Keeping up with demand for 750 different kinds of pasta products can be challenging, especially when you're relying on manual processes to load pallets and fill orders. That used to be the case at Italpasta's Brampton, Ontario, production facility. "Packaging was the bottleneck of our plant," recalls Riccardo Bordignon, plant manager.
Italpasta is the leading pasta brand in Ontario. Its products are distributed throughout Canada as well as parts of the United States. The company's eight production lines and 24 packaging lines turn out a wide variety of pasta products in the three-shift operation.
In the past, workers had to manually palletize each carton as it came off a production line. The work was both tedious and physically demanding. "After lifting 20-pound cases, the workers were quite tired at the end of their shifts," notes Bordignon.
Along with the ergonomic concerns, the setup created some safety risks. The manual palletizing took place in a confined area with forklifts traveling in and out to pick up completed loads. "We wanted to ensure we had the safest environment while maximizing the limited space we had available," says Laura Dal Bo, marketing manager.
After noodling on the problem, Italpasta contacted Schaefer Systems to design a separate palletizing operation that would be located away from the production lines. Most of the process now takes place in a separate building connected by a tunnel. As a side benefit, the move freed up the space formerly used for palletizing for new production.
Now, cases are automatically weighed, sealed, and labeled as they come off the lines. They then merge onto a single conveyor, which whisks them through the tunnel to the adjacent building for palletizing and staging. Upon arrival in the other building, cases pass through a sorter that has wheels that rotate to redirect the cartons down eight accumulation lanes. These lanes feed four automated palletizing units.
Conveyors feed the cartons into the palletizers, where rollers reorient them into a layer arrangement determined by the management software. Each pattern is based on the product and how it will best stack on a pallet. (Each pallet contains only one stock-keeping unit.) Once all cartons for a layer are gathered, that layer is automatically pushed onto the pallet.
Once the pallet is complete, the load is automatically stretch-wrapped and labeled. Production varies by season, but 30,000 to 60,000 cases per day run through the palletizing systems.
Now that the automated systems are in place, packing operations are finally able to keep up with production. The systems have also eliminated congestion, improved ergonomic conditions for Italpasta's workers, and reduced labor requirements. "Instead of having eight people and a forklift operator on each shift working on palletizing, we now just have one person per shift handling the entire palletizing operation," says Bordignon.