Automated Depalletization Upgrades

A long-time consumer products client turned to SSOE to replicate a previous automatization project to provide design for a new conveying system into a robotic program. Before Covid, the client struggled to find reliable resources to offload empty laundry detergent bottles. Over time, staffing became more challenging as the client was forced to staff the line with management personnel to meet order requirements. This situation was similar to what had occurred at another plant where SSOE was hired to design an automated system for the depalletization of reshippers from the ATU.

The original process included truck delivery empty bottle pallets, which were then manually unpacked by human operators. Operators offloaded layers of empty bottle cases onto a conveyor where the cases were then moved to the filling lines.
Once Covid hit, the client lost nearly all ability to offload the empty bottles. As a solution, SSOE provided the design to install a robot to load the layers of empty bottle cases onto a conveyor. From there, another robot would remove the tie sheet layer and place those into a bin, repeating the process layer after layer.

SSOE provided mechanical, electrical, and structural engineering to tie in the new conveying system. We designed the overhead conveyor supports, a new spiral conveyor, and foundation modifications. Although we were duplicating a similar project, SSOE faced a challenge in working at a different location. During the first project, our team was on-site within minutes to confirm measurements and talk to operators. For this project, we relied on information gathered from fewer site visits and scans to accurately predict measurements. After installing the robots, our client could reduce its workforce from eight operators to five. Since we copied some of the design from the first project, and we had prior knowledge of the equipment and vendors, SSOE was able to provide the client with a reduced estimate for the project’s design saving them about 20%.

SSOE was able to provide the client with a reduced design estimate saving $242,400.

Packing Equipment Safety Guard Installation

SSOE worked closely with a long-time consumer products client to install safety guarding around liquid laundry detergent packing equipment to improve safety. The Scope of Work started with the installation of safety guarding around a Unit Load Former (ULF) hoist area, as well as improvement to the safety guarding around the nearby stretch wrapper. We were asked to design a door / gate that would open and close instantly as well as shut down the stretch wrapper immediately, if the door / gate boundary was crossed, eliminating the opportunity for injury.

SSOE evaluated multiple options and discovered a market-ready roll-up safety door that exceeded the client’s requested Category 3 safety rating. This market-ready overhead door eliminated access to the stretch wrapper while it is spinning and also required less custom design by the SSOE team and custom fabrication, saving the client time, trouble, and money. Our client was pleased with this innovative solution which exceeded the request, the automation of the new door, and the safety it provided. As a result, they requested and received additional funding to provide the same safety solution for 11 additional lines.

Due to travel restrictions implemented from the Covid-19 pandemic, the client allowed our team to laser scan the areas affected by this project. SSOE’s design team then referred to this data, stored in Cintoo, for the needed measurements throughout the design process, eliminating the need for engineers’ site visits. The use of Cintoo also allowed us to share the scan information with our design partners and allowed us to input both our model and their model into the program. It identified clashes and ensured the equipment fit in the space properly, saving the client potential equipment re-work during installation. Our familiarity with this client’s plant, people, and processes combined with our design expertise and innovative thinking led to a successful acquisition of similar project work at an additional client facility.

By utilizing a market-ready solution, reducing custom design and fabrication needed, and implementing this solution on 11 additional lines, $210,000 in Value Promise savings was realized.

Laundry Detergent Reformulation

New regulations meant a longtime Consumer Products client needed to adjust how it manufactured one of its most popular laundry detergents. SSOE was hired to lead the process mechanical design at the plant, which included new tanks, mixers, pumps, piping, and truck and rail unload spots.

The project required the double-walled piping design to be exact because it was being prefabricated in another state. To navigate that challenge, our team used laser-scanning technology to capture and route piping around the existing plant conditions.

All of the work followed Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) implementation principles and work flows. The project was on a tight timeline, with kickoff and planned completion less than one year apart. SSOE completed the bulk of the design within six months. The use of IPD allowed the team to deliver progressive work packages to the contractors to enable construction to begin sooner. As a result of the project, SSOE was able to more effectively collaborate with the client and other vendors and reduce waste by generating only the designs needed for the project.

The client was very pleased with the project – even naming it the year’s Top Project in their global Fabric and Homecare Division.

