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Robotics Industry News

Vacuum Layer Gripping System SPZ Forklift from Schmalz Boosts Efficiency at Develey

Schmalz, Inc.

Develey Senf & Feinkost GmbH is currently a hive of activity. June to September is gherkin season and up to ten production lines are running in parallel at the Pfarrkirchen plant in Lower Bavaria. Each day between 200 and 250 tons of cucumbers are processed to make pickled gherkins, which then have to be palletized and shipped. For the past year, Develey has been using the vacuum layer gripping system SPZ Forklift from J. Schmalz GmbH together with a pallet truck to carefully handle the jars. This method has enabled the gourmet food specialist to optimize its material flow and make work stations more ergonomic.

Johann Conrad Develey founded his mustard factory in 1845 in a small shop in Kaufingerstraße in Munich. He started out producing French-style mustards, then in 1854, he invented sweet mustard – the initial spark for an exceptional business success. Today, in addition to a diverse range of mustards and preserves, the international traditional company also produces barbecue and dipping sauces, a variety of dressings as well as ketchups.

During the peak gherkin season from June to September, up to 130 employees work at the Pfarrkirchen plant. At present, the plant produces solely pickled gherkins but out of season, it also produces other pickles in jars or cans, such as sweet peppers, silverskin onions, beetroot and mixed pickles. A large proportion of the cucumbers come from Lower Bavaria, the largest contiguous cucumber growing area in Europe. Around 10,000 jars per hour are filled on the production lines, equating to some 500,000 jars per day.

Upon delivery, the cucumbers are washed, sorted and poured into previously cleaned jars together with the appropriate dose of spice according to customer requirements. After being weighed, the jars are sealed with a lid, and the goods are vacuumed and pasteurized. The preserves are then labeled and transported by conveyor belt to the palletizer. Finally, the gherkins are taken either to the warehouse or directly to the shipping area

However, the production process can keep having to be disrupted for various reasons, in which case, the goods have to be temporarily removed from the process. Examples of such interruptions are when large volumes are being produced during the main season and the pressure on the packaging process at the end of the line needs to be relieved, or if a material flow component, such as the labeling machine fails. In such instances, jars are diverted to so-called accumulation tables, to prevent build ups in ongoing production.

Originally, the employees would take the jars from the accumulation tables and transfer them manually. Particularly during peak season, with a production rate of up to 10,000 jars per hour, this was a time-consuming, arduous and unhealthy undertaking. In addition to the jars of pickles, cans weighing up to ten kg had to be shifted, resulting in health problems affecting the entire neck and back area. To remedy the situation, Develey began using a magnetic plate that was attached to a machine and accommodated the layers of jars. In practice, however, this solution turned out to be too inflexible, slow and unreliable. The magnetic plate did not always hold the jars reliably, resulting in falling jars and waste.

Finally, Thomas Doriat, plant manager in Pfarrkirchen, turned to the vacuum specialist from Glatten when attending a trade fair. Doriat and Christian Kuss, a sales representative at Schmalz, held intensive discussions, analyzed the issues and sought a solution together with Robertino Saupp, project manager for vacuum gripping systems at Schmalz. The Schmalz experts recommended the ready-to-connect vacuum layer gripping system SPZ Forklift to the Develey specialist. The tried and tested solution is used in combination with a forklift or – as is the case at Develey – a pallet truck and is extremely flexible and mobile. The pallet truck can hold the compact system using a fastening element for fork arms. A locking system ensures it is securely fixed in place. This means that the SPZ Forklift can be used flexibly throughout the entire production hall. For handling cans and jars, the layer gripping system features a sealing plate made of flexible foam, which optimally adjusts to the shape of the product.

Now, when jars or cans end up on the accumulation table at Develey, they are initially guided into a template with the dimensions of the gripper. The gripper, which is attached to the pallet truck, then moves up to the accumulation table. The empty pallet is located under the accumulation table, while the gripper removes the first layer from the accumulation table. The pallet truck then moves backwards and the jars are placed on the pallet. One layer contains 144 jars weighing 1 kg each. The process is repeated until the pallet is full and can be temporarily stored. The pallet truck only moves forward and backward, as the accumulation table is the required height of around 1.6 meters and the truck can pass underneath. This was not previously possible as the table was lower. The pallet truck together with the SPZ Forklift had to complete additional steering movements for each lifting unit. Develey therefore adapted the overall height, thereby improving the process further. When it comes to returning products to the production line, the whole process takes place in reverse order: The pallet truck moves towards the accumulation table with the full pallet and the jars are returned to the production process layer by layer.

Since introducing the vacuum layer gripping system SPZ Forklift, processes have become considerably simpler at Develey. The system grips the layers securely and transports them quickly and flexibly to wherever they are required in the plant. The integrated valve technology allows fast lifting of the layers for short cycle times. The Schmalz solution can be used on different lifting tables. The SPZ Forklift is supplied with power by a connection line with an AC 400 V Cekon plug. “We are pleased that Schmalz was able to provide us with the right solution for our problem,” says Thomas Doriat.

The layer gripping system from Schmalz can also be put to good use in other areas at Develey. For example, the SPZ Forklift also assists with the final palettizing of empty jars. As well as jars and cans of pickles, the gourmet food specialist in Pfarrkirchen also produces many other specialties that can be handled quickly and safely using the solution from Schmalz. In addition to enhancements in the production process, the SPZ Forklift has also improved the quality of work for employees. The laborious and physically demanding task of moving the jars and cans manually is now a thing of the past. The solution implemented by Schmalz has not only made an impression on the company but also the local trade association. Develey has received a prevention award for active health management in the workplace.

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