Vorarlberg Milch eGen is one of the Austria’s largest dairies. During the expansion of its production site in Feldkirch, Austria, the company looked for an automated solution to provide them with more efficient operations and a competitive advantage. Vorarlberg Milch commissioned Dematic to design and implement an Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) system to handle all transport activities between its cheese ripening rooms and treating machines.
In a typical year, more than 38 billion liters of milk are processed in Austria — approximately 44% of which are used to make cheese. Because of such high volumes, traditional manual production processes are increasingly rare in the dairy industry. Increasingly strict hygiene, quality, and capacity requirements have also accelerated the transition to automation in production, storage, and distribution.
The region between Arlberg and Lake Constance is traditionally associated with agriculture and is primarily known for its alpine milk. Almost 60% of all milk products in the region are produced in Vorarlberg, a federal state in Austria. In total, the cooperative, established over 70 years ago, currently processes almost 66 million liters of milk annually. Over 500 regional farmers supply the Austrian dairy at its Feldkirch production site with fresh milk daily. The raw material is then processed onsite under strict hygiene and quality guidelines.
Vorarlberger Bergkäse is a well-known and popular product — a driving force for the entire economic region. One of the greatest challenges in production is guaranteeing a consistently high quality. In the past, traditional manual work often resulted in variations.
The Dematic solution for the production facility features four Dematic AGVs to transport cheese between the loading and unloading station, the ripening rooms, and the treating machines. Dematic control system software coordinates the AGV operation for traffic control and transport management.
Not all the cheese produced at the facility is the same. Each type has its own special ingredients and steps and is subject to different storage, cooling, and treating processes.
At Voralberg Milch, after maturing for up to eight months, the loaves are immersed in a salt bath and then drained onto a platter or board. From there, they are transported to a ripening rack by an AGV with a load capacity of 1.7 metric tons and a lifting height of 3,300 mm, or nearly 11 feet. They are then given a barcode, which allows them to be identified both by a barcode reader on the AGV and by a mobile scanner.
The information is then easily transferred to the control system software to ensure the system performs every function as required. The software not only controls the AGVs, it manages the storage locations in the eight ripening rooms as well.
The Dematic software also handles recipe management. This requires importing the individual cheese recipes to the software. They consist of several predefined treatments that must be applied during cheese production whether it is the duration of the ripening phases or treating measures such as brushing, board turning, or cheese turning.
As soon as a cheese rack is stored in one of the ripening rooms, the software triggers the necessary transport activities between the ripening rooms and the treating machines. Once a treatment has been completed, it ensures that an AGV transports the products to the target destination as defined in the recipe.
Johannes Wehinger, Technical Manager, Vorarlberg Milch eGen
With fewer manual operations, our error rates dropped.
In addition to operating the refrigerated and ripening storage areas, the AGVs manage the supply and removal of the ripening racks at the cheese treating machines. Depending on what is required, AGVs transport the cheese from the ripening rooms to the cheese treatment area. They also de-stack the cheese onto the conveyor system and restacks the racks on top of each other after the treatment. Dematic AGVs ensure that the respective processes are followed to the last detail, handling 50 loads per hour, seven days a week, in three shifts per day.
In addition, the Dematic software provides visualization for the entire warehouse, including the conveyor, ripening, and treatment systems. Displays show operator the time for the next processing stored in the product recipe. A set of colors indicate the batch status or whether the treating machine is occupied and active. Both the racks and AGV status are also dynamically visualized. This has resulted in a huge simplification in traceability of the cheese from storage to retrieval.
Dematic navigation software steers the AGVs via a preconfigured layout. Sensors as well as positioning modules guide AGVs through their routes. Each AGV has the driving routes stored so they can transport loads and carry out actions fully automatically.
The Dematic AGVs have the flexibility to travel using several defined routes and storage locations, depending on the order, and the Dematic software can update these routes. The software also optimizes material flow by determining which AGV handles a particular order and then calculating the fastest route. The Dematic software communicates with the Vorarlberg Milch in-house software.
Johannes Wehinger, Technical Manager, Vorarlberg Milch eGen
This has resulted in a huge simplification in traceability of the cheese from storage to retrieval.
Vorarlberg Milch selected Dematic based on its proven track record of providing intralogistics solutions. Its high level of customer service was another strong factor in its decision.
“In the automation of cheese production, Dematic is clearly one of the pioneers and has demonstrated a high level of expertise over the past decades,” notes Wehinger. During the project phase, Dematic exchanged intensive design information with Vorarlberg Milch. The commissioning and the software installation went off without a hitch. “Since then, we have been much more efficient in how we work,” Wehinger concludes.
- Compliance with strict hygiene guidelines
- Ensures consistently high quality
- Recipe management and cheese treatment stages stored in the software
- Three shift operation, seven days a week
- More complete traceability of the cheeses