Agriculture, Automation, Bulk Equipment

Aurora plants the seed for robotic palletising

A robot is helping Frances Seed package and palletise its product to be shipped around Australia and beyond. ABHR finds out why the company decided to automate – and how it has changed the business. 

A robot is helping Frances Seed package and palletise its product to be shipped around Australia and beyond. ABHR finds out why the company decided to automate – and how it has changed the business. 

South Australian company Frances Seed recently had a dilemma on its hands. 

As a seed processor and distributor for domestic and international customers, the harvest is the busiest time of year.

But finding the staff necessary to help with the additional work was proving difficult. Competition for seasonal workers increases across agricultural businesses during the harvest and the effort to find new workers took time that could have been better spent elsewhere in the business.

In addition, the company not only wanted highly valued long-term employees, but wanted to retain them for as long as possible. The physical burden of palletising 20kg bags of seed was taking its toll, as it involved a lot of repetitive heavy lifting, and keeping people for longer periods was proving a challenge.

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It was clear to the team that something needed to change, and that was when another SA-based company referred Frances Seed to Aurora Processing Solutions.

Aurora specialises in helping small-to-medium businesses in regional areas automate their operations. It provides robots that can assist with bag-filling, closing, conveying, palletising, and wrapping/hooding. 

In particular, the business works with industries dealing with heavy bags, such as the grain, stockfeed, fertiliser, landscape products, sand, and cement industries.

Braden Goddin, sales and marketing manager at Aurora, said the two businesses began to discuss what options would work best for Frances Seed.

“We got on-site, looked under the hood at the processes and the product,” Goddin told ABHR. 

“We were able to link them up with a reference site which had a similar scenario.”

The solution was to install a semi-automatic open-mouth bag-filling-and-closing system that fed to a robotic palletiser. Aurora manufactured, installed and commissioned the machinery, which Goddin calls “an intelligent and reliable workhorse”. 

Palletising is a task that doesn’t add much value to a product. To put it bluntly, it can also be dull, repetitive and monotonous – all of which makes it the perfect task to automate. Instead of stacking heavy bags, the person who would have done the palletising can then spend their time on tasks that help grow the business.

Consistency is also important for the palletising process, especially if the product is being exported. Pallets can move through a convoluted supply chain, which means a stack needs to be stable and secure. 

Goddin said the robot can accurately and consistently palletise materials, nullifying the risk of human error.

After installing the machinery for Frances Seed, Aurora also provided several days of orientation and training.

“In a lot of cases, the equipment will be new to the operators who will be interacting with it on a daily basis,” Goddin said. “A key thing to do is to get the operators comfortable with it and to give them confidence working alongside it. They need to understand what’s required to get the most use out of it.

To this end, the equipment has been specifically developed to be easy and intuitive to use.” 

Tim Naylor, general manager of Frances Seed, said the robotic stacker is working out especially well. The company has doubled its throughput since installing the system, allowing more time to service other parts of the business.

“The equipment has taken away the physical side of things, which is safer for staff and has definitely made the working conditions better,” Naylor said.

“The operators find it very easy to use, very simple to pick up. 

“Aurora definitely understands our industry. They set us up with the right machine for the job and it’s worked out perfectly. If someone came to me and asked if they should purchase one, I would recommend going ahead with it.”

To ensure the system is as reliable as possible, Aurora has also set up a preventive maintenance system. This provides Aurora and Frances Seed with important data that can help detect potential issues before they escalate.

Aurora will also provide technical support, routine maintenance and assist with the operation if required.

Goddin said every business has different needs when it comes to automation, which is why Aurora takes a flexible approach.

“We work closely with our clients to provide detailed return on investment (ROI) calculations,” he said.

“We can also scale the equipment based on the operation. For example, a business could partially automate the packaging process and then a few years down the track upgrade another process as the business grows.”

Previous customers help showcase just how simple and effectively robots can be deployed. 

Goddin said the technology is exciting, as it is constantly growing and unlocking productivity.

“Robots can make a big change for a small-to-medium-sized company’s day-to-day operations,” he said. 

“It means they’re not worrying about the loads their workers are under or the stress of finding a new workforce.” 

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