In the early 2000’s, the bread distribution industry faced a problem. How could logistics personnel stack and shift bread crates quickly and safely without using their hands when bread crates were designed with hand holds?

Enter Simpro. Simpro has long specialised in highly customised materials-handling solutions for the New Zealand food industry.

So, when leading bread producer Goodman Fielder approached the Simpro team in 2007 requesting a practical handling solution for bread crates, Simpro was up for the challenge.

“Bread crates are intrinsically difficult to handle,” says Simpro marketing director, Braden Simmons.

“They have to be moved around in stacks, but they haven’t been designed to be handled by machinery. They have hand holes for hands, but a whole stack can weigh up to 200 kilograms, so they need to be moved by machinery.

“People had been using hand carts, but all it takes is a little imbalance and you’ll end up with 200 kilograms of bread on you. There’s a whole lot of hazards there, so that’s what inspired the very first Crate Wizard.”

Simmons it took a certain amount of patience from operators to get to a point where they were proficient with using the early Crate Wizard designs.

“In bread distribution, the crate stacks have often got different sorts of bread on them, headed for different stores. They need to be broken up, moved about, formed into new stacks, and put into trucks heading to different places. Breaking up and assembling crates is an essential part of both bread and milk logistics.”

There was no real progress for 7-8 years after that first design, says Simmons, but over that time Simpro’s global network expanded dramatically and interest in this product grew.

“With the advent of the internet, our classic Kiwi innovation, or as we like to say ‘smart lifting’, became a lot more accessible for discovery around the world,” he says.

“Our exports dramatically climbed. In 2018, Grupo Bimbo’s Canadian unit found the original Crate Wizard and asked for further improvements. Now that’s been done, there are more enquiries pouring in.”

Simmons says there are a couple of interesting innovations built into the latest version.

“It now clamps the sides of stacks, using pressure to pick up the crates. There are a couple of new safety features as well. It took a lot of design to make it work in a safe way because hydraulic systems are prone to failures at certain points.

“To get around this, the Crate Wizard 3 was designed so the arms are closed by six gas struts. This is referred to as a fail-safe design principle. Anytime there is a hydraulics failure, the arm clamps shut, and the crates stay put.

“This guarantees you’re not going to drop a quarter of a tonne of bread on the floor,” says Simmons.

The Crate Wizard 3 is designed with productivity and safety as the key focus.

“Lifting crates one at a time, is very slow, and there’s risk of repetitive strain injuries in that environment. [The Crate Wizard 3] can at least double productivity over manual systems at handling point. It’s a huge step up in speed as well as safety.”

Simmons also says it is also one of a kind worldwide – conceived, designed and made from scratch in New Zealand.

“That’s why a huge multinational in North America [Grupo Bimbo], approached a tiny company in New Zealand to not only say, ‘we want your product’ but ‘we want your product with these changes made to it.’ It’s because they couldn’t get it anywhere else.”