SSOE saved the client $84,000 by providing a design to reuse jacketed piping and existing valves, as well as switching to the main nozzle on the main mixer.

Using IPD to Help Our U.S. Client Expand into Mexico’s Consumer Health Market

One of our long-standing consumer products clients recently acquired several product lines from a global healthcare company’s consumer health division. To expand further in the Latin American markets, they wanted to create a production facility in Mexico. After a recommendation from a general contracting partner in Mexico, they short-listed our team to provide design engineering services and ultimately hired us based on our knowledge of Lean tools and delivery methods, our relationship with the client’s U.S. counterparts, and our ability to work locally.

Still underway, the new three-story, 50,000 SF freestanding facility is being built in a fully Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) environment. Although we’ve completed projects at varying degrees of Lean intensity, this is SSOE’s first Integrated Form of Agreement (IFOA)—a contract that incorporates Lean practices and establishes shared risk and reward with our client and three trade partners to tie team success to project success.

The SSOE-designed facility will produce solid oral dose tablets for over-the-counter distribution in a growing market on our client’s existing campus. Our team is also providing process design, validation, and start-up services, bringing in a resource in product development to assist with formulation transfers and technology selections. By having project activities occur concurrently, it is allowing and engaging early contribution of knowledge and expertise of contractors in key trades.

The design phase is complete and construction is underway. SSOE has a full-time engineering resource on-site as a single point of contact for the trade partners and client. This full-time presence is a significant investment, but we believe the time savings associated with rapid information flow and increased quality control makes this a cost and time savings approach.

Plastic Storage Bag Program

Over the past 6 years, we’ve managed to save a leading consumer products client more than $8.8 million on SSOE projects demonstrating the ever-increasing value of our partnership. They’ve utilized SSOE as their preferred A/E partner since we began providing our services to them in 2012.

The client had seldom worked with outside firms and was initially apprehensive about working with a new team. Our multidisciplinary team worked diligently and consistently to build trust within the client’s team, while providing world-class service, which has resulted in us delivering 48 projects at the client’s various processing facilities. Here are some of the highlights:

Production Capacity Increase

In order to increase the production capacity of plastic storage bags, the client entrusted SSOE with the conversion of two production lines. As this conversion involved a new product, time to market was crucial and an aggressive schedule was required. The project included the design of a vacuum and reclaim system to feed waste to the front of the production line, along with an exhaust system for new production equipment. We also provided the design of a mezzanine for the support of additional production equipment, an upgrade to the plant power supply, additional process equipment, and various building upgrades that included fire protection systems.

Instrument specification support and electrical upgrades consisting of a new transformer, switchgear, and electrical panels were also required. Our team was able to save the client $58,500 on this project by repositioning hangers to align with existing steel floor beams, reusing an existing roof girder to hang the bridge crane runway beams rather than installing new, and leaving the existing switchgear connected to its transformer to avoid swapping feeds with the new equipment. Additionally, we provided procurement services, construction management support, and package delivery for all SSOE-designed systems.

Innovation Solutions with Technical Know-How

Impressed by the value SSOE brought on previous projects, the client asked SSOE to design or modify various mechanical processes for multiple unique lines across several processing facilities to add new features to its plastic storage bags. Functioning as an extension of the client’s team, we worked directly with their R&D staff to design several prototype subassemblies, which were installed in a pilot line to verify functionality before full-scale design.

Based on the client’s aggressive schedule and launch date, it was evident that a traditional design / bid / build delivery method would not be effective for this project. In addition, there was a requirement to minimize downtime for all lines. We worked with the client to develop a project execution strategy that reduced the amount of downtime from 3 weeks to 2 weeks per line, providing the client more than $3 million in savings. Contractors were pre-selected and participated in review meetings early on to not only collaborate more effectively, but improve external coordination and ultimately the outcome of the project.

One challenge was incorporating more than 10 unique equipment layouts that we designed to fit into different locations within the client’s various facilities. Additionally, the layout for new equipment needed to be installed within the previously mentioned 2-week window—no small feat. We also attained a temporary project license in the location of one of the client’s facilities in order to seal required drawings and keep the project on schedule, which ended up saving the client a projected $2 million in construction package redesign fees.

