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Grolsch puts its best face forward to increase sales

Grolsch puts its best face forward to increase sales
The Grolsch brewery in the Netherlands relies on the expertise of two German companies who built them a machine with one simple goal: to sell more beer. This machine isn't an ordinary beverage dispenser; it relies on VisionPro from Cognex that guides the special grippers which are programmed to rotate and align the bottles so that they are in the best position with optimum visibility. Tradition, innovation and business thinking are all combined into this beverage machine which promotes sales.

As one of the leading companies in the brewery industry, Grolsche Bierbrouwerij Nederland B.V. does not only concentrate on optimizing its logos, labels and other advertising media, but also on how to improve the presentation of its product at the point of sale. Grolsch decided to rotate the bottles, which are visible through the opening in the crate, so that their labels point symmetrically toward the outside. This allows them to project the optimal image to the beer connoisseur in the supermarket. Bottles are rotated at a rapid rate of 400 per minute, with the end goal of influencing the customer. It's subtle, but the effect is clear: customers pick up a crate of Grolsch beer more often than they would have otherwise.

The experts who ensure that the Grolsch swing-top bottles are in the correct position before they start their journey to the customer come from a company which has specialized in sophisticated beverage and packaging machine solutions for over 35 years. The German company, RICO-Maschinenbau GmbH & Co., was supported in designing the system by fellow Germans, aku.automation GmbH (a member of the Cognex partner integrator network) who specialize in ensuring that machines are in harmony with their production environment. The two companies developed a pioneering solution that combines the latest automation technology with intelligent vision technology and the software solutions of Cognex to accurately move the Grolsch bottles into the desired position. 

The system operates with two parallel conveyor belts transporting up to 3000 crates per hour through the bottle alignment machine. Ten crates are processed per cycle. Two industrial cameras are positioned approximately 1.5 meters above the conveyor belts with each camera monitoring the five crates on its respective belt. The two cameras are intelligently embedded into homogenous area lighting units, which provide optimal illumination without casting undesirable shadows.

Each crate holds 16 swing-top bottles, but only eight bottles in each crate have to be rotated to be visible through the side opening. Two factors make it easy for the machine to identify the position 80 bottles per cycle. First, the alignment of the swing-top cap with Grolsch logo ensures that the bottle labels are always applied at the same position ahead of the rotation process. Second, VisionPro, the PC vision platform from Cognex, was specially designed for multi-camera applications with low cycle rates and large numbers of evaluation targets. To date, the VisionPro tool library has proven its capabilities in over 400,000 systems worldwide.

The bottles are aligned after the object localization step. Special pneumatic grippers for swing-top caps from RICO grip the bottles and lift them up slightly. Small servo motors then convert the previously identified values into the target positions. They rotate the bottles to the correct position based on a rotation angle in degrees which is individually determined for each bottle. This is an enormous job considering that 24,000 bottles have to be rotated every hour. In addition, all of this takes place in an area where the technology is permanently at risk from one of the substances it tolerates the least - water.

aku.automation was actively involved in the project right from the system planning phase, which put the company in a position to develop a reliable and robust inspection system. The experience of this specialist in object-oriented checking has been combined with RICO's comprehensive knowledge about the special requirements of the beverage industry to produce solutions that are more than capable of meeting the practical requirements of the industry. For example, both the illumination systems and the cameras are accommodated in very sturdy, watertight stainless steel housings. This was necessary because although these components are installed above the production line and do not come into direct contact with the beverage already inside the bottle, the experts from RICO know that cleaning operations in beverage production plants always involve plenty of water spray and that cleaning staff cannot be expected to avoid sensitive components.

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