Case: PRIO, Portugal
The customer's challenge
The scope of supply
- 40' container
- Five UFM in-line filling machines
- One UFM for industrial cylinders
- Check scale
- Leak gas detector
- Sealing machine
- Compact palletizer
- Chain conveyor
Added over time:
- One extra UFM in-line filling machine
- Two extra UFM's for industrial cylinders
- RFID tracking and automatic tare weight reading
- Automatic filling heads and centering arms
- Double detection test machine
Who doesn't love a solution that saves money and keeps all your options open? PRIO sure valued these things when they chose a Kosan Crisplant (today known as MAKEEN Energy) container solution in 2012. As a relatively small company at the time, not having to make a big investment weighed heavily in their considerations. PRIO was a new player on the Portuguese LPG market. They needed fast delivery with a minimal investment. If they would later have to upgrade to a bigger solution, such as a filling carrousel, they could then move the container somewhere else and start filling there instead within a short timeframe.
PRIO's request was simple: a small solution that would allow them to start filling quickly, in moderate amounts, at a low initial price. KC delivered a 40' container with five UFM filling machines, check scale, leak gas detector, and a sealing machine. Outside the container, we installed a compact palletizer and chain conveyor, as well as a single UFM for industrial cylinders. All in all, it was a relatively standard solution.
That is not the case anymore. Today, this container in Aveiro is anything but standard. Since its initial delivery, it has grown and developed with new equipment in multiple stages to become something quite special: an almost fully automatic LPG filling container.
You may be familiar with those tags that are attached to shirts and dresses in many clothes shops and trigger the alarm if the cashier doesn't take it off before you exit. They are called RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags, and they have many applications in the LPG industry as well.
PRIO's LPG cylinders were all fitted with RFID tags under their valves. To integrate KC's equipment with the reading of those tags, PRIO contacted Alizent (called Athelia at the time) - a company that specializes in RFID technology. With the solution that we developed together, the container's equipment became able to retrieve a wealth of information, such as tare value, year of construction, and serial numbers of valves, from the RFID tags on PRIO's cylinders.
Now, when a cylinder passes through the container, it sends all info and values to the system. The system compares the cylinder's info to a database, and if a cylinder or valve is due for repair, the system signals the ejection mechanism to reject it. These processes previously required the manual input of an operator.
Thinking outside the box
The whole container was still not fully automatic, however. An operator still needed to attach the semi-automatic filling heads to the cylinders - a process which results in an increased need for maintenance of the filling heads. Automatic filling heads would require centering arms to adjust the cylinders' position, but since the filling machines in PRIO's container were arranged in-line on a conveyor, conventional centering arms were not an option. Then one of our specialists came up with a solution.
Inspired by an evacuation system that KC had previously made, which had centering arms above the cylinders that came down to center them, he went to our design department to propose a similar solution for PRIO's filling machines. Together with PRIO, they designed a solution that would not require any personnel to man the filling machines. PRIO accepted the solution and even decided to add an extra UFM filling machine to the filling line.
As a final addition to the container, we also replaced its leak gas detector with a machine that has two test heads instead of one. This allows PRIO to perform both leak gas tests and O-ring/seal valve tests.
The first of its kind
Today, the filling container in Aveiro represents something unique among Kosan Crisplant's container solutions, as it is almost completely automatic but still has many processes. Tare reading, check scales and filling all run completely without the need for human operators. The only human operators left in this filling plant apply caps on the cylinders and drive a forklift to change the pallets. At times, these jobs can be done by only one person! Since the initial delivery, this container has had its capacity increased by 30% with an excellent ratio of capacity to workers. Among Kosan Crisplant's container solutions, it is unprecedented efficiency.
The story of PRIO's container in Aveiro is far from over. We constantly work together to improve the filling process and devise the right solutions that best suit their requirements and market position. Who knows - in the future, PRIO may have a container that requires no human operators at all.