Setting The Scene


Ball Corporation is the world’s leading provider of innovative, sustainable aluminium packaging for beverage, personal care and household products. Their new production facility in Kettering is the largest ever beverage packaging plant in the UK, occupying 56,000sqm and is constructed according to BREEAM ‘Excellent’ Sustainability and Environmental Standards.

In line with their sustainability values and drive for efficiency, Ball Corporation had a dual requirement at the new facility for a full pallet conveyor system with strapping and labelling integration for safe transportation and traceability of their palletised cans, and a fully automated process for handling waste aluminium once crushed into bales, ready for recycling.

As a long-term integrator for Ball Corporation now working on their fifth project, L-A-C Logistics Automation Company were tasked with the design and delivery of two bespoke integrated solutions that would enhance throughput, provide safe handling of pallets to both the warehouse and despatch areas, and eliminate the need for manual handling of the heavy bales of waste aluminium.


The Challenge

With the palletised cans being transported to beverage plants across Europe, the production process uses various sized pallets depending on the destination country. The solution needed to cater for the full range of pallet options and offer a smooth process to transport them safely and seamlessly from the production line palletisers to an outfeed adjacent to the warehouse. The palletised stacks of cans would pass through an integrated compression strapping machine to provide the necessary stability during transit, so it was important that L-A-C’s solution also ensured that the strap positioning would be in the correct order and consistent so that the pallets would be stable enough for transportation.

An inspection & labelling station was required for quality control prior to either storage or shipment of each pallet and would require a platform around the visual inspection area for operators to fully view the pallet in a safe environment and allow them to affix product and destination labels.

The waste aluminium bales provided an additional challenge due to their varying sizes and weight, around 30kg per bale. Furthermore, there were two types of cans to be processed; bright (clear) aluminium and decorated material which differ in weight, size and processing speeds, with an additional requirement for a rejection line to handle substandard bales.



L-A-C had previously worked with Ball Corporation to integrate the waste bale handling system at other sites in both the UK and Europe and now had the opportunity to design an enhanced solution to suit the customer’s unique requirements at their new facility, alongside a new fully integrated pallet handling system.

For the pallet handling system, the pallets are fed from the production line palletisers onto L-A-C’s heavy duty pallet chain conveyors, fitted with four chains to cope with the varying pallet sizes. The chain conveyor has an integrated encoder with reader to determine what position the chain is in, enabling the stacked pallet of beverage cans to be accurately positioned on arrival at the strapping machine. The first two compression straps would be applied to each 2.8m high stack with a laser etched barcode applied to the straps which would then be scanned downstream at the inspection station. An additional three straps would then be applied to each stack for greater stability before continuing along the chain conveyor arriving at the fully enclosed inspection area. Here, the operators carry out quality control checks and scan the etched barcodes to create additional labels required for either warehouse storage or shipment. Leaving the inspection station, the pallets travel along two chain conveyor line options depending on the requirement for a stretch-wrap application. The final phase of the conveyor system involves a roller conveyor used to stack two pallets together which are then moved to their required location by a forklift truck.

Across the production facility at the waste aluminium handling area, L-A-C devised a fully automated solution involving an ABB Robotic Arm capable of measuring and stacking the bales onto a carrying pallet ready to be taken off-site for recycling. Offcuts and damaged aluminium from the production process are collated and crushed to form rectangular bales which need to measure a certain size to be picked up by the ABB robot and stacked onto a carrier pallet. Therefore, once the bales arrive at the station via L-A-C’s heavy-duty belt conveyor, the ABB robot measures each bale to ensure they comply with the size requirements. If they measure correctly, the robot will pick up the bale and place it on the pallet to create a fully stacked pallet of 28 bales in just one hour. Any non-conforming bales can be rejected via a turntable roller conveyor, which turns the bale by 90 degrees and is then taken away on a rubber belt conveyor. The full pallet weighing up to 1000kg is then transported by a further line of heavy-duty chain conveyor to a strapping machine which applies 10 straps per stack to create a highly stable pallet. The final phase before despatch to the recycling facility involves each stack being weighed and recorded at the check weighing station.


The Benefits

The design & integration of the L-A-C systems has provided Ball Corporation with robust and reliable solutions for handling the stacks of palletised beverage cans and waste aluminium bales.

Supporting the customer’s continuous quest for safety and efficiency, the two fully automated solutions will optimise throughput rates, ensure safe pallet and product handling, improve traceability, and minimise the manual input required, resulting overall in enhanced operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.


About Author

Comments are closed.