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Robots and RFID Help KH Lloreda Distribute Its Products

The Spanish company has launched an automated system for loading and shipping its cleaning products to track where the cartons are being moved, and also capture any errors.
By Claire Swedberg
The picking robot, manufactured by industrial robotics company Fanuc, moves along a track, using 3-D artificial vision with an infrared camera and laser to analyze every carton's position and location on each pallet. The robot receives instructions from the software as to the cartons required for a particular customer order, and begins removing cartons from the pallets in storage and loading them onto new pallets destined for that customer. The robot is also instructed to pick the heaviest and biggest cartons first, in order to ensure that they are stacked in the lowest part of the pallet, with the lighter and smaller ones stacked on top. To help it perform these tasks, the robot utilizes its 3-D artificial vision, as well as instructions from the database that contains a record of the storage location of every pallet loaded with cartons.

Daniel Lancho Navarro, KH Lloreda's operations director
The pallets travel down automated tracks to a stretch-wrapping station, where an Impinj interrogator at the machine reads each carton's ID number, and the software then compares the IDs with the order. If the IDs do not match specific orders, a screen illuminates an alert, and the stretch-wrapping process stops until it can be corrected via a supervisor's manual intervention.

As a truck arrives to take orders to customers, the software determines which pallets to load first, to ensure the optimal unloading sequence, based on the order in which the pallets are to be delivered to customers on the driver's route. The software then instructs the robotic system accordingly.

At the loading dock, an RFID portal reads the carton tags once more as a robot places the pallet onto a truck, and a screen at that location also displays an alert if the pallets are being loaded in the incorrect order, or if the wrong cartons are being loaded onto the vehicle.

A telescoping robotic arm fitted with a double-width forklift moves a pair of pallets through an RFID portal and into a truck.

According to Lancho, the system went live following two years of development. The company spent €9 million ($12.3 million) on the automated system, but it expects to gain sufficient benefit from the automation (reduced labor costs, for instance) to achieve a return on its investment.

"We are driving our investment not just for the pleasure of innovation," Lancho states. KH Lloreda has patented the loading system, he says, and offers workshops to share the results of its automation and RFID project with other companies, and also plans to provide the solution to technology resellers, earning royalties in the process.

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