Willingness to invest in future yields big dividends with 76% return on investment in first year.

Robotic Palletizers Paint a Picture of Efficiency

Contributed by | Intelligrated

The Company

Beginning in 1946 with a single manufacturing facility in San Carlos, California, Kelly-Moore Paints™ has grown to the largest employee-owned, and the 5th largest paint company, in the United States. Supporting over 165 local stores, Kelly-Moore is “the painter’s paint store,” providing high-quality paint and related products to contractors, commercial and maintenance accounts, and do-it-yourself consumers.  Today, the company maintains two facilities - in California and Texas - manufacturing and distributing nearly 15 million gallons of paint per year.  State-of-the-art on-site laboratories ensure quality control and produce some of the most technologically advanced paint products available, including their eCoat Recycled and Zero-VOC Enviro Coat and Green Coat lines.

The Challenge

When Plant Manager Keith Hussinger joined Kelly-Moore at their San Carlos, California headquarters four years ago, one thing was clear; Kelly-Moore’s manufacturing process had not kept pace with the advances in the company's product lines.
As an employee-owned company, Kelly-Moore has a strong focus on the safety and ergonomic issues concerning their employees; however, hand palletizing of products weighing up to 70 pounds and production flow inefficiencies pointed to some obvious areas needing improvement. Even with a vacuum assist, the manual lifting was an issue of worker comfort as well as production efficiency.
The building selected to receive the upgrades would soon begin production of Kelly-Moore’s most advanced – and most technically difficult – product lines. These lines typically have smaller runs with a higher SKU change rate, demanding flexibility in both the production and the handling of product. At this point, the Kelly-Moore team, led by Hussinger, actively set out to find a material handling partner who could meet the company’s needs.

Once the buckets are filled and sealed, they are conveyed via 15 feet of Accuglide zero-pressure accumulation conveyor.


Finding a Palletizing Solution Partner

Visiting the FKI Logistex® (now Intelligrated®) booth at PACK EXPO in 2008, Hussinger was impressed with the knowledge of the company’s end-of-line material handling integration team as well as the capabilities available, particularly the single-source responsibility for system design, fabrication, installation, commissioning and local customer support. Taking bids from several integrators and independent palletizing companies, Kelly-Moore chose Intelligrated and its line of Alvey® robotic palletizers based on the company’s reputation, 60 years of palletizing experience, breadth of product and integration capabilities. “What we found with Intelligrated was exactly what we wanted: a complete, turnkey installation with the experienced team to support it,” said Hussinger. “The challenges that we knew we faced – and, maybe more importantly, the ones we did not know about - were pretty significant. We needed a partner that could work with us to engineer a solution that fit our needs in a scalable way.”

Intelligrated rose to the challenge. A design team, with specialists in conventional, robotic and hybrid palletizing manufacturing and integration, was assigned to the Kelly-Moore project and led by Intelligrated’s Director of Robotics Integration, Bill Natsch. The Alvey robotic palletizing system would be built, assembled and tested in St. Louis and installed by Intelligrated’s local Los Angeles-based technicians.

End-of-arm tooling from Intelligrated, lifting five-gallon pails in groups of three to the build station, contains a custom-designed ring within the vacuum plenum to prevent the flow of air from pulling out a tinting port.

An Engineered Solution

With strict space limitations in the building, the Intelligrated team set out to design the most compact solution for the building’s manufacturing processes.  Building columns set in the middle of the room made fitting the palletizing cells a tight squeeze with only inches to spare. The system designers wanted to ensure that Kelly-Moore would not have to make any structural changes to the building to accommodate its final design.

The Kelly-Moore manufacturing process revolves around four lines: two lines handling smaller, conventional gallon and quart paint cans; and the other two handling larger, five gallon pails. It was decided that two robotic arms would meet the palletizing rates that Kelly-Moore required. In this case, the Alvey robotic palletizing system used robotic arms sourced from long-time partner Motoman. “It’s the end-of-arm tooling and system controls that we add that really customizes the solution to fit the need,” explained Natsch.
Unwrapped trays of quart or gallon paint cans presented an early challenge for the end-of-arm tool designers. The solution demanded a tool that could pick up configurations of 2x2 gallon and 3x3 quart paint can patterns, and their respective loose cardboard trays. Intelligrated decided that the best solution for this particular product was an additional vacuum arm specifically for the cardboard tray. Working with Tepro Machine & Pac System and its line of Unigripper® lifting tools, the final design lifts the cans and secures the tray with a separate pivoting vacuum arm that descends as product is moved to the pallet.

The five-gallon pails posed their own engineering challenge. A two-inch diameter tinting port on each lid that allowed customers to tint the paint in the store could not withstand a vacuum. The solution was end-of-arm tooling that would be designed and manufactured by Intelligrated with a custom-designed ring within the vacuum plenum to block the flow of air from pulling out this port. The pails would then be lifted three-at-a-time and palletized in a nested configuration.

