Sales nearly double over an 18-month period. Get potatoed!
“Our key asset is flexibility”
A brand-new automation system was brought into service last year by Warnez, the Tielt-based potato company. The vital artery of the entire system is a refrigerated warehouse buffer, which has given a huge boost to the company’s efficiency.
What have you actually automated?
Filip Warnez: “The entire process, from washing and sorting to packing and palletization. The packing lines we already had have been incorporated into the new installation”.
What was the key reason for switching to automation?
Filip: “We wanted to be able to operate much more efficiently, offer better working conditions to our staff and, first and foremost, provide our customers with a much more flexible service.
It is no longer a problem at all if these 20 pallets require 20 different types of potatoes.”
Brecht Verlae: “We can now achieve approximately 100 production runs a day. Our portfolio currently features 350 to 400 customer references. This could never have been managed without the automation process.”
“We can now achieve approximately 100 production runs a day”
Why did you opt for intrion?
Filip: “The Deprez automation company was in charge of the industrial systems for washing and sorting. One issue got us scratching our heads: it was planned that only one crane would be used to stack all the boxes. What if the crane were to break down? And then we stumbled across intrion. They came up with the idea of using different shuttles and lifts. If a shuttle breaks down, we still retain 75% of the capacity.”
What was the most challenging part of the project?
Filip: “The software-based control of all the box movements. We had high expectations, we had to be flexible, which means having a box in the right place at any time. That makes things very complicated”.
What benefits are you now seeing?
Filip: “We now find it a lot easier to cater to retailers’ requirements. The customer needs a specific kind of packaging, often involving just one pallet per type and delivered just-in-time. Everything has to be as fresh as possible.
A second benefit is the huge capacity boost. In spite of the automation, the staff have all kept their jobs, while the turnover has risen twofold. And that is attributable to the third benefit: seeing our modern system and the flexible delivery options, customers gain more confidence in what we can offer straight away.”
The four shuttles are a reflection of the importance of reliability. How is continuity guaranteed even better by this system?
Filip: “We have three departments that are able to operate independently of each other thanks to the warehouse buffer. For example, the packing activities start only at 8 o’clock, as our orders do not arrive before then. However, the washing facility and second inspection can already get underway at 6 o’clock and everything can be stored. Some boxes are sent directly for packing, while others are first of all routed to the refrigerated warehouse, and subsequently collected by a shuttle for a second inspection. Boxes are constantly crossing each other, fully automatically, according to the orders at the time.”
What do you find particularly memorable about working together with intrion?
Filip: “As per usual with a new automation system, the launch gave us quite a few teething problems. intrion was always ready to help solve them quickly. Day and night, during the week or at the weekend.”
Brecht: “It is a very ingenious system and you have to take the time to help think through the logic of the automation process. There was always someone who could be reached. If I were to telephone at 6 in the morning about a fault, they would start working on the problem straight away. It was important for me to know that I had not been placed on a waiting list.”
What does the future have in store?
Filip: “We are looking forwards to further strong growth, particularly for smaller packaging formats. We now have a microwave sachet containing 400g of unpeeled potatoes, ready in 6 minutes. People are inclined to buy different types in small bags. Our installation is fully equipped for this, thus making it easier to win over new customers. There is bound to be a demand for mixed pallets in the medium term. But we will first of all sit around the table with intrion to discuss renewing the final component in our packing lines.”
Since its foundation in 1951 , Warnez has developed into a respected player in the fresh potatoes sector. The company opted to specialise in growing, sorting and packing potatoes for the retail sector and the hospitality business. Warnez continues to be a family-run company under the leadership of Jan and Filip Warnez.
The product range consists entirely of ware potatoes. A large number of varieties is available in various packing sizes, ranging from 400g to 25kg.