Roll out the barrel

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Diageo has opened a £10m cooperage at its 29 acre site at Cambus in Clackmannanshire. The new cooperage, which combines materials handling innovation with robotics, is the culmination of a two year project and is designed to produce 250,000 rejuvenated and rebuilt casks a year.

Alan Hadden who was project delivery manager for Diageo says the new site made sense logistically. “We are now situated on a 29 acre site in the heart of our largest warehouse facility and cask filling/disgorging operation.”

He points out that one of the main drivers behind the design of the new cooperage was to reduce the manual handling of casks. “To achieve this, automation was required throughout our processes. We invited CI Logistics to work with us.”

The cooperage is home to five different processes: rejuvenating casks; repairing casks; enlarging casks and two cask rebuilding processes using different types of staves. The objective of the CI Logistics scheme is to automate cask movement throughout each process.

A number of challenges had to be overcome: Firstly the specification of the casks varies in weight from 48kg to 128kg and in height from 855mm to 1300mm. Secondly each cask is bespoke so has to be married up with its own hoops and ends at the finish of the procedure. And finally, the hazardous cooperage processes themselves, including steaming, crozing and charring which pose specific problems of their own.

“Once we had the automated concepts worked out, CI Logistics recommended that we invest in a computer simulation software package to mimic the casks travelling through the facility,” says Hadden. “This really justified our investment in the project as we could see the flow of casks throughout the facility, potential bottlenecks and how cask production would be increased by some 25 per cent per year.”

There are two main floor conveyor lines running through the cooperage, one for re-building and one for rejuvenation of casks. Before starting on the rejuvenation line, the cask type and size settings are checked into one of the human machine interface (HMI) terminals of the two main control panels.

Casks are stripped of ends and quarter hoops which are placed in a cradle on one of two branches of a power and free overhead conveyor. Removed parts are given an identification number and stored on a RF (radio frequency) tag fitted to each carrier. The RF tags are read by code readers around the system keeping the parts on the overhead conveyors in synchronisation with the casks travelling along the floor conveyors. Once tagged, the cooper transfers the casks onto a floor level driven roller bed conveyor mounted on a lift table in a shallow pit. On command, the lift table rises and puts the cask into the conveyor system ready for the next process, de-charring. After this is complete the casks are delivered, two at a time, to the next stage where they are manipulated by two robots onto platens ready for charring.

At the end of the line the casks arrive at one of six finishing stations. Approaching each station is a gravity roller section of conveyor. A pneumatic gate is operated by foot pedal and indexes the casks, one at a time to be reunited with their ends and hoops from the overhead line at the hydraulic heading and hoop driving machines.

At the start of the rebuild line, the casks are reconstructed with two temporary end plate hoops. These hoops are located on a     re-circulating overhead conveyor. The creation of the casks takes place at six cask riser machines from where they are transferred via one of three loading stations onto the main line.

The casks are then accumulated in sets of five and temporary lids are applied prior to them travelling through the steam chamber. Lids are taken off  and temporary bulge and quarter hoops fitted ready for the casks to be loaded into the crozer machines.

The casks then travel onto a powered roller conveyor and are inspected with the assistance of a specially designed semi-automatic turn and tilt machine. Here they are transferred onto the main line to enter the charring process and from there to the heading and hoop driving machines at the end of the line.

Production manager Tom Duncan says: “The automated processes have not only enabled us to increase production by 25 per cent but also, and more importantly, to improve the safety of the 80 staff who work here.”

Logistics Manager, January 2012

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