New mode! A lesson of stereoscopic planting from Europe

01Background

The customer company, founded in 1958 and headquartered in Leiria, Portugal, is mainly engaged in production of various plastic products. In 1960, it established a new company, that is, the Ovar factory where this project is located. The business scope of this factory is to develop, produce and supply plastic products to meet diverse needs of different customers in various industries. For a family business that has kept to “plastic products” for 60 years, their goal has always been to become a benchmark company in the plastics industry. In addition to providing the public with a wide range of products with reliable quality, they also continue to explore cutting-edge technologies on raw materials, technological processes, and mode of production.

02Pain points

In recent years, plastic tubes for stereoscopic planting have accounted for a large proportion of bulk orders the customer has received. In the wake of the growing popularity of stereoscopic planting in Europe, the traditional mode of farming has been changed. Planters just put soil in pipes and place plants, seeds and seedlings in the openings for cultivation. In this way, the cultivated area is greatly increased, with sufficient water guaranteed. It is rather convenient to perform cultivation and multi-cropping, so it’s more and more favored.

As the customer produces various types of pipes, one of the processes is to move the plastic pipe from one side to the drilling equipment to punch holes on it. This was previously done by hand. The material itself is not heavy, but workers need to turn around to pick up or place the long pipes. One may have to perform 2,000 turns a day at full load.  So the position was least wanted by the workers.  The factory has been considering using an automation solution to replace manual operations. However, due to frequent changes in material varieties, the solution is required to be flexible and meet flexible production requirements of multiple varieties.

03Solution

As proposed by its integrator, the customer believes it can give collaborative robot a try, and expects the integrator discreetly consider the ROI cycle and choose a cost-effective solution. Coincidentally, the integrator, as a company with more than 20 years of automation experience, has been looking for a Chinese collaborative robot partner since 2019. They are keenly aware that although labor costs are high in Europe, and the European and American branded collaborative robots help save labor costs, many medium-sized factories are still rather cost-sensitive. Enterprises are under ever-increasingly high competitive pressures brought about by the global economy. On the one hand, the society is aging and it is more and more difficult to recruit workers. On the other hand, medium-sized enterprises cannot afford the high one-time costs of equipment procurement. Therefore, the flexible automation needs of small and medium-sized enterprises have not yet been fully unleashed. Nevertheless, if they use stable and reliable collaborative robots developed and manufactured by a Chinese manufacturer, they can save a lot of money in their system solution, which is very attractive to both the integrator and end users.

At the end of 2019, the integrator set up a special department of collaborative robot automation through multi-party cooperation, and began to cooperate with ELITE engineers. In the end, in this Leiria based project, the customer adopted the  collaborative robot Elit EC66 (6kg)for material handling. What EC66 assists in producing at present is a plastic pipe that is used to support the growth of plants with soft stems. As expected, the collaborative robot is compact and occupies little space when installed. The robotic arm grabs a pipe on the feeding mechanism, moves it to the other side and inserts it into the casing, which is then punched by the equipment; and then the robot moves it to the lay-off mechanism. The whole process takes about 10 seconds. It is not required to redeploy the production line, and it can be configured to apply to different sizes of materials flexibly in the production process. And it is remarkable that the overall system cost is rather satisfactory to users, for they can recover the cost in less than 10 months.

The core concept of stereoscopic planting is to make the best use of everything, and to maximize the effectiveness of every inch of soil and every drop of water. Likewise, for the majority of users, the characteristics of Chinese collaborative robots, once exerted at an appropriate position, shall yield twice the result with half the effort!

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