“Picking of sensitive fruit and vegetables is the hallmark of intralogistics. This is very challenging for the personnel as well as for depalletizing and subsequent palletizing on the retail-outlet-mix pallets with highly differing types of containers. This is why our automated picking modules offer a true alternative to the arduous, manual picking methods used in the past for the highly varying types of fruit and vegetable containers at distribution centers. The produce pallets delivered by producers need to be picked directly to form mixed pallets optimized for each specific retail outlet. A solution is required to automatically depalletize the highly differing containers received, arrange them in the proper sequence and palletize them for the specific retail outlet without intermediate storage in shuttle or other buffer storage facilities. Moreover it should be simple to integrate this solution into existing buildings and structures,”
explained Mr. Lothar Käufler, Head of Development at Stöcklin Logistics, regarding the motivation and challenge for development of the new Stöcklin CasePicker solution.
The objective: Scalable - More precise - Modular
At distribution centers the primary load for manual picking is between 8 pm and 5 am and continues even on Sundays and holidays. Per shift, one employee lifts up to 8,000 kg at a height of up to 2 m. For example, one single container/case (e.g. with melons) can weigh up to 25 kg. Lifting, carrying and strenuous bending, as well as many night shifts puts high stress on the health of the employees. This results in high fluctuation, a shortage of experienced personnel and increasing wage costs, which is further exacerbated by the pandemic.
Additionally, the characteristics and quality of the fruit and vegetable pallets delivered to the distribution center differ highly: from returnable containers such as nesting or folding plastic boxes to wooden or cardboard disposable containers; everything is delivered on pallets containing only one type.
Cases are delivered with open or closed lids and frequently filled to a very high degree, bulgy or wet cardboard bottoms and additional foil or paper inserts.
Until recently these highly differing types of containers were a major impediment for automated depalletization and subsequent direct palletization on pallets for each specific retail outlet.
For this reason, conventional automated picking systems depalletized the entire pallet and separated the contents on trays in one initial step. These separated items were then stored in a buffer storage facility. On request these items were retrieved in sequence and placed on a pallet for the specific retail outlet.
This required picking up each container multiple times, transferring it to another device and intermediate steps such as storage in a shuttle storage facility.
The newly developed Stöcklin CasePicker solution, presented for the first time at the LogiMAT 2022, offers a completely automated solution for distribution centers for 100 to 300 retail outlets, with freshness zones from 4°C to 14°C and up to 135,000 cases/day for fruit and vegetables.
Different returnable and disposable containers with a basic format of 400 x 600 mm or 400 x 300 mm are automatically depalletized and stacked in any desired mixture directly in front of the produce pallet where they are put into proper sequence and palletized according to the order/retail outlet, so that intermediate storage of the case in shuttle storage or buffers is no longer necessary.
In keeping with Stöcklin policy, this new solution is completely modular and scalable. Depending on the required performance, individual Stöcklin CasePicker solutions can be upgraded by adding new modules and used in combination with proven Stöcklin equipment such as the automated guided vehicle (AGV) Eagle-Ant picking and conveying equipment. In addition, the modules are simple to integrate into existing buildings and structures as well as capable of docking with existing systems.
Gentle transport of cargo
The new Stöcklin CasePicker depalletizer with intelligent control is a primary constituent and the heart of the system. The unique new special gripper solution with suction strip and underride plate ensures gentle and reliable case picking. The produce cases are transported gently, ensuring that they are not set down too hard on the conveyor belt. This is particularly important for sensitive fruit and vegetables which could be bruised if set down too hard or too quickly. In addition, this innovative special gripper solution allows highly differing returnable and disposable containers to be picked immediately one after another for the first time.
High speed: From produce pallet directly to retail-outlet-mix pallet
After scanning in at the I-point, the Eagle-Ant moves the produce pallet to the specified depalletizing station; the Stöcklin CasePicker depalletizer removes only the number of cases required for the specified retail outlet order directly from the produce pallet. Tracks between the produce pallet aisles allow the Stöcklin CasePicker depalletizer to move to the proper produce pallet. The AGV’s also provide for replenishment of the produce pallets.
The depalletized cases then travel via the stacker and lift to the Stöcklin CasePicker sequencer and palletizer. Here these are distributed on the tracks so that at the CasePicker sequencer exit they are fed to the Stöcklin CasePicker palletizer in the correct sequence. Each retail outlet pallet is packed intelligently for gentle handling (heavy items such as melons at the bottom, light items, such as strawberries at the top) according to the requirement-based product assortment structure at the retail outlet. After final filling and securing the retail-outlet pallets are staged. The Stöcklin CasePicker logOS CPS software provides for intelligent control.
Sustainable energy efficiency and optimization potential
The Stöcklin CasePicker solution ensures that only the required goods are picked directly from the produce pallet for the retail-outlet pallet which prevents unnecessary movement. In addition, the system speed depends on the order volume. This process optimization and variable utilization uses only a fraction of the energy in comparison to conventional solutions.
Furthermore, the automation provides a high optimization potential. The process reliability achieved in this manner guarantees high picking quality with a reduced error quota of 99+, as well as maximum product quality. This results in significantly fewer erroneous shipments to the retail outlets.
The precise, intelligent stacking ensures stably packed pallets mixed according to the requirements of the retail outlets without damage to the cases or goods.
The number of workplaces can be reduced by two thirds. The remaining personnel experience a considerable improvement in the quality of their workplace as well as a significantly healthier working environment. This system therefore provides a truly employee-friendly alternative to the prior system of strenuous manual picking.
“Automatic picking is now possible for fruit and vegetables packaged in highly differing disposable and returnable containers in one single processing cycle without changing devices, from the produce pallet to requirement-based retail-outlet-mix pallet. Buffer storage facilities can be permanently eliminated. The newly developed special gripper solution ensures gentle and secure removal which provides a truly employee-friendly alternative to the prior system of strenuous manual picking of the container. For the first time highly differing returnable and disposable containers can be picked immediately one after another. Moreover the Stöcklin CasePicker solution is completely scalable and ensures simple modular integration into existing distribution centers. We have already received a few inquiries from large LEH retailers in Switzerland and Germany, who want to implement these into their regional distribution centers. With that being said, we are presently starting to roll out this newly developed solution.
We believe this sustainable and cost-reducing automation solution offers a great deal of potential for the entire retail branch. The Stöcklin CasePicker solution can even be operated under conditions where manual picking is not suitable (e.g. oxygen-reduced low temperature),”
continued Lothar Käufler, Development Manager at Stöcklin Logistics, describing the advantages and estimated market potential of the CasePicker solution which he developed himself.