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Barilla’s Largest Pasta Factory Showcases Integrated Robotics and Sustainable Distribution

Family-owned since 1877, Barilla is the world’s leading pasta maker – over 160 shapes and sizes sold in over 100 countries. In Italy, it represents 45% of the pasta market and 35% in the American market. In addition to pasta, Barilla has 16 brands in related product categories such as sauces and breads.

Although steeped in history, Barilla is no stranger to technology. Italian pasta maker uses connected technologies and analytics to improve traceability in its supply chain. Its field-to-fork initiative follows all stages of food production, from local harvesting to storage, processing, packaging, distribution and even consumption.

Barilla was one of the first to adopt sustainable practices in its facilities. More than two-thirds of the electricity used in Barilla’s factories comes from renewable sources. Since 2010, Barilla facilities have reduced their water consumption by 21% and their greenhouse gas emissions by 30%. The company also promotes more sustainable farming and farming practices for its suppliers – 3,000 agricultural companies worldwide are involved in sustainable agriculture projects with Barilla.

Distribution integrated with robotics

It is in the midst of this culture of technology and environmental initiative that Barilla announced in 2018 its intention to invest 1 billion euros over five years in its industrial assets, aiming to strengthen sustainability by optimizing processes. and technologies. A central objective of this plan was to transform the distribution operations of its flagship pasta production plant in Parma, Italy, into a showcase for integrated robotic processes and energy conservation.

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The newly modernized distribution facility at the world’s largest pasta factory incorporates state-of-the-art robotics, machine-to-machine communication and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) for optimized automation and streamlined throughput.

Flexible, highly automated systems allow Barilla to meet the needs and capabilities of the distribution facility, notes Alessandro Spadini, Parma plant manager. “Any distribution system that is not flexible enough, that is based on a rigid scheme, sooner or later will become a problem,” he says.

According to Spadini, an essential part of the distribution project is the systemic integration of the project rather than single, discrete systems. To realize this strategy, Barilla called on the E80 group to create the global solution. Beginning with planning and distribution model simulations for the Parma facility in 2013 and continuing with upgrades and expansions through 2020, E80 has enabled a 430,000 square foot distribution facility that is fully automated, off, running 24/7/365. It is equipped with 120 laser-guided vehicles (LGVs) and 35 robotic systems, including high-density automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), palletizers, labelers and stretch wrappers.

In 2019, these combined systems processed 438,000 tonnes of pasta; approximately 1,000 different packaged SKUs.

LCVs as transport alternatives

A major driver of this renovation project was the desire to replace conveyors with LCVs for transporting pallets within the facility, notes Spadini. “Traditional conveyor systems are sized for production peaks and are not flexible enough to handle flow variations, both in terms of flow rates and volumes,” he says. “As a result, pallet conveyor systems are generally very inefficient.”

The Parma facility uses three main types of LCVs: carrying a single pallet, two pallets or four pallets at a time. The LGVs interact with pallets on the ground and AS/RS induction stations. They pick up and drop off pallets between receiving and manufacturing, palletizing, stretch wrapping, labeling, finished product storage, and shipping preparation locations. LGV chassis dynamometers allow effective roll-on/roll-off.

LGV chassis dynamometers allow an efficient roll-on/roll-off procedure.Photo courtesy of E80 Group

LGV navigation is based on target triangulation. Each LGV is equipped with a rotating laser that scans 360 degrees around the vehicle against laser targets mounted on columns, walls and stationary machinery. Reflections from these targets are triangulated to determine position, and the position is compared to a CAD-like map stored in the LGV’s memory.

Parma's LGVs use lithium flash battery technology, which offers low toxicity, well-defined performance and long-term stability.Parma’s LGVs use lithium flash battery technology, which offers low toxicity, well-defined performance and long-term stability.Photo courtesy of E80 GroupDeveloped for the E80, Flash Battery lithium technology offers a high level of performance for industrial vehicles. Lithium Iron Phosphate offers low toxicity, well defined performance and long term stability. Having a very constant discharge voltage, Flash Battery technology delivers virtually full power until the battery is discharged.

Built-in system commands

E80’s Smart Integrated Logistics (SM.I.LE80) control platform manages the LGVs, as well as all integrated robotic systems within the Parma distribution facility. The SM.I.LE80 continuously updates the position status of each LGV, including whether it is loaded or unloaded, emergency stop or soft stop, operating in manual mode and battery level. An HMI screen gives the operator a graphical overview of the LGV locations in the system and monitors each in real time.

The SM.I.LE80 controls ensure the integrated and automated management of the systems, communicating with the AS/RS, the palletizers, the packaging machines and the places of preparation of shipments. The entire LGV logistics flow within the Parma distribution operation can be centrally managed from this platform.

Six stacker cranes support 47,000 pallet locations.

Six stacker cranes support 47,000 pallet locations.Photo courtesy of E80 GroupBarilla’s high-density automated warehouse, where six stacker cranes support 47,000 pallet locations, fits perfectly with LGV technology. E80 AS/RS Crane Store systems are equipped with automatic product handling devices for double-deep storage. Since they can operate at heights of up to 130 feet, these systems significantly increase storage capacity. 50,000 additional pallet spaces are used for LGV high density low bay storage.

Palletless robotic palletizing

The Barilla facility uses a unique palletizing process. Robotic palletizing stations form cases into palletized configurations directly on the palletizer platform. The setups are then moved onto LGVs and transported to other end-of-line processing stations in the facility where a pallet is inserted underneath prior to storage and shipping.

Robotic palletizing stations form cases into palletized configurations directly on palletizer platforms, eliminating wooden pallets.

Robotic palletizing stations form cases into palletized configurations directly on palletizer platforms, eliminating wooden pallets.Photo courtesy of E80 Group

This removes wooden pallets from much of the operating area. “Removing wood from production and many distribution areas means removing an element that can pollute the environment where we produce and package our products,” Spadini points out. “But also, handling pallets without wooden parts opens up the possibility of handling and reprocessing pallets in a fully automated way, improving efficiency and minimizing environmental impact.”

Barilla's high-speed stretch wrappers use automatic wrapping head changes, eliminating the need to stop production.Barilla’s high-speed stretch wrappers use automatic wrapping head changes, eliminating the need to stop production.Photo courtesy of E80 GroupAs with other distribution operations systems, Barilla’s stretch wrap and end-of-line labeling is also robotic and fully integrated with LGVs and other robotic processes. High-speed wrappers use automatic wrapping head changes, eliminating the need to stop production.

“We can not only manage our stretch film usage very precisely, but we’ve also reduced film usage by almost 30% compared to our previous stretch wraps,” says Spadini.

Traceability

In addition to managing LGV traffic and other integrated robotic systems, the SM.I.LE80 control system maintains control and identification of every case of product throughout the distribution facility. Once crates and pallets leave the facility, tagged identification provides a tracking mechanism for complete track and trace throughout the supply chain.

“For Barilla, traceability means providing the right information, correct information and timely information on all of our products from the time we receive batches of raw materials to the time we actually distribute and display our products on the shelves” , says Spadini. “Full traceability, for us, is one of the main elements in ensuring and guaranteeing our consumers the right to nutritionally safe products and also to controlled products.”