Animal Feed Producer Uses Palletizing Robot Stacker to Remain Competitive

As seen in Feed & Grain Magazine, August/September 2006 issue - Faced with tough competition in the feed supply industry, O’Neal Feeders Supply, Inc., Deridder, LA, needed to make some changes. The company previously filled and palletized bags by hand, causing several problems including labor issues, bag stability on the pallets and over-filling the bags.

About six months ago, O’Neal Feeders Supply, Inc. streamlined its feed packaging operations by installing an automatic bag filling and sealing line. Next they purchased an EC-201 Fuji Ace Robotic Palletizer from American-Newlong Inc., Indianapolis, IN, that can handle standard wood as well as plastic mini pallets.

Hollis Ray O’Neal, Vice President, reports the robot has dramatically improved the palletizing operation. “Well for one thing, it shows up everyday,” O’Neal quips. “It was a nice step for us. We had to palletize everything by hand before we installed the robot.

“The progression was that we went from all manual bagging, to an automated bagger, to an automated stacker,” O’Neal continues. “In our business we use both the smaller plastic mini pallets and regular wood pallets. The robot is able to load both. Using the combination of an automated bag packaging system and the robot stacker, we were able to reduce our labor requirement by about six people. In addition to cost savings, the stacker solved another problem because finding that kind of labor is getting difficult. People don’t care to do that kind of work anymore.”

O’Neal Feeders produces all kinds of livestock feed—for cattle, horses, hogs, chickens, sheep, goats, etc. They produce feeds exclusively for agricultural use and do not get into pet food. In the packaging operation, O’Neal uses three different sizes of multi-wall paper bags. The smallest holds 25 pounds. There are two different 50-pound bags—one for bulky, light-weight products, and another that takes care of most feeds they produce.

Standard and Mini Pallets

On the regular wooden pallets, (48 inches by 40 inches by 5 inches), O’Neal uses five bags per layer and either 40 or 50 bags per pallet, which adds up to 8 or 10 layers of five bags per layer. The mini pallets typically are stacked 10 or 12 bags per pallet, but they sometimes stack up to 15 bags high for the 25-pound bags.

“Stability of bags stacked on the plastic mini pallets, (23.5 inches by 14.5 inches by 1.75 inches), has not been nearly the problem we thought it was going to be,” O’Neal reports. “The pallet has to be stacked straight and the robot is quite capable of doing that. In this industry, it’s pretty common for people to have two machines—one that does the mini pallets and one that does the standard wood pallets. By using the robot, we can do both sizes with the one machine. We move the loaded pallets around with a forklift truck and we haven’t had a problem with them.”

Sequence of Operation

Mini Pallet handling – A stack of mini pallets are placed in a magazine. When directed by the robot, the dispenser will dispense one pallet onto the conveyor. The conveyor will index to allow another mini pallet to be dispensed. This action will repeat until the line is full of mini pallets prior to the loading position. When the robot sends a “pallet complete signal”, the conveyor line will convey the filled pallet out and convey an empty pallet into the stacking position. The line will accumulate and stage two filled pallets for fork truck removal.

Standard pallet handling – A stack of three empty pallets are manually placed on the floor next to the robot. A start push button is pressed to begin the stacking process. The pallet stack is detected by three photo eyes and provides the “empty pallet ready” signal to the robot. If the start push button is pressed and there is no pallet in position, the robot will not palletize. This prevents inadvertently stacking bags on the floor. When finished, the operator will press a ‘cycle stop’ push button, enter the cell, and remove the filled pallet while leaving the remaining empty pallets.

“Planning for the automated packaging line and the robot stacker was done at the same time,” O’Neal explains, “but installation was done in two stages. The packager was installed first and then the robot stacker. We split the installation into two parts because of time constraints at our end, but we could have done the entire installation at one time.”

