Hydrochem

HydroChem is Australia’s go-to industrial water-treatment company. Established in 1977, it is the only Australian water-treatment company to hold accreditations in the three areas of quality (ISO 9001:2008), OHS (AS/NZS 4801:2001) and environmental (AS/NZS 14001:2001).

The family-owned business, which today employees 180 people Australia wide, provides water-treatment services for a diverse range of industries, including construction, food & beverage, manufacturing, mining, pharmaceuticals, power & petrochemical, and steel, metals & plastics.

CEO Nick Duncan says, “Our new facility in Braeside, is a fully automated operation, whereas we had a lot of manual operations at our previous plant – and that included product labelling.”

However, different product sizes and shapes meant automated labelling wasn’t straightforward.

“We process five different packages types through the same line: our 10-litre and 15-litre containers are different heights, while the 5-litre is a different shape, and we also do 10s and 15s that are an old-fashioned shape. Another degree of difficulty came in because all these different-package shapes are rounded drums, not boxes. Regardless of shape, you still need to present each one in the same way to the labeller.

“I think the application was fairly challenging in terms of the size of the label, too: it’s quite big compared with what you normally do on a box.”

On top of this, the amount of space on the line is “fairly tight”.

HYDROCHEM

INDUSTRY:INDUSTRIAL
APPLICATION:PRODUCT INFORMATION LABELS ONTO DIFFERENT-SIZE PLASTIC DRUMS
TECHNOLOGY:LABEL PRINTER APPLICATOR + INTEGRATION SOFTWARE

BACKGROUND

HydroChem is Australia’s go-to industrial watertreatment company. Established in 1977, it is the only Australian water-treatment company to hold accreditations in the three areas of quality (ISO 9001:2008), OHS (AS/NZS 4801:2001) and environmental (AS/NZS 14001:2001).

The family-owned business, which today employees 180 people Australia wide, provides water-treatment services for a diverse range of industries, including construction, food & beverage, manufacturing, mining, pharmaceuticals, power & petrochemical, and steel, metals & plastics.

SITUATION

Flavorite has recently established a specialised packhouse, set up under new affiliated company, Flavourwave. The food-grading and two packing lines are automated, and coding also needed to be automatedHydroChem fully automated operations when it moved to a new facility, upgrading from mainly manual processes in its previous plant, including product labelling.

However, different product sizes and shapes meant automating its product labelling wasn’t straightforward. The company processes 5 different packages types (varying sizes and shapes) through the same line, from 5L to 15L. Compounding this is that the packages are all rounded drums, not square boxes, yet each still needs to be presented in the same way to the labeller; plus the label itself is also large compared with what would normally be done on a box.

On top of this, the amount of space on the line is “fairly tight”.

Via the integration software iDSnet, which allows communication between the LPA and HydroChem’s data system, the LPA prints labels automatically based on what’s coming through the line, rather than staff manually needing to enter the system and print up 600 of a certain label. An automated check back with the SCADA system ensures the correct label is applied. With 300 different products, this has eliminated the risk of human error in mislabelling product and freed up operator time to do other tasks.

Because the LPA handles the backing material as it applies labels, this has eliminated staff having to pick up and dispose of 200m or so of backing-paper rubbish. The result is better, cleaner and safer.

BUSINESS NEEDS

HydroChem wanted to improve inventory control and reduce the potential for human-error risks with automated labelling.

It also wanted the capability of being able to output more volume with the new labelling system as sales continue to increase well into the future.

PROCESS NEEDS

  • Improve inventory control and create flexible production
  • enhance worker safety (eliminate moving filled drums and moving around stored empty drums)
  • save storage space by removing the need to store 500-600 pre-labelled drums
  • improve plant tidiness (no label backing waste to dispose of)

HydroChem was also looking for an integrated, turnkey solution with a small footprint.

SOLUTION

After going to market and talking to different suppliers, HydroChem chose to work with Matthews because they felt the coding and labelling specialist had a strong understanding of their needs and were confident in Matthews’ capabilities.

HydroChem installed a Label Printer Applicator (LPA) from Matthews, integrated with iDSnet software back to their SCADA system. Because of the varying SKU packaging, HydroChem also installed a robot to pick up containers and present them to the LPA, rather than use a conveyor belt so each product was presented in the exact same manne, despite size variations.

Turnkey solution

The turnkey solution from Matthews included networking the robot with the labelling system via integration software, and making mechanical adjustments to the LPA’s application arm so it could handle the robot presenting containers. While cartons going past on a conveyor are always in the same spot, with the same speed and sitting the same way for the labeller, this is not the case with a robot presenting different-size drums; neither is a container hanging on a robot arm as stable as a box sitting on a conveyor.

OUTCOME

HydroChem’s automated, integrated labelling has resulted in a host of productivity, accuracy and safety benefits, which are also interlinked:

  • more responsive & flexible production
  • increased productivity
  • eliminated labelling-error risk
  • enhanced work environment

HydroChem’s output is thrice what it was, with the same amount of staff, neatly setting the business up to keep growing well into the future; at 600 containers a day, throughput is well below the LPA’s capacity, again giving plenty of flexibility for growth.

The solution has improved HydroChem’s responsiveness to fill and produce what’s needed immediately. This has saved storage space and, importantly, simultaneously enhanced worker safety. Because the larger containers get heavy when full, previously HydroChem would manually label empty drums, and then put them aside, meaning they needed to find space for a batch of 600 empty drums.

The LPA integrated to HydroChem’s SCADA system via iDSnet has improved inventory control, reduced human-error risks and given HydroChem far greater flexibility on production timing. One of the major advantages is being able to change what they’re producing rather than being bound to pack off what had been pre-labelled the day before. This has greatly improved product-need responsiveness.

Business relationships

For HydroChem, which won the 2015 Environmental Sustainability Award, business relationships and top quality are very important. In 2011, the company was proud when client Godfrey Hirst won the Premier’s Sustainability Awards in two categories. A major component of the submission was water. HydroChem had designed, built and operates the Geelong carpet-manufacturer’s 1ML/day water-recycling plant, which saves up to 250ML of water a year

Some of the company’s clients have been with HydroChem for many years because of its longterm approach to seeing them succeed. It’s something they also liked in Matthews.

“The only things we manually label now are the 1,000-litre IBCs, because we probably only do 5 to 10 a day. The difference with automated labelling for everything else has been substantial.”

— Nick Duncan, CEO, HydroChem