By Gina Forsyth
“Sir Stack a Lot,” the state of the art box stacking robot at the Port Hardy Processing (PHPP) on northern Vancouver Island, will have a friend to share the work with by the end of summer 2012.
In September 2010 PHPP installed an automated robot to organize, handle and stack the boxes of market ready salmon and ice onto pallets in preparation for shipment. The first robot was so successful in reducing the amount of back and shoulder injuries commonly associated with box stacking, that a second, identical one was announced in the spring by Dave Pashley, PHPP Processing Director and Plant Manager.
This second robot, who name has yet to be chosen, gives PHPP the capacity to reduce manually stacking of boxes by approximately 85%, a huge step forward for the company’s health and safety program. The expectation is for further reduction and the potential elimination of all injuries related to box stacking, one of the most physically demanding jobs in the plant.
“These robots are common in Norway but not in Canada,” said Blaine Tremblay, PHPP Health and Safety Manager. “Sir Stack a Lot” was a first not only for our company but for Canada’s aquaculture industry. MHC remains the only company operating this hi-tech piece of equipment, added Blaine.
Employees at PHPP manually lift boxes filled with salmon and ice that routinely weigh upwards of 75 lbs and stack them as low as 4 inches off the ground and more than 6 feet
high. Between 5,000 and 6,000 boxes are moved daily. “Sir Stack a Lot” has reduced our manual handling for this job by 45% on any given day and also sharply reduced injuries.”
The process starts with the programming of the robot for each of the eight pallet locations it can reach. As each box enters the robot zone, it is scanned via bar code reader and
communicates to the robot what size range of fish the box contains. Based on this information, the robot knows which pallet to place the box on.
As the robot stacks the boxes it keeps track of each one and how it’s placed in preparation for the next box. It’s essential to keep the boxes stable and as a result, “Sir Stack a Lot” follows a chimney block stacking pattern and knows where exactly each box must be placed to maintain this specific stacking pattern.
The robot gripper picks up each styrofoam box off a conveyor with the correct amount of grip strength to lift, rotate and stack while ensuring that it doesn’t break the styrofoam boxes and still placing it within millimeters of the other boxes. Once the pallet is full, the robot lifts up an empty pallet and holds it above the completed stack while it waits for a trained operator to remove the stack and restart the process.
The staff maintenance electrician at PHPP is fully trained in updating the robot’s software and hardware components. However, should the need arise, today’s technology allows for access from Iceland via the Internet for any necessary trouble shooting. Maintenance on Sir Stack a Lot and his soon to arrive friend is limited to replacing cylinders in the grippers.