KNAPP Offers Reusable Packaging Image Recognition, Sorting, Robotic Stacking Solution

CLEANAWAY is part of a leading global environmental service corporation, active in around 40 countries across six continents. The group offers a wide range of services encompassing waste management, recycling and specialist waste disposal, mostly for local authorities and commercial companies. CLEANAWAY Austria for the most part partners the food and beverage trade with waste disposal services and returnable item management. CLEANAWAY is active in contracting for client supermarkets and central distribution warehouses. This saves on transport costs and allows trouble-free integration into existing work patterns. These advantages proved convincing for SPAR Austria and they therefore implemented a returnable packaging logistics service from CLEANAWAY. With a turnover of 3.5 billion Euros, SPAR is the largest and most extensively active domestic commercial enterprise in Austria. With approximately 1,500 Spar, Eurospar and Interspar retail supermarkets, SPAR is also the largest operator of shopping centres in Austria. CLEANAWAY, now working directly with SPAR, utilizes its own specialist personnel and technical equipment to supervise the removal of disposable packaging and containers, product waste and other waste, the recycling of reusable packaging and the entire returnable item system.


At present SPAR Austria utilizes approximately 120 different packages and containers such as drinks, fruit and vegetable crates, diverse synthetic trays and tubs for dairy and meat products, as well as reusable collapsible boxes. Returnable items – stacked in an ad hoc fashion on roll containers and pallets – are returned on a daily basis from the retail outlets to SPAR AG’s central warehouses and are then sorted again before being returned to the supplier. Up to 11,500 individual packages and containers have to be registered, sorted and palletized per hour. Fully automatic and rapid issue of credit for returned empties, with 100% accuracy for each individual retail store, was a key priority for SPAR. For a technically optimum solution, CLEANAWAY placed its trust in the know-how of specialists from KNAPP.


Image recognition system
The KNAPP system recognizes all packages and containers such as fruit and vegetable crates, synthetic trays, collapsible crates, various tubs and even bottles in drinks crates. Measurement sensors recognize the various packages and containers using at least one of a total of three recognition options. These include the geometric dimensions and the color of the surface area of the box; it is also possible to recognize logos by means of photographic image analysis. In addition, bottles are assessed inclusive of the drinks crates – on the basis of the height and color of the bottle. As measurement sensors, a multitude of photoelectric barriers, color and ultrasonic sensors as well as CCD cameras are utilized, the results from which are analyzed via comprehensive image recognition software. Unrecognized packages and containers are photographed by a web camera (No Read Photo) and can later be manually analyzed and assigned to the store. In addition, it is possible to photograph special packaging and containers (image proof) and to transmit the photo to the relevant store (e.g. for soiled or damaged packaging and containers, which cannot be credited).

Entry registration
Packaging and containers are delivered from the retail stores in roll containers by lorry, immediately scanned using portable terminals and their data stored in a virtual memory. Each roll container is clearly identified via a barcode utilised by the store and consequently assigned to the relevant branch. At a future point in time, the roll container (RC) is docked with a registration point, after which the packages and containers are placed on a conveyor belt and passed through the recognition system. If the RC is empty, it is removed from the registration point (‘de-docking’). Data pertaining to the registration point and recognition system is registered on the more authoritative Warehouse Management System. Following a ‘quarantine period’, during which the data can be manually reworked, information on the HOST system is transmitted to SPAR and the return value of the recognized returnable package or container is credited to the appropriate SPAR branch.


Acceptance of returnable items
Returnable containers and transport packaging, taken back from the retailer and supermarkets, are delivered to the central warehouse via the client’s own lorries or haulage contractors. Acceptance of mixed disposable and reusable packaging and waste material arriving in roll containers is carried out by specialist CLEANAWAY personnel. By scanning of the reusable containers (acceptance controls and quantitative correction), goods receipt is confirmed.

Automatic recognition
Prior to automatic package and container recognition, the reusable containers are scanned again, in order to directly and automatically assign the corresponding returnable item to the originating branch. The different packages and containers (drinks crates, fruit and vegetable tubs etc) are placed on a conveyor belt either individually or in a  stacked formation. Following this, automatic recognition of the returnable packaging and containers is carried out by means of an image processing system. The 120 or so different package and container types are registered automatically and then credited to the corresponding retail store.

Following automatic recognition, the returnable items are brought  together on one or more primary transport conveyors, each of which has a throughput of up to 2,800 units per hour. With such items being transported and recognized in a stacked formation, this throughput can be as high as 11,500 packages and containers per hour. In addition, the different transport items are filtered out onto dynamically assigned sorting ramps. Following the stacking process, the packages and containers are prepared for return transport to the supplier. Homogeneous packages and containers are palletised by robot.

“The time required for administrative activities, per retail outlet per day, has fallen by 30 to 45 minutes,” commented Martin Gleiss, Engineer, Central Warehouse Logistics Organization Manager. “The second biggest advantage lies in the fact that accuracy in the credit processes has been dramatically improved. Packages and containers have enormous value, such that incorrectly credited packages and containers lead to a severe reduction in gross profit or a loss of inventory; this naturally represented a huge issue amongst our retailers who are independent traders. Now, however, these inaccuracies have been virtually eliminated.”

“It is one of the few projects which – from the initial project decision date up to realisation – has run without a single  day lost in terms of time,” Gleiss added. “Also, the costs defined and agreed on the day of the contract were adhered to without the need for renegotiation.


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