Our client, a large whisky distillery in Scotland, wanted to automate the rejuvenation of its whisky casks when the wood becomes exhausted. Rejuvenation consists of dismantling the cask, shaving the internal wood, and then re-charring the barrel before reassembling it to be reused for future whisky maturation.
The dismantling of the casks involves removing the hoops and the ends, but because of the variable nature of wooden barrels, this process has traditionally been carried out manually by a master cooper since the 1800s. We have developed a way to automate the process using advanced robotics.
Rejuvenating whisky casks manually is slow and labour intensive, making it both inefficient and expensive. With 22 million barrels currently in use in Scotland and doubtless many more being repaired, rejuvenated and awaiting filling with whisky being able to automate a manual part of the process could exponentially increase efficiency and reduce costs.
Solution & Benefit:
Our bespoke automation project was split into three cells that fed onto two output conveyor lines. Each cell houses an ABB IRB6700 robot. The cask is brought into the robotic cell and collected by the robot.
The 60kg cask is gripped using a bespoke Geku-designed, servo-controlled end of arm tooling. In addition, the EOAT has built-in intelligence that measures the height and width of the cask during collection.
The cask is placed onto a ‘stave expander’. This was designed by Geku to evenly open the staves on the barrel whilst removing the cask end. Next, the cask end is conveyed out of the cell and onto an overhead conveyor system. RFID technology reunites the cask end with the cask at the end of the rejuvenation process. Once the first cask end has been removed, the robot then reorientates the barrel and presents for the second end to be removed.
The robot will then take the cask to another machine named a ‘hoop hardener’ for the quarter hoops to be placed back on the cask. The metal hoops are pressed on tight using hydraulic rams. This is required for the cask to withstand the shaving/charring process further down the line.
The robot then transfers the cask to an outfeed conveyor system and onto the next rejuvenation process.
ABB robot studio software was used to virtually simulate the robot cells pre-manufacture.
Watch the video below to see how the ABB IRB6700 robot disassembles the barrels in preparation for rejuvenation.