with Universal Robots’ UR5 robot.

“At AH Automation’s booth, they showcased a small robot arm that turned out to be exactly what I was looking for – simple machine at a good price,” said Bergdahl.

Nordic Sugar started out testing a UR5 robot in the sugar analysis process. Today, three UR5 robots are in operation and another three are slated to be integrated within the next two years to replace the earlier generation of robots. The job of the UR5 robots is to scan barcodes and pick up containers with sugar for analysis from scales to filters and back again. A process performed by the pneumatic gripper and a barcode scanner as the robot’s integrated end-of-arm tooling.

“Universal Robots clearly addresses a void in the market place by being able to automate at a low cost,” said Peter Johansson from AH Automation, the Universal Robots distributor who installed Nordic Sugar’s UR5 robots.

The robot picks up the cans of sugar syrup for testing arriving on the conveyor belt. Nordic Sugar is so satisfied with their first three UR robots that the company has already planned to invest in three additional robots. The consultation and sales of the UR robots were provided by distributor AH Automation.

“Today, if we need to reposition the robot or change its speed, we can do it by ourselves,” said Bergdahl. The maintenance of UR5 is virtually non-existent, the only thing required is a few drops of oil after a couple of seasons in operation. He also stresses the advantages of the UR5’s simple structure, with only two kinds of engines to handle, in contrast to the previous robot having three or four different types of engines.

Quick payback period

Bergdahl concluded that the UR5 investment quickly pays itself back. “In our case the UR5 replaced another robot, but if I had to use manual labor, the robot would have paid for itself in four months. Now we can invest in new robots instead of buying spare parts for the old ones.”

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