Expanding Production to Enter New Markets, with More Options

The client was looking to add three additional lines at an existing manufacturing facility to increase production capacity, expand into new retail markets, and create fresh packaging options. Our multidisciplinary team was selected to provide both facility and process support on this $25 million project—performing architectural, civil, structural, and MEP engineering on the project as well as machine design, packaging, controls and instrumentation, and process design for utilities. We were also responsible for purchasing all equipment.

During the project, we worked with the client to install temporary walls to prevent contamination and disruption of other production lines. SSOE’s in-house construction capabilities were also put to use as we helped optimize the construction bidding process for the client, assisted with procurement and cash flow management, and provided on-site field support for the duration of construction. At the peak of the project, the team consisted of more than 25 people.

The project was not without its challenges. At this particular facility, the client was implementing two very large capital projects with aggressive schedules at the same time, creating several obstacles along the way—including a contractor that was new, not only to the site, but also the client, and a modified purchasing procedure that required detailed bid packages be divided by discipline. To keep the project on track, our team assumed leading start-up and commissioning activities and was tenacious in providing the higher level of detail needed for construction documentation, meeting all budget, schedule, and staffing requirements while maintaining a level of quality the client had come to expect from SSOE. We were able to reduce the number of planned packaging lines without negatively impacting production, thus saving them more than $2 million.

Increasing Production Output by Maximizing Technology

When the client set a goal of increasing its production of plastic film storage products within a multi-year period, they again reached out to SSOE for assistance. By this time, our team had worked to seamlessly integrate themselves into the client’s engineering team, assisting them with multiple key capital projects in addition to supporting a number of routine activities. Our on-site team solidified their relationship with the client, leaving them confident in our ability to help them meet their ambitious goal. Due to our positive track record and knowledge of both the client and the site, SSOE was selected to deliver this $65 million capital expansion project, providing conceptual engineering through start-up and commissioning.

The project—designed to cGMP standards—included the design of a new facility on the client’s existing site and two identical packaging lines within: one for carton and case packing, and the other for shrink wrap and bulk packing. The process included new and innovative packaging concepts. In order to address space constraints and operator access issues, the process was designed into a Lean configuration, allowing the system to fit into the designated area while reducing overall operator travel and increasing efficiency. Notably, the SSOE-designed facility qualified the client for a local energy efficiency
program, which equated to an $170,000 credit. Our design optimizations also allowed us to eliminate confined spaces in the new facility and reduce work at heights, helping us achieve more than 180,000 working hours of injury-free construction.

An industry leader in leveraging technology, SSOE employed reality capture, or laser scanning, to significantly improve the speed and accuracy of capturing existing field conditions. By using a long-range scanner—one of three types of scans we have the ability to perform—we not only reduced time spent conducting on-site walk-downs, we were able to create a point cloud that was referenced into a detailed 3D model, which helped avoid costly rework in the field. The resulting 3D model served as the basis for all design reviews, bringing project stakeholders together early on to eliminate hand-offs, reduce waste and cost, and compress the schedule. The approach also allowed for design changes on the fly while providing ongoing clash detection.

Giving the client a lot of credit: the SSOE-designed facility qualified the client for a local energy efficiency program for one of two packaging lines, which equated to an $170,000+ credit.

Rerouting Seven Filling Lines to Increase Capacity

Despite setbacks, the schedule for this complex project was met through creative sequencing and quick thinking.

When this project for a major consumer products client went to bid, SSOE was not the lowest bidder and lost the job opportunity. The successful bidder was new to the site and their lack of familiarity caused delays in schedule. They struggled to meet the strict timeline and, in the end, were removed from the project. SSOE was asked to take over the large project, complete with compromised time-critical schedule, and get it back on track.

To ensure deadlines were met effectively, SSOE utilized offshore resources; an Indian-based engineering firm. This afforded round-the-clock development of over 300 drawings.

The project goal was to realign the filling lines with palletizers of a similar speed to avoid bottlenecks and under-utilized capacity. While a typical project would reroute only one line, this project rerouted seven lines to different palletizers, making this project especially complex.

SSOE’s on-site construction assistance proved especially helpful when our extensive in-plant experience allowed us to efficiently act as the project’s scheduler, coordinator, and supervisor. Through strategic sequencing of construction, the team was able to get this project back on schedule and avoid any costly down time.