In order to keep the beer kegs coming and meet growing consumer demand for draft pilsner beer, a busy family-run Belgium brewery has successfully used industrial FANUC robots to process, fill and palletise the heavy barrels for six years.

The Haacht Brewery in Boortmeerbeek, the third largest in Belgium, processes 500 kegs an hour, predominantly for the catering sector. With an annual production of around million hectolitres (21 million imperial gallons), efficiency is paramount.

Recently, the company decided to modernise production in its kegging hall, installing three FANUC robots. To visually inspect the beer kegs, a FANUC R-2000iB robot connected to FANUC iRVision via the robot controller was deployed. Two FANUC M-410 robots were also installed at the end of the line to palletise the filled kegs. It has proved to be a reliable automation solution for the brewery, increasing output whilst also lowering palletising maintenance costs. In six years, no robotic faults have been reported.

In total, there are more than 50 automated production controls, starting with a visual inspection of the empty kegs, which are placed on the production line by a FANUC type R-2000iB robot.
Data is submitted to the robot from a camera located above the keg pallet supply line. Lifting two kegs simultaneously, the dexterous 5-axis robot presents the kegs to two additional cameras. One of the main inspection tasks is to verify that the plunger shank at the centre of the keg is working properly, meets the sterilisation standards and that the cap is raised for filling to commence. Rejects are automatically placed on a conveyor and transported back to the cleaning station.

At the end of the line, when the kegs have been filled, labelled and checked one last time, two FANUC M-410 robots are standing by to palletise them. Designed specifically for heavy-duty palletising tasks, these robots have a payload of up to 700kg; so can easily handle a standard size filled European beer keg.

Assistant master brewer Koen Van de Velde notes “The collaboration with FANUC has been excellent. The robots are an essential factor in the performance of the line as a whole. Operational since 2010, we have not had any problems to date with robot faults”