A fully automated inline cell for cutting and slicing food of any size and shape on the fly is bringing maximum performance, flexibility and productivity to the food sector.
Competition in the food industry is fierce and the fast pace of business and development means that any advantage can have a considerable impact on margins for food producers. An innovative inline cutting unit from Western Mechanical Handling (WMH) offers significant advantages, as it can substantially reduce slicing time and reduce wastage due to its high accuracy and consistency.
“Until now, industrial food cutting has often been a manual task,” says Helen Northcott, technical sales and marketing manager at WMH. “Even when auto-mated, most solutions do not allow continuous processing because the robots used require the food to be stationary. As a result, cutting operations often slow down the entire production line.” The company’s new inline cutting unit marks a turning point, as it is characterised by a conveyor belt that connects the production line to the slicing stage and any subsequent process. As food trays move forwards, their content is sliced without stopping the conveyor belt.
A big contributing factor in the machine’s versatility are two robotic arms from Mitsubishi Electric, which can attune to the line speed and do all the necessary cuts on the move. The robots can perform quality slicing by means of state-of-the-art ultrasonic blades from Telsonic, a leading manufacturer of industrial ultrasonic systems.
Mitsubishi Electric’s RV-F series of six-axis robots was chosen for the cell as it offers high speed and precision, as well as IP65 ingress protection for food grade wash-down working environments. The automated operation of the robotic arms is regulated by a compact Q series PLC, while a GOT-2000 HMI enables human operators to easily set what type of cutting is needed and monitor the process.
The machine can cut substances with different consistencies packed in various food tray shapes and sizes without requiring any hardware modifications. In fact, all these cases are characterised by distinctive cutting needs. Particular attention during the design phase was given to establishing a dependable position tracking system, which is key to ensuring the robots cut the food correctly, without affecting the food trays or conveyor belt. The solution can repeatedly position itself correctly with an accuracy of 20μm. In addition, Mitsubishi Electric variable speed drives controlling the conveyor regulates horizontal motion of the belt whilst eliminating any height variation.
The twin robot inline ultrasonic cutting unit has already been adopted by leading food producers, such as Bakkavor, which has installed the machine at its dessert factory in Highbridge.