Brillopak Crate Destacker separates and feeds 960 crates an hour onto the line feeding the UniPaker

To help two Morrisons packing plants overcome production bottlenecks, Brillopak has installed four Crate DeStakers at the start of four robotic pick and place case packing cells. However, the real benefit is the difference the machines have made to workforce health and safety and job satisfaction, reports Rushden’s site manager Andy Day.

Upstream, Brillopak Crate DeStakers have put a stop to operatives repeatedly overstretching to lift, separate and place clean retail baskets in a constant stream onto conveyors for filling.

Both Rushden and Gadbrook fresh produce depots supplying Morrisons’ customers nationwide recently invested in four state-of-the-art UniPacker Robotic Pick and Place Cells for packing vertical form fill and seal potato bags into standard sized 600mmx400mm crates. Having automated their packing lines, both sites needed assurance that the supply of crates to the robotic cells would be fast enough to not cause a backlog or result in labour being relocated to such a strenuous and repetitive task.

According to the Health & Safety Executive, the moving of awkward heavy loads is one of the key causes of manual handling musculoskeletal injuries and work-related upper limb disorders (WRULDs). Chronic back pain resulting from repetitive or awkward lifting accounts for around 35% of cases of occupational ill health in food and drink manufacturing[1]. The Brillopak crate separation and palletising systems are designed to address these issues by removing one of the most labour intensive tasks in case packing.


Addressing processing pain points

Prior to the automated lines going in, operatives at Morrisons loaded crates manually onto the conveyor. Once filled, another colleague would hoist and stack the heavy filled trays onto pallets. With more than 720 pallets passing through each facility daily, unloading the two-metre high stacks, separating, filling and then palletising the crates was physically demanding work.

Now, all movement of the empty and filled crates is done using robotics. Automating every part of the process from crate separation to palletising has resulted in 90% of the physical labour being taken off the line at Rushden. Additionally, absence levels are noticeably lower observes site manager Andy Day.

Empty crates are automatically fed onto each packing line via a low belt conveyor. The crate destacker lifts up a whole stack while simultaneously pulling down the bottom crates. This motion ejects two crates at a time in a consistent line out onto the main conveyor track to the robotic potato case loading station.

Each Brillopak Crate DeStaker unit can separate up to 480 crates every half an hour. Operatives then manoeuvre another pallet of washed and empty crate stacks into position on the infeed conveyor, so the process can continue.

Designed to feed multiple lines, another Morrisons site – Thrapston – has Brillopak Crate DeStakers in place supplying empty crates to 17 packing lines.

“The benefit to health and safety and workforce wellbeing is evident,” reports Rushden machine operative Dave. “The machine just does it for you. As a result, absence levels are significantly lower. And because people are rotated around different packing and warehouse tasks, the team seems a lot more cohesive.”

Site manager Andy agrees. “It’s a much calmer processing environment. Because the process is so streamlined, it feels less chaotic. Empty and filled crates are stacked in an orderly way, with clearly defined work and storage areas. Staff rotate around different jobs. This has increased team morale. Plus, they are not being constantly exposed to repetitive tasks, which is much better for occupational health.”

Brillopak Crate DeStakers and palletising stackers are modular by design, making it easier for packhouses to integrate with existing automated lines.

Morrisons’ orderly workspace with fewer health and safety risks Stacks of crates accumulate automatically entering the destacker

References: 1