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Faster, more precise, less expensive – under this premise, Stöcklin Logistik AG has developed a solution for automatic picking of fruit and vegetables. The automatic system guides both single-use and reusable containers from item pallets to shop pallets in just one process cycle and without any equipment change.

Handling fresh goods such as fruit and vegetables is laborious, and is also subject to strict time restrictions. Products must be transferred from suppliers to distributors as quickly as possible. In this area, reusable plastic containers, folding boxes, (IFCO, EPS) and predominately, single-use cardboard containers are used. In view of the comparatively narrow range of around 300 to 600 different items, automated order picking systems are rarely used in this segment. It was also not worthwhile to invest in complex system solutions such as those found in the retail sector.

Innovation performance as demanded by the market

»Nevertheless, the automation of order picking is an urgent concern for many producers and operators of distribution centers,« says Lothar Käufler, Head of Development in the Equipment division at Stöcklin Logistik AG. »Our teams of experts were therefore called upon to implement new concepts that are simple in design, contain only a few serial sub-steps, and remove previously existing barriers to automation, such as open and different container types. The space requirement also had to be reduced significantly and the investment had to be affordable for customers.«

Varying requirements covered by one system

The new picking system presented at LogiMAT 2020 meets these demands. From now on, all common packs can be automated, depalletized, transported, and palletized in any mix for the first time without changing equipment. Multiple gripping is completely eliminated; as are any further process steps, such as separate destacking and separating or handling of trays, which are required, for example, when a shuttle warehouse is interposed. Thanks to its simplified structures, the picking solution is also much more cost-effective than conventional systems and can be integrated into existing logistics sites with minimal adaptation effort.

Selective retrieval and direct continuation

The picking system is designed for handling fruit and vegetables with the basic pack sizes of 400x600 mm and 400x300 mm. With minimal variation, it can also be used for meat and milk products. Items pallets received via the I-point are temporarily buffered in shelves. A depalletizer, which is also newly developed, removes the intended number of packs which are then transported further directly and individually on removal belts. The opened item pallet remains in place until the next container removal. Technical property rights are pending for the intelligently controlled depalletizer, which is an essential component of the system.

Pre-stacking, sequencing, and palletizing

Gentle handling is ensured during depalletizing. This is particularly relevant for single-use containers with centering tabs, which are used again when stacking similar containers in order to form stable, shop-specific mixed pallets. Pre-stacking is carried out directly after depalletizing. Without any delay, the goods are forwarded to the sequencer upstream of the palletizing station, which ensures a correct palletizing sequence. The three-axis gantry robot was equipped with a universal gripper that securely grips all types of packs including pack towers and places them precisely on the shop pallets. These are subsequently wrapped and labeled. For customers with a large number of identical products on a shop pallet, the possibility of forming negative pallets and feeding them directly to the palletizer was created in parallel.

Future-proof core technologies

»Thanks to the straightforward system layout, practically all container types can be processed fully automatically in a comparatively small area, within a very short time,« summarizes Lothar Käufler. »The new picking system for fresh goods is designed redundantly and, thanks to the latest transport technologies, simultaneously ensures that the packaging and load carriers can be passed through without any damage.«

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