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Teamwork wins palletization technology award

Liquor Control Board of Ontario achieves high efficiencies with proprietary, patent-pending pallet load-building system.

The automated, high-stability palletizer stacks multiple case sizes.
The automated, high-stability palletizer stacks multiple case sizes.

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) is a Canadian provincial Crown corporation in Ontario, Canada, and is one of the world’s largest buyers and retailers of alcoholic beverages. LCBO offers approximately 24,000 products annually to consumers and licensed establishments from more than 80 countries. The Board operates five retail service centers and processes more than 92 million cases of products per year. State-of-the-art automated palletization technology is required to make this high-volume system work at optimum efficiencies.

LCBO’s largest retail service center in Durham, Ontario, processes more than 50 million of these cases and runs a 500,000 square feet warehouse. The Durham Retail Service Center was the recipient of the 2015 Supply Chain Achievement Award from the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) in recognition of their patent-pending load-building system. LCBO Executive VP George Soleas said, “Without the talent, vision, and commitment of the team at LCBO, Hytrol, Norpak, Millar Systems, and Columbia Machine, there is no way this would have been possible.”

Fielding the team
The first prototype was installed, commissioned, and placed into production in March 2013. The decision to work with Columbia came as a result of attending PACK EXPO and talking with various palletizer manufacturers. Soleas notes, “Columbia, in particular, appeared to be the most responsive to working with us and developing something that would meet our needs.”

The Model HL2000 palletizer from Columbia Machine, Inc. is a centerpiece of LCBO’s award-winning load-building system. The automated, high-stability palletizing technology stacks varying case sizes using an algorithm technique. Columbia’s HL2000 palletizers with an integrated “pass through” strapping component strap each layer in order to stabilize varying case heights in mixed pallet loads. The system can palletize four to five times as many cases as the previous manual stacking process in the same time period.

According to Soleas, ”Columbia staffers were considerably involved in the installation, start-up, and training, and they also were very receptive to making changes to their equipment to suit our case delivery algorithm and tier stabilization requirements. We approached Millar Systems Integration about developing computer software that could dynamically create tier patterns for palletizing random-sized cases. The software had to create patterns that would result in dense tiers—tightly positioned tiers that could be placed on top of each other on a standard 40 x 48” shipping pallet. MSI worked with the LCBO team to successfully develop a unique, patentable palletization algorithm.”

Norpak Handling Limited was brought into the project to develop the conveyor layout, design, and engineering that would work optimally with the MSI software. Norpak, in turn, worked with Hytrol to design and engineer the unique conveyors to support case transport, buffering, and delivery to the Columbia palletizer. The LCBO Durham Retail Service Center engineering, electrical, and PLC programming team, led by Director Bruce Pizzolato, undertook to develop all the associated electrical design and PLC programming to interface with the high-level, complex, random case palletization algorithm to transport the cases from sortation delivery conveyors to the palletizer.

LCBO sources its corrugated shipping cases from multiple suppliers worldwide, who must meet the Board’s very defined and specific case packaging standards. The system design tracks every case into the case buffering area. A bar code scanner reads the Shipping Container Code on the exterior sides of every case and keeps that information as part of the “Case Information Record.” When the cases are delivered to the palletizer, this information is captured and printed on a “Pallet License Plate” label attached to each pallet, with an electronic copy kept on file.

Cases are palletized on standard 40” x 48” pallets and stacked to a maximum height of 67”, including the pallet. The cases range in size and weight. Maximum weight per case is 18.9 kgs. So, given the pallet cube dimensions that LCBO works within, it would be possible to have a pallet weigh as much as 950 kgs.

Soleas points out, “The equipment is quite versatile. There is no need for any exhaustive or significant changes to our existing systems. Installation of the new palletizing system has resulted in considerable labor savings. These machines run without the need of an operator. Our previous manner of palletizing outbound orders required a person to manually place product onto a pallet at an expected rate of about 250 cases per person per hour. Pallet loads were less than stable and required stretch wrapping prior to shipment.

“Conversely, the auto palletizers operate at a comfortable rate of 1000 cases per hour—4 times the output with 100% less labor. Each tier of the pallet is much denser than the manually built tiers, and each tier is securely strapped prior to being deposited onto the pallet. The denser, more tightly packed cases on each pallet result in more cases per pallet, better cube utilization on our outbound trucks, and reduced transportation costs.”

Summing up the entire project, Soleas says, “The biggest success factor was having the right talent working together. And we developed simulation software to test the algorithm, using real historical store order data, and to automatically analyze thousands of pallets to mitigate risk of failure. This system is productive, efficient, and ergonomic. And it has never been done before. It is completely proprietary to LCBO. Our Durham warehouse remains a best-in-class distribution facility with some of the most advanced logistics technologies.”

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