Dismantling and rebuilding while keeping the washing process going

In our distribution centre in Halle we wash the fruit and vegetable crates from our stores. To be ready to switch to a new type of crates, we built a new washing installation. Easier said than done, but fortunately Colruyt Group Technics is full of motivated experts!

18,000 crates per hour

Calling this project a challenge is quite the understatement. Setting up a crate washing installation is not done in 1-2-3. "The new installation was built on the exact same spot as the old one, and production had to continue during the demolition and construction. After all, the flow of crates from our stores was not going to come to a grinding halt. So good planning, regular consultation and good relations with all parties involved - and there are quite a few - were crucial. Are you curious to see what that looks like, to build up and break down an installation while keeping the washing process going? Check out the time-lapse below.

At top speed the plant washes 17,000 crates per hour. In reality, the average is closer to 13,000 crates per hour. This makes it one of the most productive lines in Europe. In addition, a lot fewer operators are needed to keep the installation running. Almost all manual positions have disappeared, which has allowed most of the operators to move to installations that require more people. 

Tight deadlines and tough challenges

By the end of 2021 we will have completely switched from rigid blue crates to the new green folding crates. The arrival of our new crate washing installation was a crucial element in that conversion. We were in fact the first Belgian retailer to have to make the switch. That led to very strict and sometimes tight deadlines. Missing a deadline in such a large project can quickly cost a lot of money.

Last year, the corona crisis threatened to throw a spanner in the works. From Colruyt Group's point of view, we would have been able to maintain the initial planning. Due to possible problems with the international planning, we decided with all parties to postpone everything by three months. That's why we didn't start the work until September.

Fortunately, after that, everything went largely according to plan. Co-workers of foreign suppliers sometimes stayed in Belgium for weeks on end. That way, they didn't lose valuable time on any quarantine periods when flying back and forth home.

Everyone involved from the start

When designing and setting up the new installations, the team did not only take efficiency and speed into account. Safety and ergonomics were high on the agenda. We organised work sessions with technicians and operators to detect and eliminate any sore points. You can see their input in the final design, where for example we created - where possible - more space between the fencing and the machine (see photo).

Smooth maintenance did not escape the team's attention either. That's why reliability and maintenance engineer Thomas Broquet was involved in the project from the start. He built a simulation tool for the installation and for its maintenance. This enabled him to develop a well-founded maintenance strategy even before the installation was operational.

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