|Distributor: Wepco Inc.
Manufacturers: Hytrol Conveyor Company, USS
Summary: Snack contamination fears allayed by a table-top roller conveyor and X-ray system.
Utz Quality Foods produces millions of pounds of snacks each week in its four Hanover, PA, plants. The company’s “World Distribution Center,” which is adjacent to the Hanover manufacturing facilities, ships products via Utz’s distribution network to retail customers from Maine to the Carolinas. As the shipping volume has increased, so has the potential for contamination of product. That potential was something that Utz could not live with. To preemptively address the issue of food safety, the company began searching for methods to ensure that products were completely free of foreign contamination.
In doing so, Utz wanted to ensure the safe and thorough inspection of the immense amount of product passing through the distribution center without causing any slowdowns. The company contacted its material handling integrator, Wepco Inc. (Pittston, PA) for a solution. The distributor, working in collaboration with Hytrol Conveyor Company and Utz, was able to devise a solution that fit both criteria.
The solution required automation technology that was both energy-efficient and quiet. Wepco proposed installing a conveyor system that would feed cartons through an X-ray device to detect the weight and quantity of each SKU to determine that it was within the acceptable range. However, there were challenges that needed to first be addressed. In addition to straightforward cases of bagged product, Utz also ships various shapes and sizes of cheese balls and snack mix. Some jugs are tall, skinny and oddly shaped, which made them unstable when sent down on the Hytrol roller conveyor. Wepco chose to use table-top conveyors like those used in bottling operations to secure the jugs through the X-ray machine to the palletizers. The solution helped ensure the integrity of the food by looking for foreign objects, missing product, seasoning conglomerates and incorrect weights. When any abnormality is spotted, the system moves the case into a lane designated for contamination, over/underweight or failed bar-code. The system then takes an image of each carton to make it easier for employees to identify which package in the carton has the issue. DC managers are also sent an alert by the X-ray system that an abnormality has been spotted so that action may be taken to correct the issue and put the package back on the container to be fed through the X-ray again.
Not only were Utz’s safety concerns addressed, but the system also streamlined operations, freed up floor space and improved productivity, all while fulfilling Utz’s request of a quiet operation. “To preserve available floor space, we chose to elevate much of the conveyor systems. We even located the X-ray equipment on a structural mezzanine leaving the floor below for the palletizing operation,” says Chris Paulsen, CEO of Wepco. This was the kind of innovation that led Utz to contact Wepco in the first place. “We competed for this project against several very capable system integrators. We were told that, although we were not the lowest bidder, we had the most cost effective and innovative approach,” says Paulsen.
The system has been a resounding success, and for Utz it is just the beginning. The company intends to further automate its operations by adding automated case packing and palletizing, along with adding the conveyor and X-ray system to other manufacturing plants. Utz set out to institute a system that X-rayed every product and Wepco has been a huge driving-force in making that vision a reality.