Valentine Conversation hearts are an iconic candy, known to adults and children, alike. They were created by NECCO, the New England Confectionery Company. NECCO is one of the oldest candy companies in the United States, dating back to 1847. To continue successfully and competitively producing their delicious candy for millions of people, NECCO decided to update their process with a robotic solution. They sought an automated solution that would incorporate robots into the packaging process to help eliminate work in process and the hand-feeding of boxes on the pack line. Furthermore, they wanted something that was flexible enough to accommodate future production needs and varied packaging configurations.
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NECCO turned to ABB to help streamline their labor-intensive and time-consuming process for boxing their famous Valentine Conversation candy hearts. NECOO’s industrial engineering manager, Frank Russo, said “We needed to find a way to create a continuous process that would reduce handling by eliminating work in process and hand feeding boxes on the pack line.”
ABB answered the call with two ABB IRB 340 SA (wash-down version) FlexPickers in one line. The robots made the carton filling and packaging a continuous process as the hearts were filled on a vertical cartoner. One-ounce heart boxes were moved from the cartoner to a conveyor that feeds the robots. The system then placed four boxes onto a belt, which fed the shrink wrapper. The boxes were oriented depending on the type of wrap used, shrink wrap or flow-wrapped hanging bags. Then, conveyors were used to help accumulate, create a buffer, and control the flow from the cartoner to the wrappers. The boxes were metered to help ensure a consistent gap was created as they were transported from the cartoner to the robot cells.
The ABB IRB 340 robots then pick up boxes in groups of 3-4, depending on the run, and place boxes on the wrapper’s in-feed conveyor in the desired configuration. These robots were able to provide flexibility for future production needs, including different packing configurations, when necessary.
Capable of 150 picks per minute, this parallel-arm Delta robot is sure to improve a variety of pick and place applications. The washable version of the ABB IRB 340 IRC5 Delta robot has an IP67 protection rating. It is built to withstand cleaning with a low-pressure application of mild detergent. ABB used corrosion-resistant materials and special paint and sealed covers to protect this robot. The fourth axis of the IRB 340SA has slide bearings to facilitate more thorough spray-downs. For safety, there are double circuits with supervision, e-stops, 3-position enabling device and other safety functions.
Russo stated that, indeed, the production line with the two IRB 340 robots has "far exceeded their expectations and have created an enormous benefit." The ABB robots have reduced labor costs and increased throughput. Additionally, NECCO can make simple changes to the robots’ programming to accommodate new packaging sizes.
NECCO is ready to continue its rich history of candy making and ensure that conversation hearts remain a Valentine’s Day staple for many years to come. Why settle for a box of candy hearts when you can have a machine that could help you produces millions of boxes of candy hearts? This Valentine’s Day, show your appreciation for your loved ones, and buy them a robot from RobotWorx!
Contact RobotWorx experts to discuss the wide range of new and used robots available for purchase. Experts can be reached online or by phone at 740-251-4312.