Martel Foods is a family-owned manufacturer of ready-to-eat (RTE) products based in Terrebonne, Quebec, Canada. It’s a division of The Martel Group, a ready-to-eat specialist and supply wholesaler. 

The manufacturer employs more than 100 workers in its 50,000-square-foot factory, using cutting-edge equipment and technology to produce a wide range of high-quality perishable products in packages that preserve freshness from seven days up to a month. 

The company was in need of a solution to ramp up the production of packaged sandwiches. As a long-time customer of Grote Company, they turned to the food processing equipment manufacturer to help automate this process.

Martel’s goal was to further automate the production line to reduce manual labor, freeing workers’ time to complete less mundane tasks and compensate for the lack of available skilled labor.

The project involved developing a robotic sandwich “lidding” solution. (Lidding is putting the top piece of bread on a sandwich). The equipment was designed in the UK by Grote’s robotics team, built at Grote’s facilities in the U.S. and the UK, and sold and serviced by Pemberton & Associates, Grote’s representative in Canada. 

The equipment includes a 3D vision system, a 4-axis Stäubli HE robot and custom end-of-arm tooling surrounded by guarding. It was built into Martel’s existing sandwich assembly line, which features Grote's Bread Denester and Ultrasonic Sandwich Cutter.

The Martel project marked the first robotics installation for Grote Company in North America. While the risk of potential issues with the installation was high, it was accomplished in one weekend. The new machinery was operational on Monday morning. Martel, Grote and Pemberton collaborated closely to ensure installation and training went as smoothly as possible.

The Results 

With the new equipment in place, the machine can now “lid” 52 sandwiches per minute. This increases production by nearly 50% and replaces one operator per shift.

“Martel increased productivity from 35 to 52 sandwiches a minute, while eliminating the personnel previously required for that task,” said Serge Martel, owner of Martel. “This allows us to assign other less mundane tasks to those employees.”

“The transition has gone very well,” said Martel. “It was a big success right from the beginning. There was excellent support during installation, followed by absolutely no problems in production.”

“The new equipment has helped Martel close the gap between full automation and manual labor. It works seamlessly with the rest of the Grote equipment on the line.”

Martel envisions using more robotic technology in the future. 

“We’re already looking ahead to the next opportunity.  There are currently two similar projects in the works. “We’re no longer relying on manual labor for a tedious task,” he said. “We know we’ll hit our rate consistently throughout a shift with no downtime or quality issues. This is the future, to become efficient and to compensate for the lack of trained employees.”