Biscuits and cookies are universally popular and the global market outlook is promising. Global trends like health and well-being on the one hand and indulgence (to make oneself feel better) on the other hand force biscuit manufacturers to shorter innovation cycles and as a result, increased process complexity. Efficient material handling solutions and intelligent automation are becoming prerequisites for success, as illustrated in the case of a leading Dutch cookie manufacturer.
One of the reasons why people have always liked biscuits—a word derived from the Latin “biscoctus,” or “twice baked”—is that they fit a variety of occasions and lifestyles. As a treat after a hard day of work or study, as an everyday habit together with a cup of tea or coffee or simply as nourishment to subdue hunger when our busy lives make us skip meals. The global cookie market is growing and competition between large, multi-national players and local manufacturers in each region is fierce. Price pressure requires biscuit manufacturers to implement lean and efficient processes and invest in intelligent automation solutions.
Product customization requires flexible systems
For a leading industrial cookie producer in the Netherlands, the strategic focus has always been on the optimization of both the products and the production processes. For more than 80 years, the company has produced an ever-growing variety of high-quality cookies, which are sold to consumers worldwide. Despite the worldwide supply of high volumes, the company retains a high level of flexibility, as entry into a new market frequently requires product customization in terms of recipe, size, weight and/or packaging.
The vast range of biscuits and cookies that the company offers has one requirement in common: They are all delicate, fragile and perishable products that need delicate handling and protective packaging to guard against breakage and loss of freshness and flavor. Production machines and especially material handling equipment and associated software packages need to enable operators to carry out fast changeovers and reduce errors while minimizing the risk of product damage.
On the road to large-scale automation in intralogistics
To maintain its competitiveness and lay the foundation for future growth, this cookie manufacturer has, over the course of years, made significant investments in intelligent material handling solutions. The Dutch automation company Technisch Buro West-Brabant (TBWB) was selected as primary automation partner many years ago and since then has delivered a number of turnkey projects based on its customer’s cookie handling needs. TBWB is a renowned player in the Netherlands and Germany for automation of manufacturing plants and logistics centers with over 400 successfully implemented projects.
The challenge: automation of palletizing operations
In early 2015, TBWB was asked to work out an automation concept for its customer’s palletizing operations, which were mainly performed manually and caused a bottleneck for shipping operations. A great variety of biscuit boxes coming out of more than 10 production lines needed to be processed faster: the palletizing capacity should be increased to 3,000 boxes per hour. Because the tight project timing and the complexity that TBWB, as responsible system integrator, had to deal with, TBWB CEO Bart Friederichs had to rely on trusted project partners:
For TBWB, the main goal in each project is to deliver a turnkey system for our customer. It must work according to their specifications, no matter what. To keep this promise towards our customer, we need project partners we can rely on.
Modular conveyors and an intelligent conveyor system
The project required a great number of roller conveyors along with automatic palletizers and vertical lifts, which were supplied by another trusted partner, the Dutch company Qimarox, leading manufacturer of palletizers and vertical conveyors. TBWB integrated all products into the existing factory infrastructure, taking care of PLC controls, electrical wiring, user interfaces and ERP connectivity. For the transportation of biscuit boxes from the different production lines to the palletizers, TBWB implemented Interroll’s latest generation of conveyor modules. The industry-leading DC roller conveyors were not only extremely easy to install but also brought the advantage of ongoing energy savings for TBWB’s customer, due to the decentralized, zone-driven conveying concept. For inclines and declines, Interroll belt conveyors were used. From the controls side, the new MultiControl allowed fast and easy setup and smooth integration with the PLC.
A sweet success
TBWB installed this large, turnkey system within the given timeframe and resolved the key customer problem: increase of overall capacity while maintaining product quality. Due to the fragility of the biscuits, the conveying task was critical: “Avoiding product damages during the packaging operations was of critical importance. This is why the transportation of the boxes needed to be extremely gentle but at the same time really fast. At TBWB we’re proud to put the Rolling On Interroll label on our systems.” concludes Bart Friederichs.