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Destacking technology transforms retailer’s apple packing process

Destacking technology transforms retailer’s apple packing process

When one of the largest supermarket chains in the UK was looking to save costs and improve apple packing efficiency, it turned to destacking technology from Brillopak, a specialist in end of line automation for fresh food produce. Brillopak installed five apple packing lines at the retailer’s central distribution centre near Kettering. Serving over 500 stores nationwide, the centre has transformed its operation from a roundtable manual crate separation and loading method, to a high speed, optimised apple packing and palletising process.

Prior to the installation, three operatives loaded flow-wrapped apple packs into crates by hand. Loaded crates were then placed onto a main track conveyor system, which took them away for palletising. Bringing together four of Brillopak’s modular systems, each line comprises a crate lift unit and tray destacker, a semi-automated packing station, a bale arm closer, plus a dual crate stacker unit feeding out onto the main palletising conveyor line.

Empty crates are fed from two master crate destackers to each packing line, in stacks of three from the main track. A crate destacker on each line separates the crates and passes them through to a semi-automatic packer, which is ergonomically designed for maximum efficiency. Once the tray is packed it passes through a bale arm closer to check that the bale arm is closed, and then to a dual crate stacker, which places one crate on top of the other. The loaded stacks of crates are then presented back onto the main track conveyor for delivery to the palletiser. Crates are fed onto the main track system from by two high speed Brillopak C250 dual crate destackers. In addition to supplying the five new apple packing lines, the system also feed crates to 12 pre-existing fresh produce lines located in the same building. Each dual system can de-stack up to 18 crates per minute, which means the lines are fast, uncluttered and efficient.

The reliable overhead track system delivers a continuous stream of crates to the production line or crate wash system. The robust design and construction allows for continuous usage, reduces labour costs and reduces health and safety risks due to repetitive handling of crates.

At ground level, each line features five C130 Semi Automated packing stations. Rather than apples bumping around roundtables, which causes bruising and waste, operatives are fed product at the right height in the right orientation for them to pack at a consistent and optimum pace into crates.

“We have found that by removing the potential of distracting product accumulations which are commonplace when using roundtables, operatives pack at the fastest consistent speed, regardless of the number of product changeovers per shift,” says Brillopak director David Jahn. Empty crates are presented to the packing operative in the same orientation as the product, mitigating repetitive strain caused by twisting and turning.

The head of operations and product improvement at the distribution centre concurs: “I believe in running production lines at their optimum efficiency at the highest possible continuous speed without downtime. That is how real efficiency is achieved. I like the simplicity of the Brillopak machines as it means that they are both easy to use and less likely to go wrong.”

He adds: “Our new apple packing lines went live on time and on budget and have already achieved a step change in the quality of product that we deliver. This has been combined with a significant cost saving, which in turn makes us more competitive and helps us serve our supermarket customers better. We have been delighted with the installation and operation of the end of line solutions delivered by Brillopak. The design ensures that our lines do not suffer minor stops typically attributable to poor end of line solutions.”

Jahn concludes: “Apples are a mainstay fruit in the UK and we are picky about quality. By the time apples reach the case loading and palletising process, they have already been through a journey from the farm to sortation, grading and packaging. With presentation in supermarket crates being central to visual consumer appeal, it makes no commercial sense to jeopardise product quality at this last phase.”

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