Successful project - With confidence in automation

The specialists from the Board division of the machine and plant manufacturer IMA Schelling set themselves a challenge: to convert an existing building belonging to the well-known particle board manufacturer Egger at its Austrian headquarters in St. Johann into a place where postforming products are picked and packaged fully automatically. A case study.

Egger turns to full automation

Making profitable use of the available space in a central location, processing orders faster and more flexibly, while simultaneously making the work of the staff easier – in order to achieve all this, the international wood-based product manufacturer decided to make the order picking of postforming products fully automatic. Due to the space constraints, this was a challenging task that required a tailor-made concept and a capable partner.

The Egger Group specialises in particle boards for furniture, floors and building materials. With over 11,000 employees at 21 sites, the producer of wood-based materials generated annual sales of more than 4 billion euros in the past financial year. This makes the company a heavyweight in the industry worldwide.

The wood products that are prepared for shipment every day in the company's main warehouse in St. Johann in Tirol, Austria, are also heavy. In the past, they were picked by hand and forklift and packaged semi-automatically. Egger wanted to fundamentally improve this process. Michael Volz, Team Leader at Egger explains: "By fully automating the order picking and packaging, we are seeking to reduce the strain on our warehouse staff caused by the heavy material. We are talking about weights of up to 120 kilograms here. On the other hand, even more efficient order processing plays a key role in our plans."

The desired reduction in workload and increase in efficiency was achieved with the automation solution and the packers were trained to become system operators. Moreover, the quality leader can supply its customers faster and more efficiently, even for shipments of different boards in very small quantities, which enhances the company's range of services.

Partner for reliable implementation

Conversion measures in established structures entail risks in terms of process, time and costs as well as the quality of the result. The wood-based materials manufacturer was therefore looking for an appropriate partner to implement the project. Out of several suppliers, Egger chose IMA Schelling, a machine specialist for logistics, cutting and packaging solutions.

For the particle board manufacturer, the long-standing relationship between the two companies was primarily based on the reliability of the plant manufacturer in the implementation of demanding projects. Egger appreciates the sophisticated machine technology, the good support as well as the individual and technologically sophisticated implementation of IT interfaces, emphasises Volz, adding: "We've had positive experiences with IMA Schelling. Plus, you know the control engineers and who the project managers are." This creates security and also offers the required flexibility, even for special requirements. "We," says Thomas Keckeis, Project Manager for the Board division at IMA Schelling, "are able to create highly individual solutions based on our comprehensive modular system. We can create everything that the customer needs and requests in terms of functions and capacities."

IMA Schelling fully handled the project from the initial inquiry in October 2020 to commissioning in February 2022. This was a challenge, since the Egger warehouse is located in the middle of the main plant – including a small footprint and limited room height. Important plant operations also had to continue without interruption.

From a rack storage system to a two-storey area storage system

IMA Schelling solved the tasks at hand by installing a second floor in the warehouse, using a customised steel structure weighing over 120 tonnes. However, taking the structural conditions into account only resulted in minimal project costs for Egger, and only minor measures were necessary. The separating and protective grids are also painted yellow for the uniform overall appearance of the warehouse, completely to the customer's wishes.

A vacuum manipulator was installed on each floor, which works completely independently and ensures maximum production capacity. More vacuum units can be added to both warehouse levels if necessary. This allows performance to be significantly increased again at a manageable additional cost.

Material feeding and removal were placed outside of the area storage system, meaning that material transport take places independently of the order picking process. Likewise, the packaging of goods is completely automatic, with robots reliably loading the squared timber and applying the packaging labels. This utilises the available space, increases capacities and improves the working conditions for staff, thus meaning that all the required objectives were achieved.