Let’s meat again
Complexity and volume no longer a challenge for Debaenst
Growth often means added complexity. Especially if you want to distinguish yourself with better or faster customer service. Meat processing company Debaenst located in Mouscron decided to automate its production process and is now fully prepared for the future.
Until a couple of years ago, Debaenst was able to perform all its storage and processing activities by hand. But as the proportion of supermarkets in its customer base grew, this resulted in a dramatic increase in complexity for its meat pre-packaging processes. The volumes it had to produce increased steadily, too.
Kurt Debaenst, Business Manager: ‘We started thinking about automation when we noticed our expansion and the added complexity this brought with it were starting to affect our efficiency levels. Initially we just wanted an automatic system for storing our cuts of meat that needed to go to the portioning room, and intrion proved to be the perfect partner to develop this for us.’
Sophisticated control for maximum performance
The principle behind the iCollector, which is what the system is called, is quite simple. The solution consists of a racking system with movable arms for storing and delivering boxes. It can accommodate seven boxes in a row behind each other, which results in lots of storage capacity in a very limited area: 1,500 crates in 290m³. That was a very important requirement for this concept. Wim Vermeir, Sales Engineer at intrion, explains: ‘When a box is slid into the system on one side, another box automatically comes out the other. And the great thing is that you can put boxes in and take them out o both sides. Good control is of course essential to getting the maximum performance out of a system like this, so we designed and set it up within intrion.’
When the cuts of fresh, vacuum-packed meat are needed in the portioning room, the iCollector automatically retrieves the right boxes according to the production order. Dozens of butchers then cut the meat in the portioning room before it is packaged in sealed trays. The experiences with the initial automation were so positive that the idea of automatically buffering the trays soon followed.
Small runs, customized labels, different prices per branch – we like these little “specialities”, especially now that our system can manage them all.
(Kurt Debaenst, Business Manager)
1,800 trays per hour, with personalised labelling
This was right up intrion’s street, too. Once the meat has been vacuum-packed and sealed in its trays, a robot automatically places those on a larger tray, product by product. They’re then taken to a second iCollector on a conveyor belt, where they’re placed in one of the system’s locations. The intrion software looks up if larger trays are needed to supply the required number of trays per order and automatically retrieves them in the right order from the iCollector. Two robots then pick the exact number from the larger trays at a top speed of 1,800 trays per hour. Half-empty picked larger trays are returned back to the iCollector, and the smaller trays are placed on a conveyor belt the right way round to go to the labelling machine. intrion uses this machine to stick the labels on each individual tray, with the customer name and all the necessary details taken from the ERP system. The price, which can differ per customer branch, can also be printed if required.
Benefits on various fronts
This second iCollector separates the production process from the shipping process. ‘This buffer allows us to start portioning based on the predicted amounts required. ‘At the moment when the customer effectively places the order, we only need to make whatever there is a shortage of and integrate it in the order process,’ explains CEO Alain Monteyne. ‘This means we can ultimately deliver faster and more flexibly than before, because we used to start portioning earlier in the process. And if the retailers want, we even sort the products per branch so they can easily cross-dock the goods in their central depot.’
More profiling as service provider
‘Three years ago we had maybe 60 SKUs; now there are around 500,’ adds Kurt Debaenst. ‘In recent years, for example, we’ve included a lot more breeds of cattle in our range of products. This gives our customer more choice, and we can process all their requests very efficiently. The automation also allows us to profile ourselves more as a service provider. Small runs, customized labels, different prices per branch – we like these little “specialities”, especially now that our system can manage them all.’
These days we’re delivering around 80,000 to 100,000 trays every week. And if Debaenst wants, there’s enough room to add another identical iCollector next to the existing one in the future. Welcome growth, welcome complexity.
Since Debaenst was founded 68 years ago, it has grown over three generations from being a small butcher’s into a fully-fledged meat processing company. In 2000, the company started selling cuts of meat as well as whole carcasses. Two years later, it also started providing pre-packaged meat products with customised labels for customers. This trend has only increased. Lots of fresh preparations based on raw meat, such as gyros, roulades and brochettes, have been added more recently. Debaenst now has around 45 employees.