Agriculture, Automation

Concetti and Incitec Pivot Fertiliser automate packaging system

One of Australia’s leading fertiliser producers has reaped the benefits of adding Italian innovation to its automatic packaging and palletising systems.

One of Australia’s leading fertiliser producers has reaped the benefits of adding Italian innovation to its automatic packaging and palletising systems.

Fertilizer Australia has revealed that 5.4m tonnes of fertiliser are sold in Australia each year, with about half of this manufactured domestically. In addition to domestic use, Fertilizer Australia’s data shows Australia exports between 200,000 and 400,000 tonnes of fertiliser each year. This is primarily from fertiliser manufacturer and distributor Incitec Pivot Fertiliser’s (IPF) ammonium phosphate plant in North Queensland. Greater than 90 per cent of the fertiliser used in Australia is sold in loose bulk, which does not require packaging. The remainder of the fertiliser is packed into bags and drums made from various plastics. This packaging protects solid and liquid fertiliser forms for transport, storage and use in smaller volumes.

A fair amount of the fertiliser packed in bags and exported comes from IPF. Its quality fertilisers, plant nutrition and soil health solutions help Australian farmers maximise crop productivity and achieve sustainable plant nutrition outcomes for their soils and farms.

IPF decided to renew its automatic packaging and palletising systems for granulated products a few years ago as part of a broader strategic project. After evaluating a range of international suppliers, among the most important in the world for this type of technology, the choice fell on the Italian manufacturer Concetti. 

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Concetti has supplied more than 200 fertiliser plants worldwide and acquired expertise in packaging solutions for harsh industrial environments and corrosive products. Concetti manufactured two complete automatic bag weighing, filling, closing and palletising lines at IPF’s Gibson Island (Brisbane) and Kooragang Island (Newcastle) Primary Distribution Centres (PDC). Each consists of a gravity-fed net weighing system NET/G, a Concetti STARPACK bagging machine and a high-level push-type palletiser. In addition, the Gibson Island PDC has an end-of-line system for hooding and stabilising full pallets, also supplied by Concetti. 

The bags used are the most common type for the fertiliser market, 20-25 kg in woven PP with gussets or pillow-type bags, depending on the needs. Still, the challenges concern the variable density of the various packaged fertilisers, traceability, and how to fight corrosion. 

Customised solutions require knowledge of the industry and customer needs

“Concetti is an Italian company that has been operating in Australia for more than 10 years with sales and technical assistance activities and is recognised by the market as a reliable and experienced partner for the supply of systems tailored to customer needs,” said Concetti sales manager Trevor Mitford. 

The IPF and Concetti technical teams have been working side by side to set up the full packaging line according to the specific production needs of Incitec Pivot and the characteristics of the packaged fertilisers.

Fertiliser production plants are complicated structures that operate at various temperatures and pressures, with many subjected to some highly corrosive and abrasive substances. Phosphate and nitrogenous fertilisers are particularly corrosive to steel. 

Moisture in any quantity, unavoidable in the world’s temperate zones and particularly prevalent in coastal areas in winter, presents considerable challenges to fertiliser operations due to this ever-present risk of corrosion. Without detailed attention to mitigate it, any exposed surfaces are soon little more than rust.

“The Concetti lines operated by Incitec Pivot Fertilisers are manufactured with anti-corrosive and anti-abrasive construction and with extensive use of stainless steel, with special paints and with a range of protection systems to reduce damage to a minimum,” Mitford said. 

This packaging line configuration contributes to efficient and long-lasting operation, protecting economic investment. 

The plants are also easily accessible for cleaning and maintenance. However, designing systems to resist corrosion is only part of the solution. Good housekeeping and maintenance are essential.  

Implementing a preventative maintenance plan

A 2022 study put the global cost of corrosion at $2.2 trillion per year. It reduces the useful life of equipment, raises maintenance costs and can lead to excessive downtime and even environmental issues. Control, prevention and ongoing corrosion management have become an engineering discipline.

An in-depth training of the client machine’s operators on the use of systems and maintenance personnel is certainly a starting point. A rigorous routine is also required to inspect, control and clean the product contact or retention zones. 

Cleaning, including basic sweeping and brushing down, is a necessary discipline. Plenty of quick-release and electrically interlocked access doors are provided at key transfer points to allow inspection and cleaning between products. This removes any residues and prevents product build-up. 

Fertiliser traceability

Traceability enables manufacturers, trade partners, consumers, and authorities to identify, authenticate and track goods throughout the supply chain.

Many countries worldwide are providing guidelines on the labelling of fertilisers. 

Since 2018 there has been a National Code of Practice for Fertiliser Description and Labelling in Australia. 

Regulations are evolving, and therefore broad flexibility in integrating different printing and labelling solutions and technologies is required. The Concetti lines are equipped with or were supplied predisposed for the later fitting of label applicators or ink-jet coders to apply date/time or batch coding information. Additionally, loaded pallets can also have a label applied. 

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