In the highly popular British drama "Downton Abbey," the fictional character Matthew Crawley undertakes to modernize the estate and make it more efficient and sustainable.
A modernizing improvement has occured on the estate on real life: U.K.-based Pacepacker Services has upgraded a bagging line at Highclere Castle Horse Feed Ltd., situated on the estate of the Downton Abbey drama, transforming a partly manual system into a fully automated line which now bags 1,500 tons of horse oats each year. Spiroflow Systems is the exclusive distributor of Pacepacker solutions in the United States & Latin America.
To minimize the manufacturer's outlay, Pacepacker seamlessly integrated their Total Bag Control (TBC) bag closing system with the line's existing machines to provide a turnkey system which offers the manufacturer greater flexibility to handle different bag sizes. As a result the upgraded line has not only eliminated the need for manual labor, but more importantly enabled Highclere Castle to fulfill increased customer demand for oats.
The 3,000 tons of oats processed by Highclere Castle Horse Feeds are used as a staple ingredient within horse food. The harvested oats are clipped, polished, cleaned and graded with the small and broken ones kept for the Estate sheep flock. The oats can then be bruised or rolled to customer requirement. Half of the oats are delivered in bulk direct to Racehorse Trainers, or collected by feed companies. One feed company puts the "Superior" graded oats into their racing mixtures and exports to seven different countries. The remaining 1,500 tons, and some wheat and barley, are bagged for various customers from Farm Shops to Polo Teams. Quoted as being the "Formula One Fuel for racehorses", the oats are in demand from some of the top U.K. trainers making them the second celebrated fare to hail from the 5,000 acre Highclere Estate.
Over time the original manual line which weighed, bagged and sealed the oats was gradually automated to reduce handling and increase throughput. Initially a weigher, bag presenter and palletizing robot were installed however it was the final part of the chain - the bag closing system - which was "letting the side down", explains farm estate manager James Phillips. "Our old stitching machine drastically hindered our output potential. Once the bags were filled and dropped onto the moving conveyor, there was nothing to stabilize them during the stitching process which meant that we could not achieve consistent well-presented packs. As a result oat wastage was high. Pacepacker Services was recommended to us by word-of-mouth and they immediately suggested their Total Bag Control System as a solution. It would stabilize the bags throughout the sealing process and therefore provide a neat consistent seal."
Ian Merchant, now Pacepacker brand manager for Spiroflow Systems, comments: "It's the perception of many manufacturers' that automating an existing line will be expensive. Pacepacker's TBC, as with all of our systems, has been designed with features which make it easy to integrate. It works in tandem with existing production equipment supplied by other leading manufacturers - as found by Highclere Castle. In order to achieve a fully automated system, we simply upgraded their existing line to keep project costs to a minimum."
Programmed with interlocking signals, the TBC is fed from the existing bag presenter and then, with motorized grip arms, holds the bag firmly in place while it is filled from the existing weigher above. Pacepacker programmed the TBC to work in complete unison with the weigher to ensure that the bag filling cycle is as efficient and fast as possible to maximize throughput. Pacepacker replaced the original conveyor system with a TBC system that prepares the bag top while on the bag clamp, it then transfers the bag to the stitching unit using grip arms and a belt feeder that move in perfect timing to the conveyors sitting underneath. Pacepacker also installed a 90 degree motorized Bag Kicker that complimented the line by depositing the upright, sealed, conveyed bag to a flat configuration ready for palletizing.
Historically the line required manual adjustment to deal with multiple bag sizes, which differed depending on each customer's requirements. Pacepacker's solution, the TBC, enables the system to be changed over to different sizes and types of bags very quickly with only the minimal amount of adjustments required. Quite often the only change required is to raise or lower the conveyors.
Once the TBC was established within Highclere's production line, their problems with waste and pack presentation were completely eliminated and the full line is now running at six tons of oats per hour. The operator is now able to wrap the pallets, and restock the bag presenter, as well as keep an eye on the bagging line operation.
By gradually automating their production line Highclere Castle Horse Feed Ltd has been able to fulfill their sales potential and is now selling their oats on a global scale. "Installation of Pacepacker's bag closing system has helped us to fully automate our line and we are delighted to report that it has revolutionized the way we pack," concludes James Phillips.
Lord Carnarvon, owner of Highclere Castle, commented: "I fully endorse the efficiency of the system. By automating the bagging and stitching line, we are now able to exploit the potential of our robotic palletizer. Highclere Castle Horse Feeds has continued to invest in production efficiency and quality of the process and the Pacepacker system has allowed us to considerably increase our sales throughput without the need for extra labor."
Spiroflow Systems is proud of Pacepacker's success at Highclere Castle and throughout the U.K. "The Pacepacker brand is not only innovative but very cost effective as well," states Spiroflow VP of sales, Mathias Lee. "We are excited to bring this robust product line into the Spiroflow family of material handling solutions. This offers our customers more complete end-to-end solutions beginning with material entering the plant and ending with packaging and robotic palletizing."
Spiroflow Systems, Inc.