One of the largest meat-processing plants in Germany operates three shifts a day, seven days a week year-round to process and pack 12 separate ready-to-sell and fresh meat products. Its annual production capacity totals more than 4.7 million trays carrying a total of 2.35 million kg (5.18 million lb) of product.
The plant wanted to optimize its back end to improve palletizing and carton-labeling efficiency. Many of the processes in this area required intensive manual labor performed by workers cramped into tight spaces. A distance of 150 m (492 ft) between the palletizing and storage areas necessitated the use of trucks to transport pallets, which presented safety and security concerns. Other challenges arose due to pusher arms in the area, which required a great deal of maintenance and often caused boxes to flip or become damaged. Though the plant was able to minimize these issues by placing additional workers in the area, the overall line capacity was limited.
The plant had several goals for its back-end optimization project. In addition to overcoming the aforementioned challenges, it wanted to increase throughput to 128 pallets per hour; implement paperless labeling to reduce waste and labor; shrink its equipment footprint; and reduce downtime, manual labor, and maintenance intervals. Continuing to ensure high product quality, process accuracy, and traceability within the product chain were crucial.
The plant turned to Helmers Maschinenbau (Helmers), a German equipment manufacturer that specializes in designing conveyance, palletizing, and packaging systems. Helmers partnered with Intralox to incorporate Intralox’s ARB technology and modular plastic belting into its project proposal. Helmers has been licensed by Intralox to use ARB since 2004; this longstanding relationship has been beneficial for both companies.
Intralox created a 3-D simulation of the proposed solution, which helped Helmers finalize the layout by mitigating the risk of system bugs or failures without incurring the costs or additional time needed to build test loops.
The Helmers/Intralox solution targeted four separate areas:
1. Area #1: Infeed of stacked cartons to trunk line
a. Previous Technology: Manual stacking and transportation
b. New Solution: Multiple (35) elevators feeding trunk line equipped with ARB technology
2. Area #2: Outfeed of stacks from trunk line
a. Previous Technology: Manual/truck transport
b. New Solution: Intralox MPB
3. Area #3: Infeed to / Outfeed from buffer area
a. Previous Technology: Pusher arms and manual labor
b. New Solution: Multiple ARB solutions (Passive On and Off) with Intralox MPB on accumulation lines
4. Area #4: Transport through automatic labeling area
a. Previous Technology: Manual workers
b. New Solution: ARB 4500 belt combined with steel rollers
Over one year since it was fully implemented, the ARB solution has met all of the plant’s goals while also enabling many improvements that were not possible with the pusher-arm technology or manual labor. Automation of the line has increased speed (compared to manual labor) and throughput. The new solution requires very little maintenance compared to the pusher arms.
The ARB system’s gentle handling ensures that the carton stacks, which are four boxes high, remain stable and fully aligned while being transported. The smoothness of the system enables consistent labeling, making the cartons easier to track, while also allowing the plant to hang multiple lines from the ceiling and double the amount of space it can use for production.
The cost savings the project has generated have been especially impressive. By reducing its manpower needs, the plant has realized annual savings of approximately €1.8 million ($2 million US). That, combined with the roughly €1 million ($1.15 million US) saved by replacing sticker labels with inkjet-print labeling, means the plant saves a total of nearly €2.8 million ($3.2 million US) every year.
“While the cost savings are certainly excellent,” notes Helmers Manager Director Mr. Hubertus Lübbert zur Lage, “we’re most pleased about the reliability and performance improvements that the ARB technology brought to our customer.”