Palletizing Solutions for the Food Market

The customer, a company with 100 years of history behind it, is one of the major players in the Food market in Mexico and throughout the South American continent, with a presence in Chile as well.

In the Kantar 2020 report Brand Footprint en Latinoamérica y en México, the customer’s brand is ranked among the 10 preferred brands of Mexicans. The company’s score reveals a high approval rating with a penetration of 94.7%. This means that more than 90% of Mexican households have at home at least one product from this world leader.

In recent years, the company has acquired new plants in Minnesota and Arizona, ensuing a direct presence on the American market.

The company distributes to a total of more than 40 countries worldwide.

Long-lasting partnerships for food solutions

The customer relationship with Clevertech Group dates back to the early ‘90s with the supply of lid handling systems. In fact, the company not only produces food but also the packaging used for its products. The partnership has been consolidated over time thanks to the success of the systems installed in the Mexican plant.

Verticalised business model for edible oil production

The company’s verticalised business model led to a recent request for a new project by Clevertech. The challenge was to automate the palletising of a production line for shaped and empty PET bottles to be subsequently filled with edible oils.

The customer not only fills the PET bottles but also produces the primary packaging. For this purpose, it installed in its plant in Mexico a stretch blow moulding machine capable of producing three formats of PET bottles: a 500 ml bottle and two 1-liter formats. The line reaches a production speed of 300 bottles/min.

The decision not to transfer the empty bottles to the filling lines but to create an intermediate stock has important strategic implications. In fact, this choice allows for greater flexibility in the use of the various formats. The most suitable format is moved to the production line only at the right time, depending on the needs dictated by the market. Flexibility is an important element in a worldwide business in the Food industry, for a company that manages a variety of formats and serves very different markets.

The palletizing system: small spaces and unstable product

As in every project, Clevertech carried out an analysis of the existing machinery in the plant and its geography to identify the critical aspects to be considered in the development of the layout.

First of all, the initial design of the plant did not envisage an intermediate storage of the bottles, but was set up so that the bottles were sent directly to the filling line. For this reason, an ad hoc space was not foreseen. The limited spaces thus required a palletising system with a compact layout.

food bottling

Secondly, the PET bottle has a very small footprint and is therefore an unstable product that is difficult to palletise. An appropriate palletising technology had to be adopted for a product with poor stability.

Designing, building, installing

The Clevertech team defined as the best solution using a single-column palletiser with a flap gripping system capable of picking up the rows of empty bottles by taking them by the neck. This system is very flexible because it is independent from the shape of the bottle body.

A transfer system enables gentle transport of the bottles from the bottle production line to the pre-formation zone of the palletiser, where the pallet pattern is created.

The configuration is completed by an independent system for positioning the interlayers and frames. Finally, the buffer conveyor transports the finished pallets to the storage area.

Palletising for food: the advantages of the system

The installation of the system achieved the goal also thanks to the analysis and study that always accompanies Clevertech’s integrated design process.

In this case, the advantages of the system can be delineated in six main points:

  • The compact layout, achieved thanks to the modular platform design. This made it possible to build in limited spaces a layout with high performance in terms of material flow and operator accessibility.
  • Very fast format change system, thanks to the technology with bottle pick-up from the neck and pre-forming in rows.
  • Possibility to expand the layout design in the future. Additional systems for strapping, wrapping and automatic labelling of the pallets, which are not currently envisaged, can be added in the future.
  • Preserving the printing of the bottles via a vacuum conveying system. The bottle conveying system starting from the outfeed of the stretch blow moulder up to the pre-forming area of the palletiser is a vacuum conveyor with a modular plastic chain with holes. The use of vacuum generators makes it possible to keep the bottles adhered to the conveyor in a stable manner, thus preventing them from falling over. The system also makes it possible to vary the intensity of the vacuum according to the need for stability. For example, a high vacuum was applied in the interface points between the conveyors and the stretch blow moulder, since the junction was critical. These choices made it possible to ensure that the bottle and the printing of the logo on it were not damaged.
  • Palletising precision. Achieved through the use of a dynamic divider to convey the product from a single row to a multiple row. This allows the pallet to be created at an extremely low speed, and therefore with great precision. The squaring of the pallet is therefore optimal.
  • Clean design. The design of the conveyor belts took into account the factor of cleanliness, which is crucial in the food industry. The design was developed to facilitate cleaning operations and prevent dust deposits.