As well as automating previously mundane manual operations, the robot, which was supplied by Raruk Automation, has allowed the company to repurpose employees to more varied tasks.
With annual turnover of circa £18 million and 100 employees working at its 70,000ft², £20 million facility, Real Digital is going from strength to strength in a market that is constantly evolving.
“Among the many facets of our business, which include document management, interactive print and direct marketing, is supply chain optimisation,” explained managing director David Laybourne. “Part of this offer comprises bespoke packaging services, and it is here that we have recently introduced a robot to one of our main operations – the packaging of SIM cards for mobile networks and MVNOs [mobile virtual network operators].”
Taking control of accuracy and traceability means that Real Digital uses vision-based cameras to oversee a process which involves taking a SIM carrier, just like those found at supermarket checkouts, and inserting the SIM card, booklet and top-up card. The SIMs are then boxed and sealed with a plastic film security wrap before being placed on a pallet at rates of up to 70 boxes per hour (annually the company packs around 30 million SIM cards). However, until recently, certain aspects of this process still required an amount of mundane manual input.
“Sure, we were looking to gain some efficiency, but primarily the aim was to repurpose our labour to more varied, added-value activities,” stated Laybourne. “Standing on the line and remaining alert for 8-10 hours is difficult and introduces the risk of repetitive strain issues.”
The manual tasks required an operative to check the start and end of each box, which contains 100 packaged SIM cards. A lid is then fitted to each box before being inserted into a strapping machine where it receives a seal tab. Once sealed, the box is placed on to a pallet.
The process of selecting a robot to fulfil these functions came down to two or three potential suppliers, but there were clear reasons for selecting a Universal Robot from RARUK Automation, in particular, the collaborative functionality.
“Although we deploy camera validation, there is still some verification and logging that can only be done by people,” explained Laybourne. “Health and safety is important to us, and we wanted to create an environment that blends automation with humans; caged robots would have restricted our ability to be flexible in the way we use the machines.”
Known as ‘co-bots’, lightweight UR robots can work side by side with human workers, safely and effectively. Integral force sensing, set at a pre-determined level, means the robot comes to a halt in the event of contacting a human. Real Digital opted for the largest robot in the UR series, the UR10, which offers a 10kg payload and reach of 1300mm.
“Our UR10 robot is placing the lid on a completed box of packaged SIM cards, turning it 90° and offering it into the strapping machine where it receives a plastic heat seal security wrap. After exiting on a conveyor, the robot will pick and place the box in the correct place on the pallet,” explained Laybourne. “Of course, stacking pallets by robot is not that easy - there is a new position on the pallet each time a box is placed, which means a precise sequence is required, with accurate positioning. Fortunately, the UR10 is easy to program and offers repeatability of 0.1mm.”