Case Study - Craft Beer Robotic palletizer

The Customer:

North Coast Brewing Company is a successful craft brewer in northern California. As their website says:

A pioneer in the Craft Beer movement, North Coast Brewing Company opened in 1988 as a local brewpub in the historic town of Fort Bragg, located on California’s Mendocino Coast.

North Coast Brewing Company is also a leader in philanthropy and sustainability. In addition to being a Certified B Corp and Benefit Corporation, the brewery is proud to be TRUE Platinum Zero Waste Certified, offer 14 Non-GMO Project Verified beers, and spearhead an innovative carbon farming project to reverse its carbon footprint and advance the science of carbon sequestration in agriculture.

In consultation with North Coast, Opus Automation designed and manufactured a single robot 1-IN, 2-OUT cell utilizing an ABB IRB4600 robot. Like many small growing businesses, space in the brewery is at a premium so a key requirement in determining the cell layout was minimizing space, both footprint and overhead clearance.

The drive to automate in this environment came mainly from the need to improve the health and safety of the workforce. Maintaining production while handling beer cases is demanding on human operators. It was becoming difficult for North Coast to recruit and maintain a motivated workforce who could consistently deliver the quality needed in such a physically demanding job.


  • Floorspace: The area designated for the cell is bounded by the pillars of an overhead mezzanine.
  • Height: The mezzanine created a hard ceiling. That combined with the need to build full pallet loads of 72" created a challenge for the robot selection and tooling design.
  • Conveying: The conveyor to bring the cases into the robot cell would need to navigate a u-turn around the mezzanine pillars and buffer cases to allow for production flow changes.
  • Case Sizes: The system must have the capability to handle a variety of case sizes with little to no manual changeover required.
  • Access: One of the main design goals was to keep the robot palletizing during full pallet removal.


  • Opus analyzed the spatial requirements for the cell and determined that a long-reach 6-axis robot would be the right choice for this cell. With the height allowance so tight, the extra linkages in most small palletizing robots could become an issue. The need to build six-foot high pallets meant that the robot needed to be mounted on a pedestal, but the height was critical. The use of off-line simulation, planning and programming software proved invaluable in development of this cell.
  • Unload access during robot operation required some very tight safety design. The cell was divided internally into three zones using light-curtains and as long as the robot kept clear of the zone where a reload was happening, it could remain active.
  • Human activity in front of the robot cell is tight and busy. Roll-up doors were used to maintain safe separation of the operators from any hazards while keeping the robot always active.
  • The pallet frames were designed to allow three empty pallets to be loaded at once so that three finished loads could be removed before reloading dunnage.
  • Multiple pack sizes required flexible product alignment at the pickup.
  • A custom vacuum gripper enables the robot to acquire and transport all sizes of cases reliably and without damage.


  • Reduced lost-time injuries and repetitive strain problems affecting the operation.
  • Minimizing floor space needs.
  • Click here to see a video featuring this robot workcell




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