Conceptual design of a (partial) automation of the filling process of laboratory chemicals

(Teil-)Automatisierte Handhabung von Gebinden in einer Abfüllstation, in der kundespezifische chemische Lösungen abgefüllt werden
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Bernd Kraft GmbH

Bernd Kraft was founded in 1974 and is specialized in the production of individual solutions and reagents from very small to large batches (a few milliliters up to 1000 liter containers). Bernd Kraft offers ready-to-use solutions, reagents and salts according to the ready-to-use concept. This specialization has given Bernd Kraft a unique selling proposition at its German site, and it is particularly committed to the continuous improvement of processes in the areas of environmental protection, health and safety

The regional partner for Bernd Kraft GmbH:

Motivation and challenges

Production is set up almost exclusively manually in order to be able to guarantee flexibility with the existing large variance in batch sizes and product range. Together with the successively grown company structure, the “filling”, “labeling” and “packaging” stations are often locally separated from each other or only loosely linked. Thus, transport routes and intermediate steps are necessary, which lead to additional workloads for resources and employees. With the help of the COTEMACO project, employees are supposed to be relieved and resources/capacities are expected to be used better in the future by more efficient division and optimized process flows. Results of this restructuring as well as a (partial) automation of individual processes should bring the following advantages:

  • More efficient use of resources and improvement of processing times
  • Increase in productivity, especially for “high runner” variants
  • Reduction of stress on employees during monotonous tasks
  • Reduction of rework and errors

In the future, the part of the production with the “high runner” variants (key production line for 1 L and 5 L containers of frequently requested ready-to-use solutions, reagents and salts) is to be separated to a new production area from the variant-rich special solutions. This will result in optimized and more efficient use of space. It is planned to integrate a (partially) automated “high runner” line into the existing infrastructure from labelling to filling and packaging of the containers (brown field).


As in all COTEMACO implementation projects, the project started with an analysis of the product, process and operating resources. In the first step, the individual work steps of the use case were documented and placed in the overall context of the production. In particular, “high-runner” variants in the 1 L and 5 L container gradations were taken into account and the handling of the product was analysed. Considering parameters were, for example, container dimensions, process times (value-adding and non-value-adding activities), and batch sizes.

A key finding of the process analysis was the finely detailed division of labour in which the containers currently have to be picked up and handled several times. Furthermore, the percentage of non-value-adding activities is relatively high, for example, set-up and cleaning processes at the workstations and the transport of empty containers or mixed solutions. Particularly in the case of very small batches and frequent batch changes, non-value-adding activities increase and add up.

With the help of the analysis of process times as well as quantities and production orders, the cycle time of the production was determined in order to later derive the concept of the implementation project. This shows that non-value-adding activities can be reduced, processes can be parallelized and productivity can be increased by optimizing the workplace (interlinking) and, in particular, by optimizing logistics and work organization.

Technical realization

When designing the new production areas for the “high runner” variants, flexibility should be maintained despite the concatenation (labelling, filling and packaging). This means that the process stations can still be used separately from the line for manual tasks. Accordingly, continuous accessibility of all individual stations must be ensured in the conceptual design. Within the scope of the implementation project, the COTEMACO team focused on the 1 L & 5 L containers and considered other sizes in a scalable concept.

A significant percentage of the process time is caused by the set-up during a product changeover. In the COTEMACO implementation project, a “backpack”-system was designed to minimize set-up times by providing a solution and a material kit for filling the containers. In this way, all the necessary components for filling the next order are prepared and provided in sequence in the form of a “ready-packed backpack”. The reorganization and improved linking of production steps significantly reduces non-value-adding activities at the workplace, allowing employees to concentrate on the core processes of labelling (automated) and filling (partially automated). Furthermore, the multiple picking of partial products from e.g. empty containers as well as solutions to be filled is reduced and the intermediate storage of components is streamlined.


The developed concept for optimizing the processes and production of the “High-Runner” variants includes a new workplace/station concept (layout) and an adjustment of the internal processes. On the basis of the existing and forecast number of annual orders and process times, a layout and workstation concept was developed which provides for linking of labelling, filling and packaging for the “high runner” variants and parallelizes processes. The use of a cobot (for handling tasks) can reduce the workload for employees, although based on the currently available data, the use of a cobot does not have any direct added value in terms of process times and output. The interlinking and proximity of the workstations to each other reduces manual handling and/or the transfer of material and/or containers for the next process step. In addition, with the introduction of a “backpack” system, the concept includes preparing the mixed chemical solution together with a material kit for filling and staging it in the logistics area of the workstation in sequence. This significantly reduces the setup times at the actual workstation, as a changeover from one solution to the next is much faster. In addition to the workstations, a corresponding (smaller) logistics area is therefore also provided for stocking and smooth changeover from one filling to the next. In the first stage of expansion and based on the prognosticated annual data, only labelling will be automated, while filling will be partially automated. The employee takes over the necessary actions for providing the container, starting & stopping the filling process, and (partially automated) closing of the container

View from the employee perspective

Bernd Kraft is aiming to take a big step from manual to partially automated production in order to get positioned for the future together with the employees. During restructuring and especially during the introduction of new technologies, particularly when these are planned for cooperation with the employees, the involvement of the employees is extremely important. Whether a production change goes smoothly depends largely on employee acceptance of the new technology. Accordingly, Bernd Kraft plans to involve employees in the planning, design and implementation of the decision-making process from the very beginning. Specific training and workshops on working with the technology for employees help catalyse a successful rollout.

Interview with Bernd Kraft

COTEMACO helped us to define the process steps down to the individual steps and to represent them by sequential or parallel work steps. From this, a concept was created, which is now the basis for a specification sheet for us.

COTEMACO recorded the cycle times and sub-processes and combined them into one concept. Currently, the areas of filling, labelling and internal logistics for the material flow are not combined in one system. Implementation has not yet taken place because we still have to build up the infrastructure first. Another benefit is the reduction of personnel resources for recurring filling processes. Thus, more free space was created for the personnel resources to process the customer-related production.

Partly because we assumed a higher degree of automation. However, the process analysis showed that this effort was not necessary. This was one of the most important points of expectation, which was thus fulfilled  à Evaluation of the necessary degree of automation