Automation Barrett Petfood's Facility - Columbia/Okura

Automation Improves Efficiency at Barrett Petfood Innovations

Over the past 10 years, there has been a massive push to not only produce healthier food for human consumption, but also for animals. Whether it be wet food for cats using fresh fish or kibble no longer utilizing cheap, unregulated ingredients from China, it has become clear that safety and quality in pet food is important to consumers. This is further emphasized by the first pet food safety laws in 70 years being passed in 2011 (FSMA).  Columbia/Okura LLC noticed this growth within the pet food market, and felt that the robotic palletizers they’re known for are a perfect solution for the needs of pet food producers, began to build relationships within this industry. One such relationship is with Barrett Petfood Innovations (BPI), located in Little Falls and Brainerd, Minnesota.

With 19 years of experience, BPI produces over 150 types of pet food that are distributed both locally and exported across the world. With 425 employees, BPI operates out of three facilities: a storage warehouse and the original facility in Brainerd, along with another production/packaging plant in Little Falls. Despite massive growth in recent years, BPI is a family-owned and run business that cares about their end users. Ingredients are sourced from local producers to ensure freshness, while meat is processed through the use of state-of the-art extruders, ensuring that all food is safe and clean. Needless to say, BPI is a modern company focused on progressing the art of pet food manufacturing. This is further emphasized by their co-packing abilities; providing customers the ability to utilize BPI’s in-house milling, mixing, packaging, and expertise in handling pet food.

To keep up with the growing demand, in early 2022, BPI installed their brand new packaging line from Columbia/Okura. This line included not only an Ai1800 robotic palletizer, but also a STATEC BINDER Principac. The Principac is an automatic bagger that increases capacity through the elimination of time-consuming and physically strenuous processes such as moving bags to and from the filling spout. The Principac fills bags that are then carried out of the machine where they are “kicked” onto a conveyor that feeds into the robotic palletizing cell; fully automating the line from bag filling to stretch wrapping. According to Chuck Raskin, Packaging Manager for BPI, since installing the Principac they have noticed “up to a 66% increase in productivity” while other bags saw 15% to 30% increases. Components like the kicker and bag flattener, also help to prevent issues with bag handling and stacking.

Raskin puts it best when he says, “I’m not a professional robot guy, but Columbia/Okura makes you feel like one.” BPI purchased an Ai1800, Columbia/Okura’s top of the line robotic palletizer and are running it as fast as they possibly can. While obviously speed is important, what Raskin finds just as important is the “ease of use”, stating “I’ve used three or four other kinds of robots and it’s [Columbia/Okura robot] so easy. Programming it is a lot easier. Touching up points is a lot easier. Even the simple things like turning up the speed on the thing.” OXPA is the program used to run the robot, and being so easy to use aids in both the training of employees running the line and just getting the line back up after installation.

With all of this automation entering their facilities, Raskin confided, “people thought they were going to lose their jobs.” This, of course, didn’t happen. Chuck explained that he still needed people to run those lines, so they weren’t fired, but were retrained to run this new equipment. What those employees quickly recognized were the improvements in quality of life. Employees were no longer required to physically exert themselves and cause potential injury; instead, they found their role had shifted to maintaining and operating the machines. This is a remarkable example of how automation doesn’t inherently eliminate jobs, but instead allows a business more freedom in how they run their company. In this case, it has allowed BPI to modernize a key production line, all while retaining the family-oriented nature of their business.

An Interview with Chuck Raskin, Packaging Manager at Barrett Petfood Innovations

An Interview with Chuck Raskin, Packaging Manager at Barrett Petfood Innovations