When faced with a pandemic, speed is of the essence. Although not yet fully commissioned, the new coating plant for label adhesives has therefore been brought into service by HERMA at least in part. The decision to start up the 90-million-euro facility was prompted by a desire to implement, with immediate effect, better distancing between individual production teams. In any case, the further increased degree of automation of the new plant significantly reduces the extent of human interaction. Managing directors Sven Schneller and Dr. Thomas Baumgärtner, who also oversees the Self-adhesive Materials Division, explained that key components of the new plant have been brought into service step by step. This enabled the company at a very early stage, upon the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, to distribute production orders among its various facilities and thus afford its employees even better protection. According to a joint statement, “In consequence we are now operating two entirely autonomous plants. In other words, the availability of duplicated systems maintains our ability to fulfil orders, even if production needs to be suspended in one of the plants.” A favourable side-effect of the partial commissioning is the capacity provided by the new plant for absorbing production peaks. Much of the current order stream is being fuelled by the increased demand for adhesive materials that are applied to shipping labels or product labels for medicines, disinfectants and other medical products.
Same footprint as New York City
HERMA had originally intended to commission the new facility in the fourth quarter of 2019, but this plan was initially put on hold because of unforeseen building requirements relating to fire protection in particular. “The primary timetable was perhaps a little too ambitious anyway,” concedes Dr. Baumgärtner. “After all, we were consciously seeking not to create a carbon copy of the existing plant, but to incorporate a whole raft of technological innovations. Given the coronavirus situation and in view of the occasional delays affecting public buildings, we are generally satisfied with everything that has been achieved to date.” The two managing directors expect HERMA to commission the remainder of the new plant in the summer. Plant #2, as it is known, will increase HERMA’s annual self-adhesive material capacity by 50 percent, to 1.2 billion square metres. It’s a surface area that more or less corresponds to the combined footprint of Berlin and Potsdam or of New York City. In particular, however, the technical resources of the new facility pave the way for producing innovative adhesive materials. Among these are materials for shipping labels which, by dispensing entirely with a liner, are especially kind to the environment. Other examples are film labels produced largely or exclusively from recovered raw materials.
With its automated guided vehicles, the latest packing robots, and a pioneering energy policy, the new coating plant is also likely to be the most efficient of its kind worldwide. In view of its contribution to preserving resources, the energy concept is expected to deliver a major competitive advantage in the medium term. “Thanks to a special combined cooling, heat and power plant, HERMA can dramatically reduce its primary energy consumption in the new facility. While highly sophisticated from a technical perspective and giving rise to a slightly extended construction period,” comments Dr. Baumgärtner, “it enables us to generate up to one-quarter of the electricity that we consume. In addition, we use the heat produced by power generation for heating purposes in the wintertime, and during the summer we use it very efficiently to provide the energy needed for cooling.”
Embracing automated transport
Since HERMA manufactures exclusively in Germany, highly automated production and logistics processes are seen as vital. Especially conspicuous are the rolls of paper, film or coated label stock – which can be as much as two metres wide and weigh almost five tonnes – automatically navigating their way around the plant. The AGVs carrying the rolls are being deployed here for the first time in the industry. The driverless fleet consists of ten vehicles which, when loaded, are roughly the size of a large commercial van. A further plus point concerns the packaging equipment. The existing coating plant is equipped only with linear packaging lines, which process one job after another. In contrast, each of the two robots in the new plant #2 handles five jobs at a time. “They make us much more flexible and faster as well,” insists Dr. Baumgärtner. If necessary, HERMA can even install a third robot with five additional packing stations. Resources like these also give managing director Sven Schneller cause to look to the future, “Plant #2 enables HERMA to safeguard its growth trajectory for the next eight or nine years. The new site offers a variety of options for further expansion as well.”