Briefing: Growing manufacturing levels turns Beef Products Inc. to automation

Beef Products, Inc., the world’s leading manufacturer of boneless lean beef, headquartered in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota contracted with Westfalia Technologies, Inc. to design, construct and install an Automated Storage and Retrieval System (AS/ RS) for its Sioux City, Nebraska facility.

Food safety is a critical priority at Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) and with manufacturing approaching 1,000,000 lbs per day, it was essential for BPI to automate the material handling and inventory control process. Through automation BPI would achieve maximum storage and optimize their warehouse logistics.

BPI operates under one simple guideline: to be the best at what they do. This drive to be the leader within the meat industry has resulted in continuous development in new processing techniques, sanitation programs, food safety innovations and the building of a state-of-the-art automated warehouse to ensure quality control, inventory management and shipping accuracy.

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Case Study: Growing manufacturing levels turns Beef Products Inc. to automation

Challenge: Freezer storage for 20 million lbs. of beef

BPI required the use of an area adjacent to the meat processing plant to store products and process orders. BPI needed storage capacity in excess of 20 million lbs of beef. In addition, the available land for the freezer was 400’ away from manufacturing with a railroad truck separating the building lots. BPI’s continuous manufacturing operation produces boxed beef, and while the product type is identified by a bar code label on each individual case, the product grade is not determined until the results of quality control testing are known. As a result, BPI needed a way to apply readable bar codes after production, on finished-palletized loads to allow scanning and identification within the new automated warehouse and at their customer’s dock.

In addition, their food safety program prohibits shipment of all products until quality assurance testing results are proven. BPI needed the ability to quarantine all products and then to provide automatic release of palletized products as ready-to-ship inventory. Manual handling of finished products, and outside freezer storage costs were eroding BPI’s profit margin. To garner the greatest amount of storage, run the most efficient logistics system and provide cost savings, a high-density AS/RS was developed.

Solution: High Density Multiple Deep AS/RS and WMS

The system starts at manufacturing with a conveying system transporting boxes of frozen beef products through a 400’ tunnel to a 101’ high rack-supported freezer (-10° F) warehouse. As cases exit the tunnel, they are scanned and diverted to one of two accumulation lanes. The cased products are then merged onto a single conveyor for transport to Westfalia’s layer-forming palletizer. At the palletizer, Westfalia’s Warehouse Management System (WMS) creates a pallet ID# as cases arrive, and are scanned and palletized. As the pallets are released, the data, pallet ID# and records of each case on the pallets are uploaded into BPI’s host system. Pallets are then stretch wrapped, labeled with a print-and apply label applicator and conveyed toward the infeed to the Automated Storage and Retrieval System (AS/RS).

Westfalia designed the conveying system to include approximately 18 pallets of accumulation between the palletizer and the print-and-apply station in order to allow enough time to gather additional information regarding product grade prior to the labeling system. The pallet loads are then automatically conveyed into the freezer, where they arrive at a turntable and are directed to one of two Storage Retrieval Machines (SRMs) for storage.

The AS/RS is designed with two (SRMs) in one aisle, thereby providing redundancy. Should one SRM require maintenance, the other can still service the aisle. The 15-level high freezer storage system has 10-deep storage lanes on both sides of the aisle. Westfalia’s patented Satellite® rack entry vehicle and triple pallet support rack system provide fast 110 pallets/hour throughput rates with safer pallet handling. The innovative high-density storage design furnishes 11,886 pallet positions in a 20,235 square foot freezer.

Westfalia’s Warehouse Management System (WMS) controls and tracks all product flows throughout the warehouse. As part of the food safety checks, pallets directed to one of the SRMs are stored in quarantine until lab tests are completed. When BPI’s computer communicates the results of the lab tests, a grade is assigned to each pallet and the WMS releases the pallet as ready-to-ship product. When lab tests provide a different result than what is expected, the product grade is changed, and the WMS instructs the SRM to re-warehouse the pallet to a group with the same product grade.

Westfalia’s WMS automatically exchanges information with BPI’s host computer to create product orders. Via the WMS, customer orders are automatically retrieved and conveyed to one of four truck-staging lanes within the freezer. Truck-staging lanes within the freezer high rise provides BPI the benefits of processing orders in advance, staging products at the proper temperature and freeing valuable dock space. The fully automated system reverts to human labor only at the point where pallets are removed by forklift when loading trucks for shipment. There are four LED displays on the shipping dock, one at the outfeed of each truck-staging conveyor. As each pallet is removed from the conveyor, the forklift operator scans each pallet to verify and remove that pallet from inventory.

Westfalia’s design maximizes efficiency of the shipping operation and the storage area, while freeing up valuable dock space. BPI has seen significant labor savings since installing the automated system, as there is no human contact with their products until they reach the shipping dock. Plus, the WMS more accurately tracks inventory and controls product quality from production to the dock.

System Features:

  • Size:

    • 207’ long x 92’ wide x 101’ high
  • Capacity:

    • 11,866 pallet positions
    • 15-level high freezer warehouse
  • Technology:

    • 2 Storage/Retrieval Machines in one aisle
    • 10-deep high density AS/RS on both side of aisle
    • 850 linear feet of conveyors
    • Automatic layer-forming palletizer
    • Automatic pallet dispenser and stacker
  • WMS:

    • Warehouse Management System

System Benefits:

  • High-Density Storage System provides maximum storage in minimal space
  • Efficiency gains and cost reductions from fully automated system
  •     Reduced labor costs
  •     Reduced error rates
  •     Increased order processing speeds
  •     Reduced energy consumption - freezer area is only 1/3 the size of a conventional freezer
  • Efficient tracking of all food products and food safety tests

Our Mission: To deliver unparalleled warehouse automation solutions by earning the trust of our customers, understanding their business needs and honoring the commitments we make.