Automated palletizing system increases operational efficiency for Bee Sweet Citrus

The solution accommodates the citrus company’s diverse products and packaging requirements.

By ·

From its origins of handling 10,000 cartons a year, Bee Sweet Citrus has grown into a global packer and shipper of California citrus, as it now handles 10 million cartons annually—all within a state-of-the-art, 400,000-square-foot packing house in Fowler, Calif.

To serve these growing volumes with manual palletizing processes, the company has also encountered issues such as rising labor costs, safety concerns and high staff turnover. If they were going to continue to maintain profit and reach peak efficiency, they knew they needed more sophisticated equipment and technology like an automated palletizing solution that can handle a diverse product range, including oranges, lemons, grapefruits and mandarins.

“With labor being as difficult as it is, it really made sense to look at automatic palletization,” says Bee Sweet president Jim Marderosian. “But, the more I researched, the more complicated it seemed to me.”

Bee Sweet implemented a flexible, automated palletizing solution that would increase operational efficiency and reduce labor requirements. The company’s diverse product range required the new system to handle six packaging types—from open-top nested trays to reusable plastic containers. And, since no two loads are exactly the same, software plays a critical role in determining load composition and pattern creation based on inputs from upstream scanning systems.

“To accommodate such a high level of complexity, we needed a multi-part system with scanners, bar codes, conveyor, sortation and palletizing,” explains Marderosian.

The Bee Sweet palletizing operation starts with three conveyor input lanes—from the packing building to the mezzanine area of the palletizing facility. Cases destined for automated palletizing travel down a sliding shoe sorter, where they are diverted to one of 28 accumulation conveyor lanes.

Once a full pallet quantity accumulates, the system releases cases to the palletizer, using integrated bar code scanners to ensure the right cases make it onto the right pallets. Employees then manually apply corner boards and pallet tags for tracking, before releasing loads for stretch wrapping. Finally, the pallet conveyor moves the finished loads into position for forklift pick up.

The result is a comprehensive, integrated, end-of-line palletizing solution that meets Bee Sweet’s goals of high equipment utilization, reduced labor requirements and increased operational efficiency. The system can now handle 95% of Bee Sweet’s citrus varieties—with the flexibility to run 27 different stacking patterns and six packaging types.

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