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Success story Scandinavian Tobacco Group, Belgium


When Scandinavian Tobacco Group decided to consolidate its production infrastructure at Europe’s largest (38,000 square meters) tobacco factory in Lummen, Belgium, it had already chosen TOMRA’s Helius free fall laser technology to automate its sorting process. The choice proved to be the right one, with a sorting efficiency that fully supports the quality image of premium brand cigars.

Sorting premium brand cigars with TOMRA Sorting Solutions

The Lummen factory of the Danish-headquartered Scandinavian Tobacco Group (STG) was opened in July 2010. Tobacco is imported there from all over the world, especially countries such as Brazil and Java (Indonesia). “From Lummen we export to 115 countries,” says Jos Uyttebroek, Production Manager Making STG Lummen. The factory has a yearly output of 1 billion cigars, or some 4.5 million cigars a day.

SPOTTING NTRM INCREASES PRODUCT QUALITY

Fine cigars are considered a premium product by consumers worldwide and therefore must be of the purest quality, without non-tobacco related materials (NTRM) in the end product. “Synthetics, animal or man-made materials such as plastic, little strings, feathers, bugs and even candy wrappers should not end up in the cigars,” explains Uyttebroek.

Although these materials are not really visible, they are considered harmful for human consumption and must be removed so we can deliver a high-quality cigar to our customers. Traditionally, this was a manual task which considerably slowed down production and left much to be desired in terms of reliability, especially in relation to the increased production volumes.

Even so, it was not until some years ago that the tobacco industry became aware of the benefits of automated sorting processes. “Before we invested in a Helius free fall laser sorter, we needed to rely on manual picking. As the tobacco leaves lay on a conveyor belt during the sorting process, only the first layer was visible. Moreover, only clearly visible defects were removed. This had a serious impact on the end quality of our cigars.”

TOMRA’S TECHNOLOGY IS OPERATOR-FRIENDLY, COMPACT AND HIGH PERFORMING

Prior to building the new Lummen factory, STG’s management dediced to have the primary department be a state-of-the-art fully automated operations; obviously also optical sorters should be part of this technology lift which was opted for.

“During many months we evaluated several sorting solution providers and tested various machines, both in lab and field conditions. We gradually increased the complexity of our tests so that we could be sure of handling any quality issue during real processing. The main reason we opted for the Helius laser sorter was its unrivaled efficiency in eliminating NTRMs, and only them. With its laser and free fall technology TOMRA has proven to offer advanced solutions. The tests we performed also illustrated the machine’s high performance, compared to other companies’ sorting solutions,” says Uyttebroek.

The Lummen Production Manager also refers to the user- and operational-friendliness of the Helius free fall laser sorter. “Since the solution does not use conveyor belts, it is very easy to maintain. Moreover, the machine is compact and has a relatively simple software system.”

LASER SORTER WITH FREE FALL TECHNOLOGY REMOVES DEFECTS WITH HIGH ACCURACY

The Helius laser sorter was installed in August 2010, when the production process was in full operation. “We’ve already seen sorting quality increase considerably, even with around 2,000 kg tobacco sorted each hour.”

Moreover, thanks to the free fall principle and laser scanning, the machine allows for the maximum sorting of defects. Uyttebroek explains: “During the free fall, the tobacco is widely spread, allowing the machine to precisely detect and remove any defect. The sorting machine is highly accurate, resulting in a minimal amount of false rejects. On top of that, the TOMRA laser scanners are able to sort on color, structure and biological characteristics, which even allow the detection of non-tobacco related materials that have the same color as the tobacco leaves. All of this ensures an optimal cigar quality.”

TOMRA ON EVERY LEVEL

Uyttebroek is very pleased with the machine’s implementation process and the cooperation with TOMRA. “They provided employee training in two stages: the first at the initial installation and the second a few weeks later.” He sees some interesting future opportunities at the sister companies of ST Group. “The main objective of ST Group is to be the best in size, quality and quantity levels. To achieve this, a perfect sorting machine is indispensable.”