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Robotic Automation Increases Output and Decreases Safety Incidents

E Tech Group was able to automate a once completely manual process for a food manufacturing facility that was struggling with employee retention and meeting output demand due to physically demanding and environmental factors. 

A physically demanding manual process causes high turnover, limited output and safety incidents: 

A food manufacturing facility located in Greenville, SC was experiencing bouts of labor shortages, extremely high turnover and retention, workplace injuries, and impacted output that could all be traced back to the packaging and palletization area in their facility.   

Before reaching out to E Tech Group, this process was one-hundred percent manual.  There were fourteen full-time employees that were able to pack and palletize enough product to produce 1.5-2 truckloads for shipment per day.   

Unfortunately, there were a number of contributing factors that were severely limiting the desired output.   

Because this facility was located in a traditionally warmer climate, temperatures could reach over one-hundred degrees in the hotter months.  This, coupled with the facility being dedicated to food and beverage production, the workers on the floor couldn’t have beverages of any kind outside of their allocated breaks throughout the day.  This could make it difficult to remain hydrated and contribute to work related incidents.    

There were often too many employees attempting to navigate narrow walkways in increasingly crowded spaces, adding to the already hot temperatures and exacerbating the possibility of potential injury.   

In some cases, not just a possibility, but numerous violations and lax regulations allowed sub-par pallets to be handled and used in their palletization and shipping process, leading to 40% of the recordable OSHA incidents coming only from this area.  

It was brought to our attention that the majority of individuals working in this area were contracted by a temp agency and would often only last a week, and on certain occasions, just until lunch.   It was clear to our team that all of the aforementioned conditional issues were heavily influencing the incredibly high turnover this facility was experiencing, even before COVID, and continued to only get higher during.  

The environmental and physical working conditions were enough to truly drive the need for automation in an area that really wasn’t optimized for human labor.   

Environmental factors and available capital push for a creative solution: 

Understanding that this facility had a number of issues impacting retention and consistency in their workforce, and the ultimate goal being to automate those positions not suited for human labor, the applied solution would need to be designed taking into consideration the limited resources available to monitor and maintain this installation.  Knowing they could need to reallocate and retrain existing skilled labor to fill new positions.  

Second to available manpower, the limited physical space continued to plague the design team.  Knowing this already overcrowded space was susceptible to frequent workplace injuries, they would be forced to think outside of the box when positioning a solution that would be erected in an area not conducive to added equipment.  

Not only was accommodating the lack of real estate a large undertaking, but addressing the dated infrastructure quickly moved to the top of the list.  Realizing that any installed solution would require new and dedicated power to ensure reliability, it added a slightly complex layer to an already intricate project. 

The last and perhaps most critical challenge to address and overcome was stakeholder approval.  Understanding this facility had been facing an output deficit impacting their profitability, getting them to spend more money was no easy task.  Our team provided several iterations of the proposed solution and it proved to be an exercise in futility.   

Strategic Segmentation Provides the Entire Solution: 

After all proposed solutions were rejected by the decisionmakers due to budgetary constraints, our team decided to position a phased approach.  This would allow them to spread the large investment required to help realize their business goals across a number of installations.  Satisfied with the first and second phase and proposed cost, the E Tech Group team began to execute! 


Design a comprehensive automation solution 


Procure, build, program, install, commission and train 

Major Equipment: 

  • Palletizing cells, safety fence and scanner system 
  • Pallet conveyor 
  • Pallet dispenser 
  • Pallet wrapper 
  • AGV system with stacked dual conveyor cart 
  • Case conveyor 
  • Mezzanine in filler room 
  • Safety gate for existing mezzanine 

Electrical Equipment: 

  • PLC control panel 
  • Case conveyor 
  • 800A bucket for MCC 
  • 480VAC power distribution panels 
  • Case conveyor motor disconnects 
  • Distributed I/O sensors/solenoids/brackets 
  • Pallet conveyor VFD panel  
  • Pallet motor disconnects/brackets 
  • HMI 

Once the initial challenge of running dedicated power for this installation was complete, these combined and installed components created a fully automated solution that drops a box from an elevated mezzanine to a fill area below, shaking to level and then moving the full box through a taping station as it heads down a conveyor and is diverted to the correct palletizing area.  A palletizing robot picks and places the sealed box in its designated spot on the pallet, and once full is secured by a pallet wrapper.  When ready to move to the shipping area, an AGV removes the full pallet, adding more empty pallets to hopper that will repeat this process.    

PHASE 3: Future Work 

Add automated case erectors on mezzanine to automatically provide empty cases 

Decreased Safety Incidents and Increased Production: 

Our E Tech Group team took this from a completely manual to automated process.  This facility redeployed two-thirds of their twelve full-time employees from this area to other areas in need, helping eliminate overcrowding and decrease the number of safety related incidents.  This left three employees to monitor this new system which almost doubled the production and output rate; from 1.5-2 to 2.5-3 truckloads per day. 

Long-Term Considerations: 

The implementation of a solution designed to automate a once manual process, replacing 12 manual labor positions, has exponential ROI potential.  When positioning this solution, it was critical to understand the facility’s challenges and goals.  E Tech Group believes the continued completion of the next phases will only compound the ROI considerations first identified when taking on this project. 

Reduction in Accidents/Lost Time Accidents – The anticipated reduction of as much as 40% of the OSHA recordable incidents that occur in and around pallet handling.  Thus, improving their safety record, reducing claim impact and insurance premiums. 

