Two years ago, Agral S.A. decided to enlarge their production and in the same time to reduce their machine park. In a first step, this year they installed a MULTIPACK 2000 line of IMA Benhil and extended their butter capacities up to 25,000 tons per year.
Agral S.A. is one of the leading butter producers of Europe. The Belgian- based company has customers in Belgium, France, Germany and in Northern Europe. Two years ago, the company decided to enlarge their production and in the same time to reduce their machine park. In a first step, this year they installed a Multipack 2000 of IMA Benhil and extended their butter capacities up to 25,000 tons per year.
Butter is the business for family-owned Agral S.A. Since the foundation the Belgian company which is now located in Courcelles near to Brussels has specialized in the packaging of all kinds of butter using different kinds of packaging for it.
The butter is mainly produced by other companies. Only a small part is produced in the plant. The product range packaged includes blended butter, light butter, butter with herbs as well as spreads and, in a small part, margarine. “This is only for some customers who really have a demand for margarine. We are trying to end this business segment and totally concentrate on butter “, describes Plant Manager Jean Rouschop. The packaging options include pre-formed cups, foils and wrappers and glasses. Even portions packs can be produced, but only in thermoformed cups, not in wrappers.
The packed butter contains a fat share from 82 to 15 %, whereas blends are done with 75 to 60 %. Some types are salted. One sample is a special butter for Portugal which is salted by a special Algarve salt. A very tasty solution is a butter with truffles for the Belgian gastronomy. Another interesting product is a butter with herbs which is packaged in glasses. Furthermore, the company has developed a 60 % fat content butter referred to as “clean label”. “ It is something not many butter companies have in their portfolio”, explains Jean Rouschop.
Started by taking over a small producer in a nearby village to the plant of today, the production soon grew until 1997 new regulations demanded a change of the plant size. “ Therefore, a new building with production facilities of 3.000 tons per year was erected”, says Jean Rouschop. 2010 the plant was once more enhanced up to 10.000 tons per year but recently the growing demand of customers still needed another extension up to 25.000 tons per year in one shift , allowing for a maximum of 75.000 tons per year in three shifts. “In the moment, we work in one shift , but demand-depending we could double the shifts”, so Rouschop. 50 employees work regularly in Courcelles. In peak times some more can be employed for a short time period.
The biggest share of products, nearly 30% are done for the home market, mostly for discounters and the whole butter brand of Carrefour. Well-known brands the company produces for are Les couteaux, Lucien Masseau and Jean Marie Cabay. Second important market for the manufacturer is Germany where it produces for private labels sold in discounters like Aldi or Lidl as well as for supermarket chains like Kaufland or Rewe. This is supported by a co-operation with a leading European dairy which products are packaged by Agral and sold in Germany and Denmark. “Big dairies like this one don’ t want to invest in big lines and create a big machine park. They work with companies like us doing this part for them”, explains Jean Rouschop.
The third important market area is France. Besides that, 25 – 30% are exported to Northern Africa and Asia. Another customer is a big dairy in New Zealand. They send butter blocks to Agral which are sliced and wrapped and then sent on the way to their final destination, the Middle East, via the port of Antwerpen. “50% of our products are basic butters in aluminium foil wrappers. The other half are specialities”, so Jean Rouschop. The reason is that the big market of butter is in aluminium foil. So with most of the customers Agral starts its business relations with aluminium foil butter and later adds some specialities.
Seeing the ever-growing demand of its customers, two years ago the company decided to extend the production up to the new capacities of today. But besides the extension of the production they also wanted to reduce the big machine park which had built up within the years. “We have too many lines with less efficiency and have to reduce the number of lines to new machinery with a higher efficiency”, explains Jean Rouschop. Therefore, they looked for a flexible and reliable machine solution to replace an older butter filling and wrapping machine from Benhil – a Multipack 8380 – which was more than 30 years old. Having installed about 20 wrapping machines from Benhil which are working reliable since many years, Agral asked IMA Benhil for a new solution to be able to get a better productivity.
Soon a solution was found with the newly-developed Multipack 2000 of IMA Benhil, the latest addition to the Multipack high- performance range of automatic filling and wrapping machines. The newcomer was also on show at this year ́s leading packaging show interpack in Dusseldorf, Germany. Its flexibility, reliability and especially its efficiency convinced Agral and they signed the purchase. Since April the first Multipack 2000 wrapping machine works in the production process of the dairy company. It produces with a maximum speed of 100 packets/min and uses bottom fold. It is designed for small productions as it owns extremely compact dimensions and great robustness. Short changeover times and a broad dosing range make the fully automatic wrapping machine extremely flexible. Different filling volumes and different products can be processed with short changeover times. One of the main benefits is an exceptional filling accuracy. According to the company it is s= 0.5 g for quantity < 250 g.
At the plant in Courcelles, the line is operated in its standard design with all packaging materials currently used for wrap packaging like parchment, aluminium laminated foil or plastic coated papers. Additionally, the machine can also be equipped for other materials upon request. Something which is not necessary for Agral at the moment. The foils are coming from two principal suppliers. One is based in Belgium, the other one in Italy. Standard packs are bricks and cubes. One of the reasons for the decision pro Multipack 2000 was the format flexibility of the machine. “We have to produce in two different butter formats for the French and the German market, the 250 g format”, so Jean Rouschop. The wrapping machine is able to produce all kind of packs from 100 g up to 500 g, a format which could not be done on the older machine. “But for the moment, we only produce 250 g packs on an aluminium basis for the French market on it”. The very important fact of product safety is guaranteed through CIP cleaning and fulfils industry hygienic standards. Servo-driven technology of the lifting, cells and the wrapping feed ensures a smooth, efficient product handling.
For the filling and packaging the butter which was produced using a butter making machine is directly feed from the process plant via a pipe system. The unusual concept – normally butter making machine and filling and packaging line are closer together- is explained by the process used by Agral. The flow is coming from head to bottom so there is no other solution available. To optimize the process, the cartoning machine by Schäfer & Flottman which is the last part of the packaging line, the Multipack is included in had to be adapted. As it has a capacity of 140 packets/h it has to run with a lower speed of 100 packets to ensure a safe and trouble-free process. The purchase of the machine included a fast response time from IMA Benhil in case of problems as well as maintenance service. To support a fast reaction remote service connection via VPN / Modem is integrated in the line allowing for online reports. The new developed Multipack 2000 installed in Courcelles/Belgium is the first one in operation; the second machine has been sold to China after its’ launch at interpack.
The short-time results of the new machine are good according to Jean Rouschop. “So far we are really satisfied ed with the Multipack 2000. There is less maintenance needed and we did not have any problems”, he emphasizes. Due to the good experiences and long-lasting relationship with IMA Benhil there should be every chance that some more machines of the group will be included in the restructuring process of the machine park from Agral S.A in future. “We will for sure speak to IMA Benhil again when we think about acquiring new machines”, reports Jean Rouschop.
“Jean Marie Cabay” is one of the leading butter brands of Belgium produced by Agral – their own private label.
The new efficient and reliable line at Courcelles/Belgium allows for a maximum output of 100 packets per min. (photographhs: IMA Dairy & Food)
The Multipack 2000 from IMA Benhil is the latest part of the machine park of Agral S.A.