Beginning in 1946 with a single manufacturing facility in San Carlos, CA, Kelly-Moore Paints™ has grown to become the largest employee-owned—and the 5th largest paint company—in the United States.

Supporting over 165 local stores, Kelly-Moore is “the painter’s paint store,” providing high-quality paint and related products to contractors, commercial and maintenance accounts, and do-it-yourself consumers. Today, the company maintains two facilities—in California and Texas—manufacturing and distributing nearly 15 million gallons of paint per year.

When Plant Manager Keith Hussinger joined Kelly-Moore at its San Carlos, CA headquarters four years ago, one thing was clear: Kelly-Moore’s manufacturing process had not kept pace with the advances in the company’s product lines. As an employee-owned company, Kelly-Moore has a strong focus on the safety and ergonomic issues concerning its employees. However, hand palletizing of products weighing up to 70 pounds and production flow inefficiencies pointed to some obvious areas needing improvement. Even with a vacuum assist, the manual lifting was an issue of worker comfort as well as production efficiency.

The building selected to receive upgrades would soon begin production of Kelly-Moore’s most advanced—and most technically difficult—product lines. These lines typically have smaller runs with a higher SKU change rate, demanding flexibility in both the production and the handling of product. At this point, the Kelly-Moore team, led by Hussinger, actively set out to find a material handling partner who could meet the company’s needs.

Taking bids from several integrators and independent palletizing companies, Kelly-Moore chose Intelligrated and its line of Alvey® robotic palletizers.

With strict space limitations in the building, the Intelligrated team set out to design the most compact solution for the building’s manufacturing processes. The Kelly-Moore manufacturing process revolves around four lines: two lines handling smaller, conventional gallon and quart paint cans; and the other two handling larger, five gallon pails. Building columns set in the middle of the room made fitting the palletizing cells a tight squeeze with only inches to spare. The system designers wanted to ensure that Kelly-Moore would not have to make any structural changes to the building to accommodate its final design.

It was decided that two robotic arms would meet the palletizing rates that Kelly-Moore required. In this case, the Alvey robotic palletizing system used robotic arms sourced from long-time partner Motoman. “It’s the end-of-arm tooling and system controls that we add that really customizes the solution to fit the need,” explains Intelligrated’s Director of Robotics Integration, Bill Natsch.

Unwrapped trays of quart or gallon paint cans presented an early challenge for the end-of-arm tool designers. The solution demanded a tool that could pick up configurations of 2x2 gallon and 3x3 quart paint can patterns, and their respective loose cardboard trays. Intelligrated decided that the best solution for this particular product was an end-of-arm tool with an additional vacuum arm specifically for the cardboard tray. Working with Tepro Machine & Pac System and its line of Unigripper® lifting tools, the final design lifts the cans and secures the tray with a separate pivoting vacuum arm that descends as product is moved to the pallet.

The five-gallon pails posed their own engineering challenge. A two-inch diameter tinting port on each lid that allowed customers to tint the paint in the store could not withstand a vacuum. The solution was end-of-arm tooling that would be designed and manufactured by Intelligrated with a custom-designed ring within the vacuum plenum to prevent the flow of air from pulling out this port. The pails would then be lifted three-at-a-time and palletized in a nested configuration.

Once the pails are filled and sealed, they are conveyed via 15 feet of Accuglide™ zero-pressure accumulation conveyor. Zero-pressure accumulation is critical with a circular product, like paint cans or pails, where any line pressure would be concentrated at the point of contact between adjacent pails and product back-ups could create a jam or push the pails off of the conveyor. The heavier five-gallon lines are equipped with escapements to position the product in a precise location to allow the robot to pick them up in groups of three.

Based on Kelly-Moore’s original specifications, the system design did not call for the Alvey robotic palletizer to handle pallets. However, Intelligrated determined that the robot could handle the empty pallet placement at the build positions without significantly impacting the speed of production. This design change alone saved Kelly-Moore $25,000. Both robotic arms repeatedly pick and place cans or pails from the infeed conveyors and stack them sequentially on the waiting pallets. Multiple layers are built on the pallet until the pallet load is complete. Once a pallet is complete, it is conveyed on an Intelligrated chain driven live roller pallet conveyor to a new Lantech® stretch wrapper supplied by Intelligrated. “Before, we were securing our pail pallets with rope,” says Hussinger. “The wrapper is a much more forward-thinking piece of equipment, and speaks to the wide range of integration technologies Intelligrated can bring to the table.”

The system was installed and delivered on time and on budget during Kelly-Moore’s off-peak season. Over the next year, the improved San Carlos facility experienced impressive results. “In only one year, we have had an incredible 76 percent ROI in our labor time,” says Hussinger. “We were able to cut out almost all overtime, but still fill our orders.”