Indispensable efficiency link between production and logistics

Belgium has a lot of exciting growth companies. But growing in our densely populated country is evidently not easy. Lack of space is often an issue. This was also the experience of Christeyns, a chemical company based on Afrikalaan in Ghent. It had an urgent need for more storage capacity. But there was none available on the existing site. Alain Roose, Supply Chain Director, explains.

Why was that increased capacity necessary?
Alain: “We are a fast-growing company. Our core business is still laundry hygiene, but our food hygiene division is strongly on the rise. Then there are also the other divisions, such as professional hygiene and oleochemicals, which are also in full development. To give you an idea: in 2005, our turnover amounted to € 50 million, but by 2013 it was € 220 million. We were increasingly running short of space. We have warehouses in Genk, France and Germany, but the logistics flow is not optimal. We wanted to make our distribution more centralised and, at the same time, create space for production.”

You still had a plot of land located on the opposite side of the Afrikalaan …
Alain: “The original plot was located diagonally opposite the existing site. The land directly opposite us belonged to the city of Ghent. They were willing to swap. Then we were able to start thinking about building a new distribution centre there. The initial discussions began in 2008. A thorough analysis was performed, and several proposals were reviewed. Eventually, it was intrion that came up with the most attractive proposal.”

Why did you want to automate?
Alain: “If we had only sold off the warehouses and transferred all the stock to the new distribution centre, that would not have been financially worthwhile. The fully automated conveyor system was decisive. It transports pallets directly to the other side, over the busy Afrikalaan via an air bridge. This allows us to take 15 to 20 trucks off the road every day. In addition, it created extra space at the production site, which meant we were also able to expand the production capacity. Currently, several new filling lines have already been installed.”

However, the air bridge was not the only challenge. There was also a different shift system …
Alain: “Indeed. At the production site, we often work three shifts. The distribution centre only has two shifts. We therefore had to find a way to store the night production automatically in a buffer. But the daytime production is also not always linear. The buffer is also often required during the day.”

Why did Christeyns choose intrion?
Alain: “For several reasons. We operate a very lean company. intrion devised a solution that matches that completely. The buffer warehouse, for example, is designed with such height that it takes up as little space as possible. It also contains hardly any motors or moving parts. There are automatic shuttles that move the pallets in and out. Another advantage: intrion, just like Christeyns, is a Belgian company that has a healthy entrepreneurial approach to business. Proximity also played a role, not only physically, but also in terms of listening to our needs and thinking with our same philosophy.”

Could you give us an example?
Alain: “Since the initial analysis and the final execution of the project, many things have evolved. intrion was flexible enough to be able to anticipate this. Therefore, in the course of the project, a solution was developed to give priority in the system to rush pallets. This allows us to respond quickly to customer demand.”

How did the collaboration go?
Alain: “In general, the collaboration was very good. intrion used its vast knowledge to give us exactly the solutions we needed. intrion also took care of the entire project management. As I said: Christeyns is a very lean organisation. As a result, we had no resources to spare to focus intensively on the project. In the beginning, there were regular interruptions, but that has all been resolved by now. We have many different products, and they must be placed on intact pallets in the correct way. There are several safety checks integrated into the system, and if a deviation is detected, the conveyor stops. This therefore also required an adjustment of our production employees to deal with the safety requirements of automation.”

Is the project now fully completed?
Alain: “Not quite yet. In the next phase, we’ll bring the automation even further into production. There are AGVs (automated guided vehicles) that place the products automatically on the conveyor system via different drop-off points. That is quite a challenge: Space is limited and the AGV traffic needs to be well matched to the manual internal logistics.”

That’s very interesting. Thank you for the interview!

5 - Conveying - Christeyns


Complexity made simple

Christeyns produces hygiene products in boxes, bottles, IBCs, drums, bags, big bags, etc. There are two  supply lines, and the products from one supply line are identified, wrapped and labelled automatically. Before the pallets enter the automatic lift, various sensors perform safety checks. Rejected pallets are removed from the flow. The pallets are then transported to the other side via the air bridge. They pass either directly onto the outlet belt, or they go into a transit buffer if no staff is present. The latter is done by two automatic shuttles that, according to the supply, fill the buffer warehouse and then empty it again. Another strong combination of automation in end-of-line production and internal logistics.


Some figures

• length of the air bridge: approx. 100 m
• number of pallets passing through the bridge: 400 to 500/day
• capacity of the buffer warehouse: approx. 200 pallets
• storage capacity of distribution centre: 16,000 pallets, expandable to 18,000