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KUKA palletizers ensure success for family-owned mill
When regulations in France reduced the maximum weight of a flour sack from 40 to 25 kg, the family-owned Moulins Bourgeois mill now had to pack, handle, load and deliver the same amount of product in roughly twice as many flour sacks, tapping out its delivery capacity. To get the job done, the company turned to automatic palletizing with KUKA robots.
French flour for baguettes, cookies and flatbreads
Since 1895, the Bourgeois name has been synonymous with the highest-quality flour. “We have been independent mill operators for four generations,” explained Julien Bourgeois, Director General. “We select our grain varieties as carefully as wine growers choose their grape varieties.” For 80 years, the company’s headquarters have been located in Verdelot, 80 kilometers east of Paris. Despite the company’s steady growth, Moulins Bourgeois still defines itself as a family-owned mill. Although the company exclusively processes French grain and sees artisan bakeries as its core target customers, it has a long track record of global deliveries, with exports of conventionally grown and organic flour to Germany, Norway, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China, Brazil and beyond.
Automatic palletizing: less arduous manual labor, more delivery capacity
The fully automated distribution center in Verdelot benefits from the high speed and reliability of five KUKA palletizers
The Bourgeois family had to overcome two major challenges during the previous decade. On June 28, 2010, a heat buildup in a control cabinet started a fire that destroyed the company’s main mill in Verdelot. Operations continued in rented mills while the entrepreneurs built a new mill within 18 months, with improved hygiene precautions and almost twice the production capacity.
Good for employees, a challenge for the mill
With the new mill in operation, everything went well until new regulations presented flour manufacturers with additional challenges. The Caisse Nationale de l’Assurance Maladie (CNAM) and the Association Nationale de la Meunerie (ANM) limit flour sacks to a maximum weight of 25 kg to reduce the physical burden on mill employees. To comply with these new regulations, Julien and David Bourgeois, the fourth generation to run the family business, needed a new approach.
From hard physical labor to a fully automated distribution center
“We had to switch from 40-kg to 25-kg sacks of flour,” Julien Bourgeois recalled. “That was good news for our employees because it reduced the physically strenuous work. However, where we had been loading 7,000 sacks of flour per day onto our trucks, now we almost had to double that amount. That was completely impossible.” Six employees had been responsible for palletizing and loading the flour sacks, but they couldn't simply double their physically strenuous work.
An automated “goods-to-truck” solution
To protect the team from overwork and still fulfill all orders, the company decided to invest in automation. In 2014, Moulins Bourgeois gave the go-ahead for a 100% automated “goods-to-truck” solution, including five KUKA palletizers. The new distribution center with automatic palletizing opened in September 2015. Since then, two KR 180 R3200 PA (KR QUANTEC PA) robots and three KR 300-2 PA robots have handled the entire order-picking process, depalletizing and loading onto the correct conveyor belts. The employees all kept their jobs and now work in the loading area, making sure that each sack reaches the right truck and is safely stowed there.
KUKA understood our goals and knew what kinds of solutions we needed. With KUKA robots and our integrator, AB Process, we have fully achieved our goals.
Automatic palletizing: future-oriented teamwork
For the Moulins Bourgeois automation project, Viastore Systems handled intralogistics and AB Process provided the integration. Christophe Abjean, founder and one of the managing directors of AB Process, explained what made the new distribution center special for him: “Order preparation is 100% automated – from the moment the pallets enter the warehouse to the moment the sacks are loaded into the trucks. The five depalletizing robots from KUKA handle the entire order picking process reliably and at considerable speed. The system has a processing capacity of 2,000 sacks per hour.” This includes pre-sorting the bagged goods so they load on trucks in an order that matches delivery routes.
Dream team: the advantages of two KUKA palletizers
The two KR 180 R3200 PA robots provided a space-efficient, agile solution to place individual sacks on the conveyor belt, each palletizing 100 sacks per hour. The KR 300-2 PA palletizers pick up five sacks of flour at a time and thus move up to 550 sacks per hour. KUKA developed this robot specifically for high-speed tasks with high payloads. It effortlessly and gently palletizes up to 300 kg and adapts flexibly to many tasks thanks to booster frames of different heights. Emmanuel Bergerot, Managing Director for France, the Benelux countries and the Maghreb at KUKA, noted that “The automation at Moulins Bourgeois is the result of a sustained effort to achieve technical innovation in both the robot arms and the software that controls them. This system serves an extremely demanding but also efficient logistics department.”
Faster and more successful than ever at palletizing – and beyond
The new distribution center fully meets Moulins Bourgeois' high expectations, reducing the time between order acceptance and delivery to less than 24 hours. This makes the popular Moulins Bourgeois flour even more attractive to customers. The family-run business delivers up to 170 tons of flour daily. Annual sales have increased from 40 million euro in 2015 to 50 million euro in 2020. The Bourgeois brothers now have 150 satisfied employees in one of Europe's most efficient and modern flour production facilities.
“We've grown as a company”
“The switch to automation allowed us to load 60% more flour sacks and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal illnesses and injuries to our employees,” noted Julien Bourgeois happily. “We’ve grown as a company. We have much greater demand and therefore more employees overall than we did before.”
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