By October 20, 2017 Read More →

Automation can soften the impact of a hard Brexit

171020_Brilopak_1Brillopak director David Jahn has highlighted the potential crisis farmers, produce and soft fruit packers and meat packhouses face with a hard Brexit and how automated case loading can help to counteract the loss of EU seasonal labour and curb rising costs.

Between May to September each year, more than 28,000 EU workers come to the UK to harvest, process, grade and pack soft fruit alone. A recent report by British Summer Fruits reports that with wages representing a significant portion of the costs for packhouses, retail prices for items like strawberries and raspberries could rise by over 30%, squeezing profit margins further.

At the same time, the UK meat trade employs some 44% of its workforce from EU countries, according to the report released by the Office of National Statistics in July 2017.

“Improving packing productivity and economic output per hour will be central to boosting efficiency and offsetting fresh produce price rises,” notes Jahn. “With packhouses grappling with this imminent EU labour crisis, combined with rising minimum wages, many Brillopak customers are seriously exploring automated case loading systems.”

To demonstrate the agility that packhouses can realise, Brillopak’s Unipick P160 high speed case and crate packer has been specifically designed for tray seal punnets, flow wrap and vertical form fill seal products, including soft fruits, top fruits, root vegetables and meat products, the machine marks a step change in automation performance.

The P160 not only packs at high speeds, averaging over 100 packs per minute, the two three-axis robot spider arms individually place each pack one by one gently into a retail crate. Highly dexterous, with a reach of 1130mm, this gentle handling helps to prevent bruising and damage to delicate and perishable fruit and vegetables, which contributes to the 100,000 tonnes of avoidable manufacturing UK food waste each year. Or, for the meat packing industry, the gentle handling helps prevent delicate meat packaging from being pierced. This in turn stops meat spoiling, which contributes to the 160,000 tonnes of avoidable UK manufacturing meat, poultry and fish waste each year.

171020_Brillopak_2“Traditionally, to achieve high speeds like this in case loading, machines pick layers or rows of product,” explains Jahn. “However, this can lead to fruit punnets and flow wrapped fresh items like meat being dropped, which requires human intervention and interruption to the packing line, plus leads to significant waste which impacts profits.”

For many products, single pack picking is the safest and fastest way to meet retailer specified case loading patterns and deliver good presentation, notes Jahn.

Brillopak’s P160 system incorporates two Omron three-arm Delta robots, both with quick release end-of-arm robot heads for different product types. These enable packhouses to extend their traditional seasonal work windows to year-round packing operations and flex quickly to multiple product types and sizes, resulting in a quicker return on investment.

For food factories and packhouses tight on space, the machine’s compact footprint, 3.2 metres by 1.5 metres, makes it an estimated 15% smaller than any other dual robot layer-based automated handling system currently on the market. And the end of line packing system can be integrated with a Brillopak crate destacker and palletiser for increased efficiency.

To a large extent, packing into cases remains a manual task, making the UK’s over-dependence on seasonal EU labour a worry. Thankfully, high-speed technology like the P160 case loader, makes automation financially viable, even for seasonal and SME packhouses.

“Depending on the application, ROI for the P160 can be between one and three years. By delivering consistent presentation on all types of punnets, flow wrap and vertical form fill seal products, packhouses can seek out and exploit new business opportunities,” concludes Jahn.

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