Key Benefits: Zero Pressure Accumulation and Line Changeovers Without Delay or Retooling

Once the pails are filled and sealed, they are conveyed via 15 feet of Accuglide™ zero pressure accumulation conveyor. Zero pressure accumulation is critical with a circular product, like paint cans or pails, where any line pressure would be concentrated at the point of contact between adjacent pails and product backs up could create a jam or push the pails off of the conveyor. The heavier five-gallon lines are equipped with escapements to position the product in a precise location to allow the robot to pick them up in groups of three.
Based on Kelly-Moore’s original specifications, the system design did not call for the Alvey robotic palletizer to handle pallets. However, Intelligrated determined that the robot could handle the empty pallet placement at the build positions without significantly impacting the speed of production. This design change alone saved Kelly-Moore $25,000.
Both robotic arms repeatedly pick and place cans or pails from the infeed conveyors and stack them sequentially on the waiting pallets. Multiple layers are built on the pallet until the pallet load is complete.  Once a pallet is complete, it is conveyed on Intelligrated chain driven live roller pallet conveyor to an wrapper new Lantech® stretch wrapper supplied by Intelligrated. “Before, we were securing our pail pallets with rope,” said Hussinger. “The wrapper is a much more forward-thinking piece of equipment, and speaks to the sort of wide range of integration technologies Intelligrated can bring to the table.”
As with all robotic projects, Intelligrated completed a factory acceptance test (FAT) for the Kelly-Moore project at its St. Louis, MO engineering and manufacturing facility.  During the FAT, all robotic functions, including pallet handling and product palletizing for both the trays and pails, were completed.  Project management, installation as well as startup and commissioning services for the project were executed by the Intelligrated western regional office based in Sacramento, CA.  

Key to this system was the ability of the Alvey robotic palletizer to accommodate quick line changeovers. This flexibility proved invaluable shortly after installation, when a large Kelly-Moore customer requested a custom run of three-gallon pails. Although they had the same footprint as the five-gallon product, the new pails were several inches shorter. Intelligrated handled the request with a straightforward pattern addition, avoiding the typical retooling required for a conventional end-of-line installation.

Results: 76% Return on Investment in First Year and 80% Reduction in Changeover Time

The system was installed and delivered on time and on budget during Kelly-Moore’s off-peak season in January and February 2009. Over the next year, the improved San Carlos facility experienced impressive results.
“In only one year, we have had an incredible 76 percent ROI in our labor time,” said Hussinger. “We were able to cut out almost all overtime, but still fill our orders. Without a doubt, this project has exceeded our expectations in both efficiency and numbers. Additionally, our main goal of increasing worker comfort and safety was met, as the number of our lost-time accidents decreased rapidly after the upgrades, from 23 in 2005 to five in 2009.”
The automated end-of-line system has enabled the line to run at an even pace throughout the day, as the breaks required by heavy lifting from the old manual palletizing system were eliminated. Line changeovers, which took 45 minutes of downtime with the old system, today take only nine minutes. This represents an 80 percent reduction in line changeover time.

Saving $25,000 - The original system design did not call for the Alvey robotic palletizer to handle the pallets. However, once the Intelligrated team looked at the rates that Kelly-Moore required, they determined that the robot could handle the empty pallet placement at the build position without significantly impacting the speed of production. This design change saved Kelly-Moore $25,000.
“The transformation has been incredible. What was the most outdated of our buildings has quickly become our state-of-the-art gem,” said Hussinger. “This is the building that we showcase to our clients. The Alvey robotic system lends a forward-looking element that we believe reflects our vision of where we are going with our product lines – clean, efficient and technically advanced.”

Continuous Improvement, Improving the Earth

Kelly-Moore Paint’s San Carlos headquarters is a carbon-neutral, certified green business and recipient of the 2010 Green Large Business of the Year Award*. “Our products are engineered with a ‘continuous improvement’ mentality – and we have put that to work in the manufacturing process as well,” said Keith Hussinger, plant manager for Kelly-Moore Paints. “We knew that we had the corporate support to invigorate and update our manufacturing process.”
Leading 100,000 California companies, Kelly-Moore was selected by the Green Business Committee in 2009 for its series of recycling and improvement programs that diverted 80 percent of its waste and for its ability to motivate employees to commit to its recycling effort, a rare achievement for a company in the chemical-based paint industry. Kelly-Moore was also recognized for its carbon offset program resulting in the San Carlos plant being carbon neutral.

“Our employees can see the benefits of the Alvey robotic palletizer,” said Hussinger. “It makes them more willing to participate in some of our other initiatives; it proves that we’re not just talking about change. Winning awards like the “Large Green Business of the Year” is a result of our hard work, our willingness to invest in the future and our commitment to continuous improvement.”

* 2010 Large Green Business Award is hosted by the San Carlos Chamber of Commerce

Kelly-Moore System Overview

System Overview:
Intelligrated Alvey® robotic palletizing system integrating Motoman EPL-160 robotic arms
Intelligrated Accuglide™ accumulation conveyor
Intelligrated pallet dispenser
Intelligrated chain-driven live roller pallet conveyor
Intelligrated pallet transfers


Robotic Arms:

Vacuum Tooling:
Tepro Machine & Pac Systems

Pallet Dispenser:

Stretch Wrapper:

Controls & Programming Software:

System Design:

System Integration:


(from left to right) Project Manager Tim Lasko, Intelligrated; Maintenance Manager Brendan Ingraham, Kelly-Moore; Plant Manager Keith Hussinger, Kelly-Moore


About Intelligrated

Intelligrated is a leading North American-owned, single-point provider of automated material handling solutions with operations in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Headquartered in Cincinnati, Intelligrated designs, manufactures and installs complete material handling automation solutions, including conveyor systems, IntelliSort® sortation systems, Alvey® palletizers and robotics, Real Time Solutions® order fulfillment systems, warehouse control software and advanced machine control—all supported by 24x7 Customer Service and Support.

Serving the warehousing, distribution, consumer product manufacturing, postal and parcel markets, Intelligrated collaborates closely with its clients to develop productivity solutions and responds to their needs throughout the life of their material handling systems.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of RoboticsTomorrow

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