When Associated Food Stores, Inc. (AFS), a major wholesale supermarket distributor, embarked on a plan to automate a portion of one of its warehouses, it chose material handling solutions provider Hoj Engineering and Sales Co. to provide and implement the case conveyor portion of the project. Hoj was charged with finding a solution that would allow a pallet ASRS to feed single SKU pallets to a robot that would de-layer full carton layers. The layers of cartons then needed to be singulated so that a label could be applied to each case before it was delivered to a downstream conveyor system. The cartons’ final destinations were mixed pallets going directly to the supermarkets and grocery stores served by AFS.
1) Descramble several hundred SKUs, an increasingly diverse range of package sizes and weights, and a myriad of packaging types.
2) Evenly space a wide array of package types in a very small space prior to the print & apply labeler.
Stan Witt, the Systems Sales Engineer for Hoj in charge of the AFS account, explains: “The bottom line is that [AFS] needed a descrambler that was extremely flexible, one that could handle virtually any box pattern and almost any box size. Pretty much any case they had, they wanted to descramble, and they wanted to do it quickly.” After the layer was singulated, each carton needed to be labeled. Witt says: “In a very short space we needed to gap the cases and then know exactly where the leading edge of each case was in enough time for the tamp head to come down and apply the label.”
Using Intralox’s patented Activated Roller Belt™ (ARB™) technology, Hoj supplied AFS with automated descrambling and singulation of its faster moving cartons.
The Intralox descrambler was selected as it can ably handle a large number of cases per layer, a high rate of layers per minute, complex layer patterns, and a wide variety of product types. It allows for variable speed and is capable of handling both AFS’s current and future needs.
Hoj also installed Intralox’s registration conveyor. It spaces cartons mechanically, so there is no need for the complex controls required with servo solutions. It provides a reliable, predictable location for the front edge of each carton to allow the label applicator to perform its function consistently.
These upgrades have allowed AFS to eliminate manual labor and product damage from depalletizing through the label application process, and has provided a blueprint for how to proceed with further automation.
The Intralox descrambler allows for variable speed, which is a necessity for AFS as the rate is determined by a downstream label applicator that can handle up to forty cases per minute and a robot that can deliver up to four layers per minute.
“The registration conveyor allowed us to quickly pull a gap in a short amount of space. Now we know where the leading edge of that case is going to be before it even gets to the label applicator, so we can trigger the tamp head with enough time to label each case consistently,” Witt reported, “This complete solution could be used in a myriad of applications. The biggest advantage, as I see it, is that it doesn’t require complex controls to make it extremely flexible.”
As a result of the success of the installations, AFS will be working with Hoj and Intralox on potential future phases of the project.