Administrative Burden vs Efficiency – Enabling the management team to increase efficiency as they would no longer be tasked with perpetual recruiting, onboarding, supervision and scheduling of a constantly changing labor pool.  Allowing them to be more effective and provide a greater return to the facility.  

Future Capacity Increases – These phased upgrades will allow for easier future optimization, increasing throughput.  

Risk Mitigation/Predictability – Because the human being represents a fairly uncontrollable variable, susceptible to injury, illness, or unpredictability, the transition to automation largely eliminates those risks.   

Competitive Advantage/Enterprise Value – While automation provides an increased level of predictability to the business it also provides the image of a state-of-the-art industry leader to a prospective customer or buyer that is visiting several potential vendors.  Setting yourself apart as a company that continues to invest in their business can be invaluable.   

Updated Label Detection System Minimizes Missed Bottles

Quality assurance issues were plaguing a bottling facility as their current label detection system wasn’t catching missing or misapplied labels.  E Tech Group was able to integrate three systems into one, allowing for more accurate detection. 

Missed Labels Slowed Output: 

An internationally distributed beverage production company wanted to upgrade their facility’s inspection station to check for missing body, back, and neck labels on their bottles before shipping.  Quality control was a growing concern and ensuring consistency in each shipment was a must.  Their current label inspecting system wasn’t meeting expectations and imperfectly applied or missing labels were making their way through.  The decision was made to implement a Keyence label detection system. 

Integrating Three Systems into One On A Tight Timeline: 

Our team started with a site visit to walk through the customer’s existing solution, helping them better understand current challenges and working to define the desired end result and deliverables. 

This exploratory review would uncover that we would not be implementing a single system, as was originally outlined in the proposal; but the integration of a new system while simultaneously supplementing the existing system and upgrading the PLC to tie everything together.    

The rigid production schedule would only allow for two days of downtime, each only 12 hours. This required all panels and hardware to be prefabricated before installation and perfect execution on a very truncated timetable. 

The numerous moving pieces would dictate the need for strict project management, frequent and open communication, and detailed documentation for any changes in schedule or equipment that might happen throughout the project. 

Scope of Work: 

Pivoting from the original plan of single system implementation to bringing together the existing Allen Bradly PLC (existing main panel), repurposing the Teledyne Taptone system that wasn’t providing the results they would like, and integrating the new Keyence label detection system to create one cohesive solution was a large undertaking.   

The E Tech Group team designed, built, and oversaw the installation of the two panels that would house the Keyence systems.  Both panels were installed close to the reject area after the labelers.    

Our team actively troubleshot the installation as they went because nothing like this had ever been attempted with the Teledyne product, and between the client and component manufacturers, there were differing opinions on how this should be set up. 

They were able to get the cameras working quickly but getting them to interface with the Teledyne system wasn’t as easy.  A missing trigger signal that would initiate a bottle with a bad label to be diverted was the culprit.  Our team moved and reordered some components while repurposing Teledyne photo eyes that weren’t being used, tying them back into the Teledyne system at the same point the Keyence system was being tied in, providing the supplementary signal needed to get the desired results.  

Once the system was functioning properly, it was a matter of fine tuning.  Our team would be on site, making sure any adjustments were made during planned downtime to not disrupt the client’s production schedule.   


One generic drawing package was created that detailed the vision systems. An Engineering Information (EI) document package was provided, sufficient to allow for review of the proposed updates, installation by a qualified electrical contractor, and continued maintenance and support, by plant personnel, of the updated equipment, hardware, electrical panels, or controls.    


E Tech Group integrated the Taptone divert into the Keyence solution and the available PLC control system. The installation of the specified Keyence cameras and configuration was performed and tested. HMI screens were housed in (1) of the (2) panels that were supplied. This was the primary access point for the reject solution. 


One day for virtual readiness testing is included. A full test of the PLC and HMI was completed. Client and supplier representative(s) thoroughly reviewed the design, programming and commissioning schedule for the system being considered. A checklist was developed and used to identify the key aspects for each system that had been determined to be critical to the success of the installation and assessed the overall readiness. For programming updates, where possible, basic simulation was provided to show that the functionality of the updated system was unchanged. 


During commissioning E Tech Group assisted in on site testing to prove the functionality of the reject system. The testing protocol matched the testing effort from the internal readiness testing. All test scenarios were communicated by Boston Beer prior to start of development. This testing was expected to be performed within one single downtime window. 


Electrical installation will be provided by a third party. The internal controller of the Taptone system and Keyence system controller will get tied back into the pre-existing PLC. Wiring for IO and power is included. 


One engineer was on site for installation and commissioning, which took one day for setup and commissioning took multiple part-days over the span of a week during planned downtime.  

  • Infrastructure/communication checks (PLC, HMI)  
  • Checking of all equipment IO (equipment level check only)  
  • Parameter/timing adjustments  
  • Operational checks of all system functions      
  • Keyence configurations  
  • Verify any old programs for each updated system are properly archived per site standards 

Adaptation and Communication Made for A Smooth Execution: 

Our team quickly adapted to the change in project parameters and developed, tested, and implemented a prototype solution utilizing the selected technology.   

Originally planning to implement and test over two twelve-hour days, the team once again pivoted, this time to accommodate the facility’s bottling schedule.  Able to complete the implementation over several days while stopping the line for only brief periods.  The onsite team ensured proper operation while the line was running, confirming the Keyence cameras rendered the correct decision and then had the reject signal sent to the Taptone system, verifying both systems were working properly together.   

Through open and clear communication, changes in equipment and time frame were received well by the client and the overall project was a good experience for all involved.  The relationship between E Tech Group and the client was strengthened, providing future opportunities to work together.  

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