Robots optimize analysis of sugar beets at Nordic Sugar

Nordic Sugar worked with distributor AH Automation to install user friendly, reliable robots without enclosures or robotic experts. “Now we can invest in new robots instead of buying spare parts for the old ones.”

By Kristian Hulgard March 22, 2013

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. During the four-month season, 45,000 samples are inspected. In addition to this, the department performs 35,000 analysis samples for external partners.

Seeking a user-friendly robot

During the analysis process, 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.

“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,” said Bergdahl.

At a tradeshow in Malmö, Sweden, in 2010, he had his first encounter with a 5 kg robot weighing 18 kg.

“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 the new robot in the sugar analysis process. Today, three such 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 UR5 robots scan barcodes and pick up containers with sugar for analysis from scales to filters and back again. The process is performed by the pneumatic gripper and a barcode scanner as the robot’s integrated end-of-arm tooling.

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

“Today, if we need to reposition the robot or change its speed, we can do it by ourselves,” said Bergdahl. Maintenance 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 simple design, with only two types of motors, in contrast to the previous robot having three or four types.

Quick payback

Bergdahl concluded that the investment quickly pays itself back.

The new robot 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,” Bergdahl said.

About Nordic Sugar and Universal Robots

For more than 100 years, Nordic Sugar has produced sugar for the Northern European market and today it is the leading manufacturer in the Nordic region and the Baltics. The company produces approximately 1 million tons of sugar in factories in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Lithuania. Nordic Sugar employs 1,430 people and is part of the Nordzucker company.

Universal Robots is an innovative and globally successful Danish manufacturer of industrial robots. Since the first UR robot entered the market in 2009, the company has seen substantial growth and is now in global distribution through more than 100 partners spanning 43 countries. European portfolio customers include companies such as Lear, Oticon, Bosch, BMW, Scandinavian Tobacco Group, LG, Samsung, LUK, and GN Resound. In Asia, UR robots are used extensively by the Bajaj Company in the yearly production of 4 million vehicles, motorcycles, and auto rickshaws.

Universal Robots is a result of many years of intensive research in robotics and is a “first mover” within a new segment for industrial robots enabling automation not just in large enterprises but also in small- and medium-sized companies that thought employing a robot would be too costly and difficult.

The six-axis robot arms can easily be implemented in many industries; from a small CNC lathe production to large automobile assembly lines. The product portfolio currently includes the UR5 and UR10 models that handle payloads of up to 5 and 10 kilos and weigh 18 and 28 kilos, respectively.

Due to their weight, size, safety, and ease of programming, the UR robots can easily be moved around and installed in different parts of the production facility. A significant benefit is the robot’s capability to operate without safety guarding, depending on the application and end effectors used. In a collision, the robot delivers less force than the 150 Newton (33.72 lb) regulatory limit [EN ISO 13850]. End-effectors and other environmental conditions could create a hazard, and a risk assessment should always be carried out. In 1,600 applications, 80% of Universal Robots do not require an enclosure.

Universal Robots’ intuitive graphical user interface (GUI) allows the user to set up and program the UR robot in as little as half an hour. The user does not need to be a skilled programmer to do this; programming can be done by dragging and dropping standard routines into an on-screen “script” for the robot, or by simply grabbing the robot arm and showing it the desired movements.

Universal Robots developed the GUI, called Polyscope, which runs on top of a Linux OS platform enabling easy customization for specific tasks and tools. The Polyscope programming developer facility needed for this customization is supplied with the robot.

The robot is also equipped with digital and analog inputs and outputs, I/O ports, and Ethernet interfaces for communication with external equipment and other control systems, such as PLC and SCADA systems through the I/O or Ethernet socket. The robot and controller can control a small cell as well as sensors, vision systems, activation of conveyors, and other external equipment.

The UR robots have very low energy consumption and make less noise in comparison with bigger and more expensive robots.

– Kristian Hulgard is area sales manager at Universal Robots. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering,

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Author Bio: Kristian Hulgard, general manager Americas - OnRobot.