Crate destackers are the unsung heroes of packing halls, as Brillopak’s automation project at Adrian Scripps demonstrates. The installation of four Brillopak Crate DESTAKers on robotic packing cells has played a key role in tripling the apple producer’s productivity per person. 

From starting life in 1960 as a traditional Weald of Kent fruit, hops and livestock farm, Adrian Scripps has grown into one of the UK’s premier growers and packers of English fruit. Several varieties of apple – Braeburn, Kanzi, Jazz, Opal, Gala, Red Prince and Bramley – along with Conference pears and blackcurrants, are grown on five farms totalling 750 hectares.

As well as being the UK’s largest exporter of apples, the family owned farming business is one of Tesco’s key apple suppliers – a relationship that stretches back more than 30 years and has seen much change in the way that fruit is handled at the company’s centralised packing facility on Moat Farm.

In a sector that has historically shied away from automation, Adrian Scripps has become something of a trailblazer whilst remaining true to its roots as a wholly owned family farming business.

In 2018, Adrian Scripps embarked on a complete end-of-line automation project with Brillopak, with the aim of bringing its crate packing and palletising operations up to speed with its upstream 75 ppm flow wrapping lines.

The project saw Brillopak install four UniPAKer robotic crate packing systems, four Crate DESTAKers, four vertical accumulation units and three robotic palletisers. Thanks to this investment in automation, Adrian Scripps tripled productivity from 2.5-5 packs to 15 packs per person per minute. This has enabled the packing hall to keep pace with increased production that has come about as a result of replanting orchards, introducing new varieties and adopting new farming methods. 

The four Crate DESTAKers that feed the UniPAKer robotic crate packing cells are key to the seamless and continuous operation of the four lines.

Crate destackers are often a secondary consideration rather than a priority in automation projects, but as James Simpson, Managing Director of Adrian Scripps, points out, they are vital for the overall efficiency of the packing operation.

“If you don’t automate crate destacking, you have to have a person standing there and manually separating crates. When committing to automation, you have to automate every element of the process; if you don’t, you are not getting the most from every piece of equipment,” he says.

At the start of a run, the operator simply selects the appropriate crate size for the SKU and brings a loaded pallet of five crate stacks (200 crates) to the Crate DESTAKer. Each stack is pushed onto a low level conveyor (the same height as the pallet) and fed into the machine. The destacking mechanism pulls the bottom crate and feeds it into the line.

Brillopak’s Crate DESTAKer is prized for the unrivalled flexibility and reliability it offers versus the competition, thanks to a game-changing operating principle; rather than picking up the entire stack and relying on gravity to despatch the bottom crate, the Crate DESTAKer clamps the bottom crate down, lifts the rest of the stack up, and then despatches the bottom crate.

The Crate DESTAKer uses pneumatic clamps to grip both the bottom crate and the upper (remaining) section of the stack. The upper clamp is powered by two servo motors, which lift the crates up to enable the bottom crate to be moved out of the stack and indexed into the downstream UniPAKer. The use of servo motors makes the destacking system infinitely adjustable – the operator can change between crate sizes, change the speed at which the system accelerates and decelerates and alter the height to which the stack is lifted – all via the system’s user-friendly HMI.

Brillopak’s innovative approach to crate destacking has several advantages; one problem encountered with conventional systems is that when releasing the bottom crate sometimes the one above comes with it because the two are stuck together due to the crates being wet or the presence of old labels or debris. On the Crate DESTAKer this is never an issue as they are automatically separated when the bottom crate is clamped. In addition, the clamps on the Crate DESTAKer have PU (polyurethane) faces to prevent damage to the crates. This is in contrast to the metal teeth that some rival systems use.

James concluded “You can honestly trust Brillopak. A British company, on our doorstep at the forefront of their field. They’re innovative, proactive and delivered everything we asked. We couldn’t have worked with a better partner on this project”.