Every day at Develey’s Pfarrkirchen plant in Lower Bavaria, Germany, 250 tons of cucumbers are sorted, washed, and poured into clean jars with brine and spices. The jars are lidded and vacuum-sealed, then the contents are pasteurized, and finally labels are applied to the jars. All processing is done by 10 production lines before workers are needed to palletize the jars and load them into a truck for shipping. With the large turnover at Pfarrkirchen, moving pickle jars becomes arduous work for Develey employees.

Before implementing its new solution, Develey also depended on workers to move large quantities of jars if a machine malfunctioned. To avoid a colossal backup of pickle jars, jars are diverted to an accumulation table upstream of the breakdown. After fixing the broken machinery, such as the vacuum sealer or labeling machine, workers had to bring all of the jars back to the conveyor.

Looking for a Solution

In its initial attempt to streamline the process, the company used an electromagnet sheet to pick the jars up from their lids and transport them to a pallet, temporarily remove them from production, or move them from the accumulation table back to the conveyor. This solution ended up doing more harm than good, as the magnet did not allow quick accelerations of the pickle jars and would drop them. The company needed a system that would not limit the mobility of the jars so that they could perform various tasks around the plant.

Thomas Doriat, plant manager of Pfaffkirchen, took his qualm to a trade fair in Glatten, Germany, where he met Christian Kuss, a sales representative at Schmalz Inc. Kuss presented his requirements for a pickle palletizer to Robertino Saupp, the project manager for Schmalz vacuum gripping systems. After discussing issues and brainstorming, they came up with a solution.

Vacuum Power to the Rescue

Schmalz implemented a ready-to-connect vacuum-layer gripping system onto a SPZ forklift for loading jars into pallets and transporting them with high mobility around the plant. A 400-V ac Cekon plug powers the forklift. Schmalz also attached a gripping system to Develey’s pallet trucks for transporting 144 1-kg jars at a time from the accumulation table back to the main production line. The gripper, which attaches to the pallet truck via a fastening element for fork arms, uses a locking system to stay securely in place.

The gripper system incorporates a flexible foam sealing plate to conform to any shaped loads. At the palletizing station or accumulation table, the jars are guided to a template and arranged into groups so that they will fit the dimension of the gripper. The gripper is brought to the accumulation table, where it lifts the array of jars and the pallet truck reverses to bring the array to a pallet. The vacuum pressure is released and the jars are discharged into the pallet.

“We are pleased that Schmalz was able to provide us with the right solution for our problem,” says Doriat. After implementing the Schmalz vacuum-grip system, Develey received a prevention award for active health management in the workplace from the Local Trade Association.