The installation of the robotic bag palletizer was postponed twice due to the effects of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Finally installed in the middle of October 2005, after Rita had swept through, O’Neal Feeders noticed a slight jump in the sales of their bagged feed. “We gained some feed sales since there was a reduced amount of natural feed available because of the damage from the hurricanes,” O’Neal said. In the aftermath of the hurricanes some crops had become scarce or were ruined from the heavy rains and high winds.

O’Neal Feeders Supply, Inc. lost 3 or 4 employees due to the hurricanes. The automatic bag filler and sealing system of the automatic bagger and robotic bag palletizer now offers the company a peace of mind in regards to any kind of labor issue in the future. O’Neal said, “With the automated system I know that if I had to, I could go down there and operate the machinery and make a few deliveries by myself.”

Types of Feed

“We start with the raw ingredients, which we store in large hoppers,” O’Neal says. “We mix the ingredients to formulate the feed to meet the specifications on the customer’s order. It may call for a straight mash or a texture type feed. Some feeds are pelletized. We add molasses to some while others are dry. All together there are about fifty different products that we package based upon the customer’s needs.

“We work a single shift Monday through Friday and half a day on Saturday,” O’Neal explains. “When we get better at it, we’re probably going to double shift some of our packaging production. We really have two plants. There is what we call the cleaning plant where we do grain cleaning and packaging. We also have the feed mill where we mix the grain and pelletize it. These plants are located next to each other. All together we have about 25 to 28 people involved in the operation.

“One of our suppliers that handles packaging machines, conveyors, and things of that nature, put together a proposal for us when we were considering going to an automated packaging system,” O’Neal says. “He included a robot in the proposal, which was something that I didn't know anything about. He brought Garnet McMillian, North American Sales Manager of American-Newlong Inc., Indianapolis, IN, down to meet with us. Garnet explained that he was proposing to furnish a robotic palletizing system designed around the Fuji Model EC-201 robotic palletizing machine. It can stack up to 840 bags per hour and position each bag to within 1 mm accuracy on a pallet. He also set up a visit to a plant in Atlanta to see one of them in operation.

“That installation was similar to what we do, but not exactly. They package drywall products. Their application is quite simple, just one or two items on wood pallets. However Garnet convinced me that we could do what we wanted to do with the EC-201 robotic palletizing machine so we decided to go that route. Garnet really did the bulk of the work as far as laying out the robot and how the conveyor system would work.”

Payback Time

“At the time we decided to buy the system, we were looking at a three year payback schedule,” O’Neal says. “All together, I think I’m probably going to do a little better than that. That’s because it’s done two things. First, it allowed me to get the job done with fewer workers. Second, the packaging equipment is more accurate in its weights. So, we’re doing a better job of controlling what we’re putting into the bags. We put 50 or 25 pounds in a bag and it’s within ounces. We can’t be short on the weight and with the manual system we were probably at least a pound over. Now it’s probably more like a quarter of a pound heavy or maybe even less.

“In the ag business, I think we’re really behind in our application of manufacturing automation,” O’Neal explains. “But, we’re working on catching up. I believe we’ll see more and more of it in the future because of the tight labor situation and the liabilities involved with manual labor, including workmen’s compensation and other insurance costs, which can be pretty high.

“The feed supply industry is extremely competitive,” O’Neal observes. “We all overlap. Usually we’re not more than 50 or 75 miles from our nearest competitor. We cover the whole state of Louisiana and a good portion of East Texas. It’s very competitive and profit margins are pretty tight.”

American-Newlong, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of automated, open-mouth bag packaging and closing systems and equipment and is a distributor of Fuji Ace robotic palletizers.  American-Newlong’s line of equipment includes sewing machines, twist tying machines, tape tying machines, heat sealers, semi- automated to fully automated packaging systems that weigh, pack, close, check weigh, distribute and palletize.  The company’s Indiana headquarters offers full parts and service support for all products, with multiple dealers and distributors.  “Turn key" systems and custom design systems available for specific applications.

For more information contact American-Newlong, Inc., 5310 South Harding Street Indianapolis, IN 46217. Phone: 317-787-9421. Fax: 317-786-5225. E-mail:

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