In the year 2005 MPS Food Logistic Systems automated the intra logistic requirements at the premises of Astra Faam. Located in the northern part of the Netherlands, Astra Faam (member of the Astra Sweets Group) produces the famous “Frisia marshmallows”, and can be recognised as being market leader in its field of sweets production and sales.

The Frisia marshmallow sweets are produced from mainly glucose, gelatine and sugar.

By the end of last year the core part (heart) of the production, all packaging area and the dynamic buffer storage at Astra was destroyed in a fire. All production came to a “stand-still” and urgent replacement of production equipment and the intra logistics was needed. As MPS Food Logistic Systems and also MPS Service & Spares we were asked for help and assistance in rebuilding the temporary- and final production including the realisation with updated intra logistic systems and warehousing.

Marshmallows are produced in continuous batch processes. Due to the differences in product flavours, sweets shape and colours it needs to dry and being stored for a few days and can be mixed only during the moment of packaging in its bag packing.

The difficulty here with this kind of product and production is thus how these humidity sensitive products can be stored without deforming and being sorted by batch.

Second difficulty is how can, depending on the customer requirements, products be retrieved from the ware housing’s dynamic buffer and mixed in a just-in-time process without causing downtime in the automatic mixing and packaging units.

By knowing the open products since 2005 and the need of products to be transported and stored in a dry and hygienic environment, MPS Food Logistic Systems made use of its years of experience with open food products in the meat, poultry, dairy, cheese and fast food / snack industry.

Insuring the products can be dried and kept dry a continuous airflow around the products is needed. By using open plastic crates with mazes in side walls and by storing the crates individually in an open dynamic buffer store, multiple functions for realising an optimal product could be combined.

The products are stored in humidity and temperature controlled environment. The design of the crate buffer storage is such that continuous air flow around the open crates is guaranteed.

This thus takes care of the proper product drying in all places of the rack. Another benefit of using this method of storing products by the batch control with a FIFO (First in – First out) principle.

Each crate has its own electronic identification tag (unique number identification) sealed into the crates (RFID). The product and production data is combined with the crate ID and used as data-point in the WMS Warehouse Management System. Each crate now has its own (temporary) place within the crate buffer storage.

Based on customer orders for deliveries, the packaging department needs a specific combination of products at a limited specified time. Both time and sequence are determent by the WMS system, based on the production planning. The IT department of MPS developed and integrated a WMS / MES software layer, which translates the requirements in packing, is specific retrieve orders at the buffer storage. This WMS system is capable of feeding sufficient “raw materials” for each of the 12 packaging lines! The correct combination of products is collected from the buffer storage and transported automatically to the individual packaging lines.

All equipment and conveyor systems are specially developed and designed for use in a maximum hygienic environment as known within the food industry. Specific for this project of Astra Faam, additional measures had to be taken to coop with the production pollutions like extreme sugar-, corn- and flour dust. Not only the “dust” impact on drives and limit switches / sensors has been recognised, but also the method of cleaning is important and has been taken care off.

To avoid product contamination all crates need to be dry, clean and free of product before it is used for a next cycle.

Taking in mind the extreme dust conditions, MPS designed a robust empty crate scanner for identifying the tray at the scanner location. Using dynamic measuring methods we are able to work on an “inline” system which controls the crates while being in motion. All design insuring a 100% inspection of each tray before filling its next cycle.

Continuous monitoring of the complete system insures efficient and faultless production with a system “uptime” guaranteed of > 98,5%. The on-line 24/7 support system by VPN and helpdesk follows the system status, enabling the helpdesk crew at MPS to assist and taking over tasks from the technical staff at Astra Faam each moment of the production, when the Astra management requires us to act so.

Astra Faam and MPS Food Logistic Systems are very proud to have been able to complete this complex project within the short timeframe available.