Go-Go, Gadget Arm: Automation solutions for moving a new product to market.

A Robotic Workcell Case Study

Moving a New Product to Market with a Robotic Workcell

Vestcom helps retailers maximize the shelf edge as it serves more than 70 percent of retail food, drug and mass merchants in the U.S. It identified an opportunity to reduce labor costs for hanging shelf tags for weekly retail price change activities.

The challenge was Vestcom’s innovative new product could not be produced in volume without automating production facilities at sites strategically located throughout the U.S. Unfortunately, Vestcom had difficulty finding an automation solutions partner. That is, until they called us.

The Problem: In Need of a Flexible System

Vestcom specializes in digital printing for the nation’s leading retailers, and guarantees that it will meet retailers’ schedules, so error-proof production processes are essential. For a new product, it required a flexible system that would allow tooling changes as many as six times in each 10-hour shift to print tags on-demand. The solution needed to work with Vestcom’s existing production lines, including retrofitting a bar code scanner to an existing laminator system. Not only were speed and accuracy critical in producing the labels, but Vestcom also required a quick installation process.

Vestcom provides custom-printed material with a one-to-five-day lead-time from order to delivery. Because the product is one-off and delivered in a highly specific sequence, any damaged product represents a significant cost in material and time.

The Solution: A Robotic Work Cell

Concept Systems provided a single robotic workcell solution for each of the production lines to pick preprinted labels and stack them on discharge conveyors. A FANUC delta robot, modified with shorter arms for higher speeds, and fitted with a custom designed high speed vacuum pick head, was used for the pick-and-place process to separate the preprinted labels. The robot controller was seamlessly integrated into the existing laminator control system; the production robot communicates with EthernetIP to a Point IO block and the laminator that feeds the system sheet, and screens were added to the existing HMI.

Moving fast, very fast

Vestcom developed a prototype of a new product that its clients were eager to buy. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the required automation to produce it. We collaborated with Vestcom to develop an automation solution using a complex system incorporating components from some of our top vendors, including a FANUC delta robot, Rockwell Automation controls and SICK safety sensing devices. We quickly developed prototype tooling for proof of concept, and then designed, built and demonstrated the first robot workcell within four months. Installation was complete within six months.

Product and system development on parallel paths

The customer’s product development and our system development had to be completed in parallel on an extremely aggressive timeline. We installed 30 production-ready robotic work cell systems across eight sites on time, and met the customer’s production requirements and quality expectations. Although some rework was required because of the fast pace, we were aware of this situation going into the project and managed it as part of the overall scope. Additionally, Vestcom adjusted some product requirements based on client feedback; these changes were incorporated into the work cells during the rollout.

The Results

Once our team arrived on-site, the prototype system was up and running within 48 hours. Dozens of additional lines were rolled across numerous production facilities in the US over the next 15 months. Our automation results produced bottom line results for Vestcom, which underscores the priority we place on our clients’ business success.

It’s rare that any job is the same. Now, each run can have a specific size, shape, layout and dimensions, and run at low or high volumes. Additionally, with extremely flexible production equipment, Vestcom can process on-off orders with just-in-time manufacturing.

We helped our client take an innovative, game-changing product to a niche market, and in the process provided tremendous value for its customers.

Vestcom entrusted Concept to design, build and install custom robotic manufacturing systems for a brand new product. Concept’s design prowess, controls expertise and project management methodology quickly moved the project from idea to prototype validation to full rollout in less than 12 months. These efforts resulted in the nationwide installation of dozens of robotic cells across eight production facilities, enabling Vestcom to successfully provide our clients with an industry-leading new product.” 

– Scott Aten



Project Details

Project Duration

The first system was operating in six month, with dozens of systems installed over 15 months.


Client: 2 engineers

Concept Systems: 3 engineers

Technology Used

FANUC M-2iA/6H robot.

Custom-engineered, high-speed vacuum pick head.

SICK barcode scanners and vision sensors.