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Efficiency for 50,000 Tons of Cheese through Modernization by Aberle

In a challenging Retrofit-project Aberle has upgraded the cheese warehouse in Feldkirchen of production cooperative Berglandmilch with state-of the art pallet conveyors and modern control systems during continuous operation and thus prepared the system for further growth and future market requirements.

With eleven plants in Austria, processing more than 1.3 billion kilograms of milk per year, dairy cooperative Berglandmilch eGen. at Wels is one of the largest manufacturers in the food sector in Austria. More than 11,000 dairy farmers deliver their milk to the production sites. There Berglandmilch-Group produces more than 1,000 different articles ranging from fresh products, UHT milk, cheese, butter, yoghurt and curd cheese.

The largest cheese dairy of the group is situated at Feldkirchen, north of Salzburg. 40 different varieties of cheese are produced there. During three shifts 120 employees process and refine up to 1 million liters of milk a day, creating coveted cheese varieties, sought after by customers in more than 50 countries throughout the world. The cheese warehouse is directly connected to the production site.

The high-bay-warehouse dating from 1991 is divided into three sections according to the stage of maturity of the cheese. Due to this reason the intralogistics processes mainly consist of continuous relocations. By installing stacker cranes in the high bay warehouse and different types of conveyors managing internal transports of goods, the dairy producer has successfully opted for widely automated processes, right from the start. With a continuous increase in cheese production at Feldkirchen and considering technological development the existing system could no longer fulfill the requirements in terms of efficiency. To be able to cope with further growth and harder competition in the market the managing directors decided to update intralogistics within a reasonable modernization project to a state-of-the-art solution.

"We expect larger milk volumes in the future and thus invested in processing and storing capacities", Thomas Osl, production manager at Feldkirchen explains. "As a cooperative we are obligated to take in every single liter of milk delivered by our members and to process it in the best possible way.

Our intralogistics processes have to be ideally aligned to this objective". Aberle GmbH, Leingarten, system integrator in the Logistic Systems Business Area of international technology group Körber was awarded the contract for this retrofit project. "A challenging project in which it was only possible to carry out the modernization with an exactly planned concept and schedule, having to face highest hygiene standards and continuous three-shift-production", Aberle project manager Gregor Atzenhofer names the particular challenges. "Beneath installation of a new pallet conveyor it was mainly the modernization of the conveyor control as well as implementation of a new material flow control, which required an overall coordination of the single project steps during realization."

A substantial restriction of internal business processes as well as an interruption of production or shipping caused by the project phases was absolutely impossible. Under these circumstances Aberle presented a concept by which the modernization could be completed after only six months. Since then, a state-of-the-art conveyor control system manages operation of the entire plant. "Retrofit without restrictions to our production", production manager Osl puts it all in a nutshell. "This was the main aspect for awarding the contract, which Aberle successfully carried out with a precise schedule".

The project was planned in three steps. "The existing hardware required only little amendments concerning the rack system and the stacker cranes", Atzenhofer remarks. "The challenges mainly concerned the communication structure of IT-components". As a result the process-related command telegrams of the existing AS-400 mainframe computer of Berglandmilch were analyzed in the first project phase. Based on these, Aberle developed a gateway which enabled adaptations to these telegrams to fit the logic of the newly implemented S7-PLC-control.

"In the second project phase the stacker cranes were converted one by one to the modern controls and were fully integrated in the course of processes", Atzenhofer states. "For this transition period the gateway made it possible to run both, the old and new controls, in parallel operation". At the same time the new material flow control computer and the material flow control module PMS-M, part of Aberle's Process Management System were installed and implemented into the communication structure with the existing Warehouse Management System by SAP. Afterwards the new pallet conveyor was assembled at site. "It was possible to divide the implementation into two steps due to the fact that the installation of the conveyor system for the shipping area could be carried out separately and completely independently", Aberle's project manager points out. The existing shipping area remained untouched and fully operational until the new shipping section had been completely implemented.

After the mechanical installation of the conveyor and new shipping lanes it was necessary to include them into the process management. "The shipping lanes are supplied by the stacker cranes according to the existing logic", Atzenhofer explains. The AS400-System, however, does not recognize the new conveyor system, so the gateway comes into play. "When an order for outbound transport to the shipping area is transmitted, the gateway detects this and sends via the new PLC-control a task to the stacker crane in question with a transport order to the new shipping lane. The response of the PLC, again, is re-transformed by the gateway in a way that the AS400 System recognizes it as the former response". After the mechanics and PLC-control of the new shipping area had been completely implemented, communication via the gateway was established and the former shipping area could then be deactivated "at the push of a button". The allocation of orders now is completely handled via the new shipping section with modern pallet conveyor. The system visualization PMS-V, implemented by Aberle, helps to make processes visible and transparent in the maturation warehouse of Berglandmilch at Feldkirchen. The switch to modern controls and conveyors guarantees quick response times as well as efficient relocation processes and retrievals for shipping.

"With this modernization project our plant at Feldkirchen is now optimally prepared for further growth and future market demand, and all this with a reasonable investment", production manager Thomas Osl recapitulates. "Aberle proved to be a competent partner, standing by our side in successfully realizing the project within the planned schedule and without any restrictions to production and shipping. In addition to that the results of this modernization fully met our expectations. We are highly pleased with this".  

Download Pictures:
- Outside view
- View of the high-bay warehouse
- Conveyor Systems with visualization PMS-V 
- Roller conveyor of goods at ground level