LEONI cable management expertise puts a cap on downtime for soft drink bottler

Maintaining the flow of product is critical when you bottle and distribute soft drinks for distribution to more than 65,000 locations across four Midwestern states. One such bottling plant in western Michigan, however, was encountering increasingly frequent downtime due a patchwork of quick fixes it had applied to the cable harnesses of three KUKA robots on its production line.

Its process, a mixed row palletizing system, transported six-packs and two-liter bottles in trays down three conveyor belts, from which the three robots picked and placed them onto palettes for distribution to customers across the Midwest.

The robotic system had been installed years before by a now-defunct integrator, who had installed a dozen cables on each robot, including Ethernet and an air line. But the cables were not properly optimized for such a high-volume application for long periods of time. In some cases, they exceeded their recommended bend radius and weren’t rated for high-flex operation. As the original cables failed, the bottler quickly applied new ones over them — outside the umbilical and often at the cable’s most vulnerable location. That resulted in an accelerating series of breakdowns that were costing the bottler precious time and money.

The bottler contacted LEONI engineers, who visited the plant to examine its process and the original cable harness before developing a solution. “If a cable failed in the original system, they could probably fix it in a half hour,” observed Bill Ordakowski, technical sales expert at LEONI. “But it was never a long-term solution. If a cable had failed inside the umbilical, it was going to fail even faster when applied externally.”

Streamlining the Flow

LEONI first simplified the overall harness by streamlining it from twelve to six cables. “Because we specialize in the manufacture of robotic, high-flex, and communication and control cables, we were able to utilize in-house products to replace the original design’s use of two-pair shielded cables with LEONI’s 12-pair shielded products,” said Ordakowski. “So, each robot assembly would now have two cables for each encoder and two for motor power, plus one cable each for Ethernet and an airline hose — which LEONI also manufactures.”

Specifying the proper cables and applying LEONI’s LSH 3 retract system for added flexibility would all but eliminate unplanned downtime, the team determined. But their solution didn’t end there.

Solving a Problem with Axes

LEONI’s electrical engineering group also reverse-engineered a custom cable design adapted to the original system’s rectangular connectors. They further re-engineered the original cable system’s contiguous axis 1 to axis 6 design to be a two-part system with an interface to axis 3. In practical terms, this enabled the customer to replace only those sections where the cable had failed rather than the entire harness, reducing the time and cost for maintenance and repair from 30 to 10 minutes.

“The small communication cables, which are most prone to failure, were each given a LEONI part number and drawing so the customer could purchase them and have them on hand rather than looking at a pin out or trying to replace connectors when production goes down,” added Ordakowski.

In addition to these solutions, LEONI provided the bottler with installation and support services. “If the cable management system is not installed and optimized properly, it can take away the benefit of it being a high-performance world-class solution,” said Ordakowski. “So, contracting us to provide technical services for implementation and optimization helped to close the circle.”

Vision Forward

The bottler contracted LEONI to complete the installation over a weekend to minimize the impact on its operations. LEONI’s team implemented the cable system on Saturday and optimized it the following day to verify the bottler wouldn’t lose the communications or previous functions of its original system.

The design, implementation, and optimization of LEONI’s solution eliminated the cascading downtime issues for the bottler and improved overall reliability and performance of its line. The solution’s success led to further conversations about leveraging LEONI’s expertise in machine vision to help minimize the occurrence of bottles falling off palettes, which in addition to creating product losses and waste, contributes to downtime costs while the breakage is cleaned up.