Sunday 11th Apr, 2021

Commissioning during COVID

Just when Sharpes Stock Feeds needed to install a custom packaging plant, COVID-19 saw the country locked down. ABHR speaks to Alastair and Sam to find out how the company commissioned the plant with remote help.

Just when Sharpes Stock Feeds needed to install a custom packaging plant, COVID-19 saw the country locked down. ABHR speaks to Alastair and Sam to find out how the company commissioned the plant with remote help.

Bulk handling investments and upgrades tend to have long lead times, stretching months, if not years, as businesses try to find the right option.

This was true for Sharpes Stock Feeds, a family-owned New Zealand animal feed manufacturer that began looking to improve its bagging output.

Alastair Orsborn, whose father bought the company in 1937, says the whole bag market is changing, with paper bags becoming much more common.

“Recycled and recyclable bags are a big market, especially as more ‘lifestylers’ look for more sustainable options,” he says.

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“There’s different horses for courses though. Farmers are a bit reluctant to use paper, as water on a farm can weaken the bag and make it less effective for them.”

Flexibility was a key concern for the Sharpes Stock Feeds. It needed to bag and handle a number of different products with a single line, with options for different bagging materials. In addition, the product needed to be delivered in top condition with no contamination.

Orsborn reached out to Italian bagging line manufacturer Concetti, which he had met many years ago during an exhibition in Europe. He and his son, Sam, wanted a tailor-made packaging line that was fully automatic and included a weighing machine, a filling and closing machine, and palletising and wrapping machine. The goal was to have one automated process that would take the processed feed and turn them into bagged wrapped pallets.

Concetti’s project development department designed the system to the specifications and space available at the family’s factory. The bagging line is equipped with two separate weighing and filling systems, which work independently to reduce the risk of cross contamination between different products and raw materials. In addition, the machine is equipped with a highly efficient cleaning system.

Once full, the preformed bag can be sewn or heat sealed, depending on the needs of the manufacturer and then conveyed to a palletiser.

The final result was a system that would triple the throughput of the factory, significantly lower the risk of employee injury, reduce plastic on wrapped pallets by half and free up labour to be used in more effective areas.

But when the packaging plant was about to be shipped, COVID-19 sent both countries into lockdown.

Continuing through COVID-19

Concetti had manufactured and tested the automated plant in its headquarters in Umbria, Italy, and had loaded it into multiple shipping containers to send overseas. The original plan was to send Concetti technicians to install and commission the plant, but when the borders closed, it became impossible.

Luckily for Sharpes, the company was still able to assist installation, providing instructions and advice daily over WhatsApp and Skype in the evenings.

Sam says the two companies formed a close relationship and were able to use the quiet periods in the evening to assemble the equipment.

“Every night they ran us through the commissioning process for about four to six weeks,” he says.

Alastair says the assembly was complex, but logical – like putting together a Meccano set. The main challenges came from the electrical side of things, though everything had been marked extensively and clearly for the commissioning process.

The plant was completely installed around a week before its deadline and has already seen Sharpes’ bagging efficiency dramatically improve.

“We used to need to wait for the bagging process to clear, but now it’s faster than the production side of things,” Alastair says.

“It took a bit of imagination to get set up, but New Zealanders and Australians are resourceful and Concetti has been great to deal with. We now have a machine that will last for many, many years.”

“If we need to call on them in future, we can rely on the Concetti hotline. They’ve provided us with essential spares and judging from what we’ve seen almost everything is available off the shelf locally.”

In the words of a NZ based process technician who assisted Sharpes and Concetti with the install and commissioning, “This is a very smart bit of kit.”