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Smart Motion shows off egg-stacking machine

Rob Winner –
A robotic palletizer simulates stacking cartons of eggs after collecting them from a conveyor belt during an open house at Smart Motion Robotics, Inc. in Sycamore, Ill., Thursday, July 25, 2013.
Rob Winner – A robotic palletizer simulates stacking cartons of eggs after collecting them from a conveyor belt during an open house at Smart Motion Robotics, Inc. in Sycamore, Ill., Thursday, July 25, 2013.

SYCAMORE – Lifting and stacking eggs wasn’t what Scott Gilmore originally thought his robotics company would excel at. 

The CEO of Smart Motion Robotics Inc. said the company got into the egg processing business by accident but now have more than 150 robotic machines gently and efficiently organizing hundreds of pounds of eggs in the United States and South America. 

“A large part of our market is eggs,” Gilmore said. “It’s an industry where chickens lay eggs seven days a week and someone has to gather them and pack them.” 

On Thursday at the Sycamore company’s headquarters, they demonstrated their latest robotic creation, the SmartStacker. The large, yellow robotic arm is connected to a conveyor system that allows it to lift and palletize seven products at once. 

Gilmore said no other machine system has ever been able to palletize more than four and this machine takes up less space and costs less than any other system. 

“You can take a system that used to cost a million dollars and took up about 2,500 square feet to do seven products … and do that in 1,000 square feet with less than half a million dollars,” Gilmore said. 

Because eggs are heavy and delicate, human workers can break them and create spoilage if they try to stack them by hand over a long period of time. With the SmartStacker, 90 percent of spoilage that happens with stacking eggs is eliminated, Gilmore said. 

At the demonstration Thursday, the SmartStacker picked up four boxes weighing 25 pounds each and stacked them on a pallet after they were sorted by the seven-lane conveyor system. The stainless steel conveyor system was manufactured by DDS Conveyor Inc., based in Las Vegas. The bar code on each box is scanned before heading into the conveyor system.  

Gilmore said palletizing has been identified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as one of the most strenuous forms of labor performed in a modern factory because it involves heavy lifting and turning. 

“By palletizing automatically, you eliminate all that labor,” he said. 

But that doesn’t necessarily mean jobs are eliminated. Douglas Jones, president of Smart Motion Robotics Inc., said a common misconception about robotics is that they eliminate jobs. Instead, robotics create more jobs by driving down the costs of production, he said. 

“What you do is make the company more profitable,” Jones said. “They expand and they hire more workers.” 

The SmartStacker is operated by touch screen and can be operated by workers without college degrees, Gilmore said. The system also is safe for workers, as anyone who gets near it will pass through a beam of light that automatically shuts it down. 

The company has already sold four of the Smart Stacker systems and the system demonstrated Thursday was scheduled to be shipped to Pearl Valley Eggs in Pearl City. 

More than 30 people at Smart Motion Robotics Inc. were involved with the creation of the Smart Stacker, among other machinery the company produces, Gilmore said.

Many of them are engineering interns from Northern Illinois University and the prospect of working with them was one of the reasons why the company moved their location from Gilberts to Sycamore.

“These kids that we get out of NIU for interns are slobbering to work here because they love robots,” Gilmore said. 

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