MiR500 Robot Automates Pallet Transport, Improving Quality and Solving Labor and Safety Issues at Cabka North America

German-based Cabka Group recycles post-industrial plastics into pallets and other material-handling products. Cabka’s North American plant in the St. Louis, Missouri area runs 24/7 to manufacture about 5,000 pallets per day, but is challenged by labor shortages, with high turnover of temporary workers leading to expensive downtime. The MiR500 is a key component of a new, fully automated production line that will be replicated throughout the facility to minimize dependency on temporary workers while also improving product quality and worker safety.

Automated line is cleaner, safer, and more efficient

At Cabka North America’s 400,000 square foot (approximately 37,000 m2) facility, workers at eleven injection molding machines unload plastic pallets and manually trim and stack them for material handlers to transport to the warehouse using fork trucks or pallet jacks. The work is repetitive and physical, making it hard to retain workers, and the presence of fork trucks on the production floor leads to safety concerns.

A MiR500 robot is part of a fully automated new production line that includes a six-axis robot to autonomously unload pallets from the injection molding machine, trim the pallets, and load the finished products directly onto the MiR500, which is equipped with a MiR pallet lift. The MiR robot transports the finished products out of the manufacturing floor to a separate staging area as soon as the job is complete. In the staging area, the pallets can be checked for quality and wrapped and then fork trucks can transport the finished pallets to the warehouse and loading docks without having manufacturing workers present. This will allow Cabka to eliminate fork truck traffic in the production area, replacing them with safe, collaborative mobile robots. 

Pilot project leads to fully optimized production

The new line is intended to be the model for the eventual automation of all eleven production lines, with a fleet of MiR robots supporting them in a dynamic, highly efficient manufacturing floor in which each mobile robot can go where it’s needed when it’s needed to keep production flowing.  Cabka estimates that the first MiR500 travels about three miles a day supporting one production line. With eleven lines planned for autonomous material transport with multiple MiR robots, workers and fork truck drivers will be relieved from many miles of manual material handling, allowing Cabka to redeploy those workers to higher-value tasks.

Robot features drive success

The MiR robot’s user-friendliness is a key element of the project’s success, along with the robot’s cost-effectiveness, small footprint, and safety features. And the MiR robots have proven to be the easiest part of the new automation project, even in an older facility with uneven floors, cracks, and bumps. “With the MiR500, we are very happy with the payload,” says Cabka project technician Craig Bossler. “It’s handled everything that we can stack on top of it. We haven’t found out how high we can go yet. It’s very stable—it can make turns, go straight, and it can hit bumps, and it’s always very stable. The MiR definitely can handle all the imperfections in the floor.”

Future plans look to expansion, focus on quality and customer needs

Cabka North America is looking at other ways to use the MiR robots as well, such as prepping orders overnight in the warehouse so they will be ready at the dock for loading in the morning. Patrick Garin, president of Cabka North America, anticipates that other Cabka locations will be following the North American facility’s lead. “We always have our corporate people come here—our corporate CEO and the other part of the team—and they will definitely be very interested in seeing our progress here,” he says.

It’s handled everything that we can stack on top of it. We haven’t found out how high we can go yet. It’s very stable—it can make turns, go straight, and it can hit bumps, and it’s always very stable. The MiR definitely can handle all the imperfections in the floor.

Craig Bossler

Cabka project technician

About Cabka group

Cabka Group has been creating product solutions from recycled plastic for more than 35 years. Whether they are lightweight export pallets, robust logistics pallets, or its EcoProducts, Cabka is making plastics fit a wide range of new tasks. The company has taken a pioneering role in processing mixed plastics, which are difficult to recycle, and was among the first to produce lightweight plastic pallets for worldwide product transportation. Cabka was one of the first companies in the industry to turn to recycled plastic to manufacture new products. The company obtains the basic materials for intelligent, economical, and reliable products from industrial production scraps, packaging waste from private households, and worn-out plastic products to actively protect the environment – and make customers’ work easier.