Material Handling Within the Winery and Vineyard

By: Gerald Dlubala

“Most winery owners don’t see the whole picture when considering the best ways to move their product around the winery and vineyard,” said Sam McHenry, president of Accurate Forklift Inc. McHenry has been providing material handling equipment to the wine industry for decades, even designing some of them himself. “There’s much more to think about in material handling than just how to get something from one point to another, and it comes down to the location’s characteristics and intended layout. When recommending the right forklift for the job, we look first at the harvest and apply the Christopher Columbus principle, meaning the world is not flat and will tremendously affect your equipment stability given the chance. Is the area that we are working on flat or paved? If so, we recommend an electric-powered forklift or pallet jack with cushion tires. If it’s not, and you’re expecting to use your equipment off-road, in fields or over rough or uneven areas with potholes, then you’ll need fork trucks with larger, air-filled tires for stability.”

  “The type and size of fork truck needed are also determined by your harvesting plans and equipment used,” said McHenry. “Will you be harvesting during the day or night? Do you anticipate harvesting for eight hours a day? Fifteen? Around the clock? Current electric-run equipment will generally give you about eight hours of runtime before needing the same amount of time to recharge unless you have a backup battery, secondary truck and hoisting equipment on hand to change batteries, a pricey option. Propane-powered trucks can be kept running with a simple tank change or refill at an on-premises propane tank station with the proper filling attachments and safety precautions. Gas or diesel options need only extra fuel on hand.

  McHenry said that vineyard owners also need to consider their field-loading activities. How is the loading area constructed? What are the widths of the rows? Your material-handling equipment has to be able to maneuver within these parameters. What type of bins does your vineyard use for their grapes? Do you use the Valley Gondola type of bins? Many smaller wineries use the macro-bins. When you combine the bins’ and grapes’ weights, you must ensure the equipment you’re using is rated for that weight, especially if the terrain and landscape will play a part. McHenry tells The Grapevine Magazine that he regularly sees accidents happen because vineyards use improperly rated equipment for the conditions and tasks they are performing.

  “It gets down to physics at that point,” said McHenry. “The type of landscape and terrain you’re working on and the type and size of holding bins you use determines the capacity level needed of your fork trucks. Anything less runs a high risk of overloading your equipment, possibly risking the health and life of the equipment operators and nearby workers. This same principle holds for the attachment used for dumping your harvest. Using rotating attachments, they must be able to reach and dump where you need them. Forward dumping bins have become popular because of their easier, more predictable use. Likewise, presses and fermentation tanks come in different types, weights, sizes, and volumes, making them all unique in their handling needs. To properly size the equipment, we have to consider the load centers, heights, and ease of movement around the tanks. For example, I was responsible for getting fork pockets added into the design of the egg-shaped fermenters for safer movement and positioning. Until then, these awkward-shaped fermenters were moved with forklifts, some undersized, and straps that wrapped around the egg shape. It wasn’t a very safe or ideal situation.”

Barrel Storage and Manipulation Equipment Requires Planning

  Barrels come in all different sizes, shapes, weights, and volumes and can be used for storage or in barrel fermentation, and the type, use, and storage methods that the winery uses will determine the type of equipment needed. Wineries can store barrels in their barrel rooms, warehouses, or caves in pyramid stacks, individual rows, or two-to-four-barrel racks, depending on their physical location and production capabilities. The process of in-barrel fermentation requires other aspects of material handling equipment, including side grabbers, barrel rotator clamps, and more. As with vineyard specifications, aisle widths, backup, and turnaround space are all important when choosing the proper handling equipment for the space.

  “The process is tedious, demanding focus, planning, and calculations, including the choice between equipment rental or purchase,” said McHenry. “Talk with experienced professionals in the industry and other wineries that currently use the equipment you’re considering to get honest feedback about use in real situations. The result will be a safer, more ergonomic, more efficient workplace that will experience increased production and less waste”.

Racking Increases Square Footage Efficiency 

  Greg Weinerth is president of Enterprising Solutions, a multi-faceted professional services company providing warehouse and storage solutions to all industries, including the craft beverage and wine industry.

  “Racking can be as simple as the common rack found in any commercial kitchen or production facility, to pushback racks that save or eliminate aisle space by allowing pallet storage up to six pallets deep, to complete systems featuring drive-in racks,” said Weinerth. “We know that square footage is expensive, so it’s critical to talk to a professional for layout efficiency, including aisle depth and width. If the winery or vineyard already has the equipment that they’ll use for handling the product, then obviously we need to factor that into the racking layout and plan.”

