Around twice as many flour sacks had to be packed, transported, and loaded for the same scope of delivery. As a result, the company successfully implemented automation using KUKA robots.
French flour for baguettes, flatbreads and cookies
Bourgeois – this name stands for flour of the highest quality since 1895. “We have been operating as independent millers for four generations,” explains Julien Bourgeois, General Manager. “As carefully as winemakers select their grape varieties, we select our grain vari-eties.” For 80 years, the company’s headquarters have been located in Verdelot, 80 kilome-ters east of Paris.
Although the company is growing steadily, Moulins Bourgeois still defines itself as a family mill. And although only French grain is processed and the company sees artisan bakeries as its core target group, it has long since delivered all over the world. Con-ventionally grown and organic flour from Moulins Bourgeois is exported to Germany, Nor-way, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China, and Brazil, among others.
Overcoming crises à la Bourgeois
The Bourgeois family had to overcome two major challenges in the 2010s. On June 28, 2010, a heat buildup in a control cabinet triggered a fire that destroyed the company’s main mill in Verdelot. Operations continued in rented mills. In parallel, the entrepreneurs had a new mill built within 18 months, with improved hygiene precautions and almost double the production capacity.
Everything was off to a good start. But shortly afterwards it became apparent that a new regulation would present the company with further challenges. The social insurance Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Maladie (CNAM) and the professional association Association Natio-nale de la Meunerie (ANM) agreed on regulations to reduce the physical strain on mill employees. From now on, flour sacks were allowed to weigh a maximum of 25 kilograms. Julien and David Bourgeois, the fourth generation to run the family business, needed a solution.
From hard physical labor to a fully automated distribution center
“We had to switch from 40-kilogram flour sacks to 25-kilogram flour sacks,” Julien Bourgeois reports. “This was good news for our employees because it reduced the heavy physical labor. But we had to practically double the number of sacks we were loading into our trucks every day from 7,000 before. That was completely impossible.” This was because six employees had previously been responsible for palletizing and loading the flour sacks. This hard physical work could not be accelerated at will.
In order to protect the team from overload and to be able to continue to fulfill all orders, the company decided to invest in a fully au-tomated distribution center. The employees, meanwhile, kept their jobs – today, on the loading deck, they ensure that each sack arrives in the right truck and is safely stowed there.
In 2014, the starting signal was given for the 100 percent automated “goods-to-truck” solution with five KUKA robots. The new distribution center opened in September 2015. Since then, two KR 180 R3200 PAs and three KR 300-2 PAs have been responsible for the entire order picking process, i.e. depalletizing and loading onto the correct conveyor belts.
The fruit of future-oriented teamwork
Viastore Systems was responsible for the intralogistics, while AB Process was the integrator. Christophe Abjean, founder and one of the managing directors of AB Process, explains what he sees as special about the new distribution center: “Order preparation is 100 percent automated – from the time the pallets enter the warehouse to the time the sacks are trans-ported to the trucks. The five depalletizing robots from KUKA handle the entire order picking process reliably and at a remarkable speed. The system has a processing capacity of 2,000 sacks per hour.” In the process, the bags are pre-sorted so that they arrive in the truck in the order that matches the delivery route.
Dream team: advantages of two KUKA depalletizing robots: KR 300-2 PAs
The two KR 180 R3200 PAs prove to be a space-saving, agile solution for placing individual sacks on the conveyor belt. Each robot can transport 100 sacks per hour. The KR 300-2 PAs, on the other hand, pick up five flour sacks at a time, moving up to 550 sacks per hour. KUKA has developed this type of robot specifically for high-speed tasks with high payloads. It effortlessly lifts up to 300 kilograms and can be flexibly adapted to tasks thanks to mounting frames at different heights. Emmanuel Bergerot, Managing Director for France, the Benelux countries and the Maghreb at KUKA, concludes: “The realization of the Moulins Bourgeois project is the result of a constant effort for technical innovation in both the robot mechanics and the software that controls them. This system is at the service of extremely demanding but also efficient logistics.“
Faster and more successful than ever
The new distribution center has fully lived up to the high expectations. The time between order acceptance and delivery is now less than 24 hours. This makes Moulins Bourgeois’ popular flour even more attractive to customers. The family business delivers up to 170 tons of flour every day. Annual sales increased from 40 million euros in 2015 to 50 million euros in 2020, and the Bourgeois brothers are pleased to have 150 satisfied employees and one of the most efficient and modern flour production facilities in Europe.
“We have managed to load 60 percent more sacks of flour and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal diseases and injuries to our employees as a result of the changeover,” Julien Bourgeois is pleased to report. “As a company, we’ve grown, have much greater demand and therefore more em-ployees overall than before. The KUKA company understood our goals and knew what kind of solutions we needed. With KUKA robots and the integrator AB Process, we fully achieved our goals.” Julien Bourgeois, General Manager Moulins Bourgeois.