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In 2017, the Tönnies Group acquired the northern German company Artland Fleisch of Badbergen which has been influential in the production of meat and sausages in the Lower Saxony region of Artland since the 1960s. The internationally operating family-run Tönnies Group based in Rheda-Wiedenbrück achieved global sales of €7.3 billion in 2019. The main sales drivers were the slaughtering, cutting, and processing of pigs, sows, and cattle.

By 2020, the Tönnies Group had invested €85 million in the Badbergen site in the development of an ingenious system consisting of refrigeration technology, machine-supported cutting, processing, as well as a highly automated picking and shipping process to bundle the entire cattle slaughtering and intralogistics processes. Renovation and new construction started in 2019.

Existing warehouse moves to the center of intralogistics

About 500 employees slaughter up to 5,400 heads of cattle each week. 95% of the cattle are sold as minced beef, roast beef, or steaks under the Tönnies brand name. The most important building block is a new automated maturing warehouse, which the intralogistics specialist from East Westphalia smartly planned in the renovated existing warehouse and which despite the restrictions due to the Covid pandemic they were able to implement within just five months. The refrigerated warehouse has been in use since June 2020; production, storage, and shipping will now be completely relocated here from the Tönnies headquarters in Rheda-Wiedenbrück.

The cutting operation extracts 20 different cuts of meat from one cow, thus being able to cater to a diverse range of individual tastes around the world, anything from lean beef for German consumers, meat with a thick layer of fat for Scandinavian consumers, or entrails, which are in high demand in Asia. Transported by a pallet truck, the various products are packaged and boxed for storage in Westfalia’s new, up-to-date maturing warehouse.

High-density storage system with low approach dimensions

The Borgholzhausen-based specialist for multi-deep, automated storage systems, who – like Tönnies – is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, fully takes advantage of its technology for the maturing warehouse with 2,500 rack spaces for palletized boxes: “Our four class-one storage and retrieval machines have extremely low approach dimensions,” explains Stephan Bruns, Sales Manager for Technologies and Systems at Westfalia. “Through this development advantage, we can optimally utilize the space. The storage height of the upper level is only reduced to about one meter in the vicinity of a ceiling truss in the existing warehouse. In the other areas the pallets are stored with boxes with a height of about 1.8 meters each per level up to the warehouse ceiling.”

The storage and retrieval machines (SRM) serve three levels in eight blocks and store products multi-deep with up to seven pallets in one row, each of which is accessed by a single device via Satellite®. “Through conceptualization and years spent perfecting this load handling device, a particularly compact and energy-efficient storage is now possible,” explains Bruns. Because of its ideal location between the production site and the picking area, the Sales Manager successfully recommended the hall to Tönnies to house the warehouse with a floor space of 46 by 50 meters and a height of 8 meters. “From the onset, there was a very intensive conceptual design phase. And that is paying out now.”

Automation of warehouse and shipping

“We have analyzed the entire storage, picking, and shipping process and transferred the internal Tönnies standards to the new site,” explains Mathias Spötter, Westfalia Project Manager. “From the production line, the boxes containing the packaged meat products are placed on the lifting platform by a pallet truck. As soon as the area is released by a safety light barrier, the rolling lifting platform lifts the synthetic and wood pallets to the level of the conveyor system.” Subsequently, the pallets run through a contour check. Pallets that have been loaded incorrectly are sorted out immediately. All compliant pallets are conveyed in a conveyor loop, which feeds them into one of the four storage aisles.

Precise throughput thanks to satellites and double roller conveyor

This is where SRM and Satellite® take control. “With an output of 34 double cycles per hour, our four class-one storage and retrieval machines store the pallets (which can weigh up to one ton) and, after a maturing period at 0° to 2°C, remove them again,” explains Mathias Spötter.

The pallets with the matured products are transferred to a transverse transport vehicle with double roller track for transporting up to two pallets. Depending on the order, it serves the picking and shipping with up to 100 full pallets per hour. If necessary, it temporarily re-stores picked pallets that have not been loaded. As an alternative, the pallets can be transported via roller conveyors towards the emergency acceptance. If the transverse transport vehicle is unavailable due to maintenance, pallet trucks can also assume transport from emergency acceptance to shipping.

Westfalia’s own Savanna.NET® Warehouse Execution Software fully controls and monitors both the warehouse administration as well as the flow of the materials in this highly specified process. As a powerful automated control room, it combines the functions of warehouse management with the warehouse control software.

On-time delivery despite limitations due to Covid

“Due to the Covid pandemic, we were faced with significant challenges,” Project Manager Mathias Spötter points out. “External service providers for rack system construction were suddenly no longer available. However, despite the immense deadline pressure, our in-house project team and our own assembly workers for steel construction – as well as our own service technicians for the installation of the systems – gave us a significant advantage. Despite the first nationwide lockdown, we were able to deliver the automated maturing warehouse on schedule.” Designed in cooperation and at an early stage and helped by a focused, well-networked project management team, the warehouse went into operation on time at the end of June 2020 – as the automated hub of one of the most modern beef production and logistics centers in the world.

Facts & figures:

  • General contractor for the entire technology of the storage system
  • New construction in a gutted existing building
  • Year of construction: 2020
  • Implementation period: 19 February to 30 June
  • Warehouse type: multi-deep
  • Storage temperature: 0° to 2°C (refrigerated warehouse)
  • Warehouse dimensions: 50 x 46 x 8 meters
  • Rack spaces: 2,500
  • Loading devices: pallets (wood and synthetic)
  • Storage and retrieval machine: 4, height approx. 7 m
  • Load handling device: Satellite®
  • Output for each SRM (LU/hr.) 68 (34 double cycles/hr.)
  • Software: Savanna.NET®