  Weinerth tells The Grapevine Magazine that pallet racking sounds simple, but it demands a floor plan that fits in conjunction with your winery’s specifications. For example, Weinerth says that when formulating a workable and efficient layout, you must be aware of the building or storage area’s height restrictions, aisle width needs, and intended machinery use. The installation of a new or replacement racking system may be subject to getting the proper permits, including reassessing the existing fire sprinkler, egress, and evacuation systems.

  Additionally, many locales now require a seismic evaluation, including a torque test proving the safety of the racking anchors. Structural engineers usually perform these evaluations and are mandated at the municipal level depending on the winery’s proximity to past and potential seismic activity.

  “And we all remember the old way of providing a solid deck in vertical racking by laying plywood down as a base between the supporting members,” said Weinerth.  “That isn’t allowed anymore due to fire regulations. Wire decking is the preferred choice because it allows water from the fire sprinklers to travel down and through the racking to impact all stored products. For that same reason, your palleted product can be stretch wrapped on the sides but should not be stretch-wrapped over the top of products or cases on the pallet. Water must be able to access the product on the pallet as well. A typical business owner may not have the specific, relatable knowledge that a quality, experienced material provider will know about and walk them through.”

  Weinerth said that he sees the popularity of direct-to-consumer shipping affecting the type of racking systems that wineries are now choosing. Mini pick systems are gaining attention and popularity because of the possibility of offering a direct-to-consumer wine club subscription service. They can ship a subscription box filled with the consumer’s choice of wines directly to their most loyal consumers. When not able to be done by hand, the picking and packing usually require equipment like a stand-up, narrow-aisle lift equipped with a picking mechanism.

“Larger production wineries can benefit from racking systems that allow a driver to load the palletized product into the racks from one end and then pull those products from the opposite end, ensuring that older inventory is used first. Also popular with larger production wineries is the use of self-guided vehicles, electric-powered material handling machines that can unload, locate and inventory products in one task, which immediately updates the winery’s accounting and inventory system in real-time before moving on to its next task. This type of automation is becoming more accessible to the general market and will soon be able to be applied to a broader number of systems and be able to be used on a 24/7 basis if needed.”

  Weinerth said that additional considerations that a winery or vineyard must make in determining material handling needs include the type and position of loading docks used and if there are any clearance issues, turning areas or landscape limitations that necessitate the use of ramps or specialized equipment. Generally, standard gravity-operated conveyor systems are adequate for the needs of wineries.

Multi-Use, Ergonomic Equipment Increases Efficiency and Productivity: Bishamon Industries

  “Care inside the winery must be equal to the care in the vineyards,” said Brian Dedmon, director of sales for Bishamon Industries Corporation. “There are two main pieces of equipment we see used within wineries that fill most of their needs daily, our EZ Loader line of self-leveling pallet positioners and our Uni Lift pallet lifter, positioner and transporter.”

  Bishamon’s EZ Loader line of self-leveling pallet positioners are popular choices for everyday winery tasks like loading or unloading cases. It features a 4,000-pound capacity and adjusts by way of a self-contained air system that the user can fill with a bicycle pump eliminating the springs and mechanical aspects of other positioners that routinely wear out. In addition, the EZ Loader can be quickly

moved and easily positioned with a forklift as a side table for packaging functions or anywhere a little extra table space is needed, like moving product from conveyor to pallet or taking it off of the line.

  “Our positioners also offer options including square platforms instead of the circular designs, FDA compliant tops or stainless-steel designs,” said Dedmon. “With the portability and ease of adjustment, we can increase productivity while helping to eliminate production safety risks and overall worker fatigue, leading to fewer compensation claims.”

  “Our UniLift is a multi-use piece of machinery wrapped into a hand-powered, battery-operated pallet jack,” said Dedmon. “It’s a pallet lifter, positioner and transporter all in one unit, and as far as I know, it’s the only unit like this that works on closed bottom pallets. It can lift and transport a pallet without straddling it because it contains outriggers that the user deploys when needed. These outriggers allow wineries to create tighter work cells and better utilize their square footage. More available square footage means greater efficiency with more lines and increased production using fewer person-hours. The UniLift can also raise and lower pallets during stacking or unstacking, creating an ergonomically beneficial work site.”

  Bishamon Industries provides quality, innovative ergonomic products that enhance worker safety while improving productivity in industries that include the wine and craft beverage sectors from the company headquarters in Ontario, California.

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