Pack Expo 2016

Universal Robots and GNE Farm Equipment take the collaborative approach to robotic dairy farming

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Collaborative robots used by GNE were on display at Pack Expo in Chicago.
Collaborative robots used by GNE were on display at Pack Expo in Chicago.

Related tags Milk Robot

Robotic dairies are on the rise, and GNE Farm Equipment has taken the trend one step further by developing an application that uses Universal Robots’ (UR) collaborative robots (cobots) to further reduce the labor costs of milking cows.

The cobot automates the labor intensive process of manually disinfecting cows’ udders before and after being milked, and the company says it offers dramatic improvements over traditional robotic approaches.

Cutting down manual labor

UR’s collaborative robots eliminate “the three Ds” ​workers endure during the various stages of manufacturing.

“The dull, the dirty, and the dangerous jobs,”​ UR sales development manager, Travis Langford, told DairyReporter at Pack Expo in Chicago earlier this month.

Langford added, “And dangerous can mean sitting or standing for long periods of time, standing with two arms, anything straining,” ​like milking cows.

In the case of the GNE application, the work process has been streamlined using the UR robot.

“The role and the purpose of our robot is to replace workers, saving labor, being more reliable. What we use the robots for is for pre-applications (i.e. before milking sanitation) and post applications (after milking the cow),”​ owner and head developer Gerard Niessink told DairyReporter.

“Normally you would have three people working on that and now you have cut that down to one.”

Cobots: ‘Drastic departure from the traditional’

A typical cow milking and udder sanitization process requires a camera and spray system powered by an industrial robot that is floor mounted and surrounded by safety cage. The drawback to industrial robots is that installation is expensive and they need to be bolted down to the floor, and professional programming and training is needed for employees using the system.

In contrast, the collaborative robot is moved in place by a small pallet jack, taking up the same amount or less space than a milker. The system includes on-board storage for the robot computer, disinfectant storage tank, pumps, valves, and controls. It requires a 120-volt hookup and can be plugged into any available outlet.

Training workers to use the complicated software of an industrial robot often require outside specialists that have to come in and teach personnel, as well as fix mechanical or software issues. With a collaborative robot the process is much simpler.

“You can learn the system in about 20 minutes and you can teach it someone in 20 to 25 minutes, so we don’t have to send them away to a specialist who can train them,”​ Niessenk said.

“In other words, we don’t have to hire anybody.”

Inherent safety benefits

Another benefit of using a collaborative robot, according to UR, is safety. The UR robots do not require any safety caging and all of the cobots are equipped with a force sensing ability, meaning they can detect human movement and stop working if necessary.

“If the robot senses anything more than expected, it will stop,”​ Langford said.  

Additionally, the UR robot is easy for the dairy farmer to program using the touchscreen point-and-click application and simply moving the robot arm to the desired positions, unlike industrial robots that require technical training to learn the proprietary software programming to operate the machine. 

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