Saga sorting machine upgrade saves energy and time while putting values into action

“Happy and healthy people at work are what our values are all about.” Saga Furs Development Engineer, Juha-Pekka Jaakkonen.

Saga Furs Development Engineer, Juha-Pekka Jaakkonen, saw an opportunity to achieve greater energy and operational efficiency, and even enhance the quality of life of his colleagues. So, using his engineering mind, something innate to most Finns, Jaakkonen jumped right in.

Saga Furs is already known for having the most sophisticated automated sorting process in the industry. The combined pelt sorting and length measuring machines, which Jaakkonen oversees are the most important hardware on the Saga Furs production floor, and have been uniquely designed to automatically assess the exact size, colour and thickness of Fox and Finnraccoon skins. These sorting machines work well and have been in operation now for some decades. But there was still room for improvement.

In with the new while keeping the old

“We didn’t want to dispense with the old system,” Jaakkonen asserts, “it has many very valuable features. Instead we decided to develop a hybrid version, which would be a combination of the old and the new.” There had already been discussions going on in our production maintenance team since 2014, so I decided to take the investigation a few steps further.

Jaakkonen began by looking at some of the inefficiencies. For example, in the past, all skins being graded had to go through two machines in order to fully complete the process.  And 10% would have to go twice through the grading machine.

To address this, Jaakkonen and his team began reconstructing the machine to make it longer, expanding it to accommodate 18 sorting trays, instead of the previous 12, as well as adding a length-measuring unit and an unloading table. Now, each skin gets through the process much more quickly, which means less wasted operational time, and 60% of skins are completed after one measuring round. This means less time is needed for interim storage as well as staff time transporting skins back and forth from the machine via forklifts.

Saving time and energy while reducing workplace accidents

“This all saves energy and reduces the probability for any workplace accidents from unsafe crossovers of material flows,” says Jaakkonen, and the additional functionality for measuring pelt lengths, further enhances the operational efficiency of the upgraded machine.”

During 2020, Jaakkonen and his team, inspired by their success with this first technically proven, hybrid machine, are planning similar upgrades for the company’s remaining two machines. This time they will go one step further and look at ergonomics.

“This will be a chance to improve the quality of life for people who stand long hours along the assembly line.”

Loading and unloading is where Jaakkonen and his team see the most room for improvement. “With 12 pelts per lot on heavy hangers, it’s quite labour intensive and difficult to manoeuvre, so there’s a chance of long-term muscle strain.” Therefore, during the second upgrade, the team will try to automate this part of the sorting process.

Taking the values off the wall and into our work

According to Jaakkonen, looking at the values on the lunchroom wall each day made him mindful of the importance of decision-making with the values top of mind. He asked himself, is the current system really maximising our Saga Furs values of profitability reliability and sustainability?

“I felt like we could do a bit better in terms of creating an operational environment that really respected people,” Jaakkonen says.

Putting new ideas on the coffee table

Team brainstorming has also brought results. “Another way of respecting people is to seek their opinion.” And what Jaakkonen likes most about this project, which took only one year to complete, was the high-energy response and creative input around the coffee table from his team and from the people using the machines.

“If I can make life easier for you, for others, or even for myself, then it’s always worth doing, Jaakkonen says.”