Cleaning is crucial for any food processing company. To ensure that every container used to transport fish waste to the mainland is perfectly clean again, Malta-based Aquaculture Resources counts on the expertise of ATS BU Washing & Drying Systems Cretel. Not only did they design a washing and drying line tailored to the client's needs, but they were also able to call on BU Machinery and Automation to deliver a turnkey solution with an automated warehouse.
Excellent reputation in washing lines
Even before the new building was there, Aquaculture Resources already knew who it wanted to partner with for the washing and drying installation to get those containers perfectly clean again: Cretel. "The first contacts were made during the Seafood Brussels fair in 2019, but it wasn't until 2021 that everything gained momentum," recalls Guy Persyn, division manager of Mechatronics at ATS. "Aquaculture Resources was looking for a total solution. Cretel's excellent reputation in this market for cleaning solutions had brought them to us. But that we could shape the underlying automatic warehouse for storage and supply of the containers simultaneously with our other business units was the decisive factor. Indeed, a reference visit to Ireland had convinced them that we could deliver on our promises. The big challenge was striking a balance between storing the 120 containers as compactly as possible during the rest of the year, but ensuring smooth processing and supply during the peak season."
Right balance according to pollution
Washing containers with fish waste is often still done manually. A hell of a job, and one cannot guarantee that every container is cleaned equally well. Having a professional cleaning installation was therefore part of the operating permit for Aquaculture Resources. Washing and drying installations are Cretel's trademark, which also focuses on water recovery for maximum efficiency. We start from standard machines, which are then adapted to exactly what the customer needs. Bruno Van Assel, BU Washing & Drying Systems Cretel at ATS. "Important in this story are the dimensions and weight of the containers. To make sure every nook and cranny was sufficiently cleaned, we worked with rotating nozzles that come up the moment the container passes inverted over the transport chain. It was also a matter of finding the right balance between soap, temperature, washing time and pressure according to the contamination. In this case, we are dealing with oil and blood, stubborn contaminants that can cause foaming. So last year we performed manual tests on site to ensure proper programming. This was then fully fine-tuned upon delivery of the machine."
Stacking and moving as stably as possible
After the containers are washed and dried, they are turned 180° to leave for the stacker. This lifts the containers and drops them off again when a new container arrives and is aligned. This is precisely where a lot of expertise comes together. "The better the stacking is done, the more stable the containers move on the shuttle," explains Michiel De Bolle of ATS BU Machinery. A number of sensors therefore keep a watchful eye on this process. As soon as the right height is reached (maximum three during peak season, maximum four for storage) they leave on the shuttle to the right place. There is a choice of five buffer lanes and an output lane, where a forklift prepares the containers again for the next truck. "The shuttle reaches a speed of about 0.5 m/s. That's pretty fast considering the volume it transports and also necessary to keep up with the pace of the output to fill the truck. A major concern was ensuring a soft and smooth transfer. Therefore, an overlap between the chain conveyors was provided so that the transfer of the high stacks is always stable. Incidentally, the chain conveyors are also all made of stainless steel for excellent cleanability."
Complex automation, simple operation
The destination is calculated from a pre-programmed traffic regulation. ATS' BU Automation was in charge of the adjustment. "Quite a complex tangle of priorities in the warehouse," Simon Goovaerts explains. "It is structured so that the customer keeps all the strings in his hands, without needing in-depth knowledge of the control himself. For example, he can indicate when a lane is defective or undergoing maintenance, or when it is time to put the containers away for storage. Furthermore, he can also indicate whether the shuttles are allowed to go directly to the output and how high they may be stacked. We made it a turnkey automated system that also watches over safety at all times. The same goes for the washing program. In fact, the operator only has to press start, the machine does the rest for a perfect result. And he can also follow where each container is in the warehouse via the 3D visualization on the washing installation. After all, that is in a locked room."
The entire installation was assembled at ATS' site on Langerbruggekaai. Before it was put on the transport to Malta, Aquaculture Resources stopped by for acceptance testing. "A standard approach to ensure that customer downtime can be kept to a minimum. After all, everything we were able to test had already been tested and approved. The customer was also extremely satisfied with the on-site installation. In difficult conditions, due to temperature, humidity and dust from other works, our team managed to easily meet the deadline. I can only be proud of the drive and enthusiasm of my team," Persyn concludes.