Updated: Oct 18, 2019
A specially developed puck reject, return and storage system, designed and manufactured by Autarky Automation and based on Schuco modular conveyor components, is playing an important role in helping Unilever increase productivity and reduce maintenance costs.
Installed at Unilever's Home and Personal Care factory in Leeds, UK, the puck handling system forms part of an integrated high-speed filling, capping and labelling line used for a wide range of leading-brand roll-on deodorants that are sold throughout Europe.
These roll-on deodorants include brand names such as Dove, Sure, Impulse and Lynx and use Unilever's innovative design of inverted container, where the pack stands upright on the cap. This keeps the liquid deodorant permanently in contact with the dispensing ball and ensures that the product is always ready for use.
The production process starts with empty containers being placed automatically in specially designed pucks, where they remain during the filling, capping and labelling operations. At the end of the line, containers are de-pucked and then packed ready for shipping.
Empty pucks from quality control points along the line and from the end of the process are returned automatically to the initial pack orientation unit using the Autarky Automation system. In addition, during product and puck changeovers they are diverted to Autarky Automation's custom built puck washing, drying and storage facility; this incorporates a stainless steel tank, high-pressure cold wash and cold air blower, with storage for up to 900 cleaned pucks.
Minimal maintenance and operating costs
Chris Fletcher, Project Engineer for Unilever, says: "We operate three roll-on lines, of which the first was built specifically for the new design of pack and two were subsequently converted from handling earlier versions of the same products. In each case we have worked closely with design and mechanical engineers from Autarky Automation to develop dedicated systems that meet the unique demands of our particular products and, just as importantly, enable us to minimise our maintenance and operating costs."
The system developed by Autarky Automation uses standard conveying and handling modules from the Industrial Automation Division of Schuco Design, including separate lift and alpine units that raise pucks to the washing and storage areas located above each production line. These standard modules are combined with custom components to form an integrated system with a number of features that are claimed to be unique.
For example, each of the 26 motor drive units on the three lines uses a lubrication-free belt and clutch arrangement, rather than traditional chains and sprockets. This is quieter and smoother, even at faster speeds, and requires only occasional maintenance; it is also fitted with clear inspection windows so that the condition of the unit can checked easily at any time.
Similarly, the problem of pinch points that is associated with conventional conveyor-to-conveyor transfers has been eliminated through the simple expedient of using two Schuco conveyors with a 15-degree offset. This enables pucks to be transferred smoothly, while avoiding the need to provide additional guarding.
Fletcher believes that the level of service and customer support provided by Autarky Automation has been exemplary: "The experience of Autarky's engineers has enabled us to develop a cost-effective solution that interfaces efficiently with our Profibus and SCADA networks and that reflects our company-wide programme of total preventative maintenance. Just as importantly, even where we did encounter problems – something that is common with projects of this type and scale – Autarky provided support quickly and ensured that any modifications were implemented without affecting our production output. Overall, they have played a crucial role in helping us build a series of highly advanced and reliable production lines that are capable of sustaining our business in this sector for the foreseeable future."