Keywords: Automation, FIBC packing, robotics, single-loop bags, fertiliser logistics.
The fertiliser industry has always had a strategic importance for national economies in that it is fundamental to the food supply. Transportation, handling and storage of fertilisers has usually required packing of the products. During the 1980s there was a revolution within the fertiliser packaging. The logistic advantages with the recently introduced packaging type, FIBC (Flexible Intermediate Bulk Container) or the so called ‘big-bag’, had a big impact in the fertiliser market at the expense of small sacks. In the beginning 1990s filling into big-bags had become a very common packing method and a Finnish fertiliser manufacturer wanted to develop a new approach to fertiliser handling. The big-bag itself was already an advanced form of packaging but the general view was that the optimal result from the packing operation hadn’t yet been achieved. In the manually operated systems of that time disadvantages were obvious. The manual operation caused the workers physical problems and fertiliser dust posed difficulties even when the personal protective equipment were used. The rapidly increasing demand for big-bags also required shift work resulting in increases in the number of packing personnel.
This initiated the project that led to the automatic big bag packing system.
The automatic packaging of intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) was first considered by GrowHow in 1993. However, at that time they had reservations about the potential reliability and performance of the machinery. Ten years on (in 2003) the situation was very different; by then the manufacturer had progressively developed the machine and nine were then in operation. Performance reports were very good.
GrowHow made the decision to install two Erkomat machines and to install a robot to maximise the efficiency of direct loading of packages onto large goods vehicles as well as to improve line offtake efficiency.
The project was carried out in three phases and completed over an 18 month period which ended in early 2008.
The overall project has resulted in very significant labour fixed cost savings as well as yielding ergonomic and environmental benefits for the packaging operators.
Pertti Rosenström, Erkomat Oy, Kotka Finland.
Stefan Ahlberg, Thrace Polybulk, Köping, Sweden.
Ed Sharp, GrowHow UK Limited, Ince, Chester UK.
24 pages, 16 figures.