An innovative robotic packaging line at snackfoods manufacturer Smith’s has improved everything from product presentation, storage, transport to environmental impacts, and earned the company an award.
The packaging line at Smith’s Tingalpa production site in Brisbane was named the Best of the Best in this year’s Mercury Awards, also garnering the company the Best Manufacturer award.
The company’s space efficient multi-pack (SEMP) project was designed to create clear production differentiation in an increasingly crowded multi-pack market segment, as well as to cut manufacturing and supply chain costs.
While the multi-pack concept has become a strong family favourite in Australia, the large volume of conventionally packaged multi-packs made them expensive to handle and transport. Their bulky nature also meant they also required better strategies to optimise limited shelf space in retail outlets.
Smith’s national project engineering manager, Steve Reilly said the SEMP project was “one of those rare projects that not only achieved the goals of the marketing, engineering and manufacturing departments, it also managed to deliver a wide range of supply chain benefits.”
The collaborative project brought together technology partners including Germany’s Schubert for the robotic packing line, France’s Cermix for case packers and local suppliers Visy and Dematic for packaging and materials handing systems respectively.
Packing the individual inners in a cardboard carton instead of a large plastic bag has reduced the volume of the finished goods by about 30 per cent, which enabled the company to store 30 per cent more product in the same space while delivering a similar reduction in handling and transport costs.
The upgrade has doubled throughput capacity at the Brisbane site and removed up to 350 tonnes per annum of non-recyclable plastic wrap from landfill.
Working with Dematic – challenges and rewards
The SEMP robotic packing line comprises ten robotic packing stations, each with two robot arms fitted with gentle vacuum gripping attachments that enable them to precisely place individual packs into cartons in a pre-determined location.
The accuracy with which the packs are placed means the volume in the carton is used very effectively, delivering significant handling and transport cost savings.
Supporting the new robotic packaging line is a Dematic conveyor system that interlinks various processes and fulfils the role of removing empty work-in-progress (WIP) boxes containing bulk quantities of inners from the packaging line and returns them to the packing plant’s interface with upstream production.
Dematic had to install the WIP conveyor system within the sensitive packing environment without the need for any ‘hot work’ such as welding and grinding. Every connection in the system that would have normally been welded was converted during design into a bolted connection.
The installation was completed within six weeks, with the system commencing production this January.
A key challenge in designing the new conveyor system was to proof-test the design by computer simulation to prove the conveyor could remove and return the empty WIP boxes for reuse at the required throughput rates.
Mr Reilly said Dematic’s simulation gave the company confidence in design options.
“The fact that we could see in real-time how the whole system would operate was very reassuring for the project team,” he said.
“This was also the first time we had worked with Dematic and we were impressed by their performance at all stages of the project, particularly during installation, which had to occur while the plant was still fully operational.”