Retort loading

Four different retort loading solutions explained
Retort loading
  • arrow-checkmarkManual and fully automatic (up to 10 layers/minute) retort loading solutions
  • arrow-checkmarkTailored to your available space and product carriers
  • arrow-checkmarkImprove ergonomics and safety in your production plant

Retort loading and worldwide trends

As the world population is still growing (9 billion by 2050), the demand for food continues to rise.


Food producers need to increase capacity and efficiency in order to remain competitive. Looking at canned food producers, we notice a shift from smaller vessels to large batch retorts in production facilities. Larger retorts mean more and larger product carriers. As a side effect of this efficiency gain, it is important to look closely at the way of retort loading and unloading. Especially when you consider that an average basket or stack weighs between 800 and 1500 kg (!).

Batch retort systems

With over 50 years of experience, Lan Handling offers a wide range of solutions for the handling of pouches, cans, jars and semi-rigid containers in baskets or trays destined for sterilisation in retorts. Lan can be called a true specialist with more than 300 projects worldwide when it comes to the design, construction and installation of loading and unloading systems for batch retorts.

Four methods of retort loading

Understanding the pros and cons of the four different retort loading solutions, will help you to make the right decision for your production facility.

#1 - Manual

At Lan, we consider manual loading and unloading of retorts as a semi-automatic solution.


All other activities, such as loading and unloading the product carriers, do take place automatically. As mentioned above, a retort load can weigh a lot. That is why special trolleys or pallet trucks are often used, which considerably reduces physical effort.

This can be a good solution if you want to make your first steps into automation.

In terms of equipment costs, this is the low cost solution. But at the same time, more personnel is required and loading a retort often takes about 3 times longer than with an automatic solution.

Are you starting with a manual solution? Then we recommend you to keep enough space in the area around your retorts, so that automation is still possible at a later stage.

Manual retort loading

#2 - Fixed (bridge) conveyor

When opting for batch retorts with internal chains, fixed conveyors can be integrated into the transport systems.


This conveyor is transporting product carriers to the retort door, after which the basket or stack is transferred on the chain inside the retort.

The main advantage of this method is that it takes up little extra space.

A major drawback is the weathering of the moving mechanical parts in the retort, due to the harsh environment. So accelerated breakdowns and maintenance problems are lurking.

#3 - Shuttle

Our specialty. After the product carriers, such as baskets or stacks of trays, are filled by the loader, they are placed one by one on the shuttle.


Once the shuttle is full, it transports the product carriers to an available retort. An extendable ‘tongue’ lifts the carriers and puts them in the retort. Once the sterilisation process is complete, this process is repeated in reverse order. The tongue lifts the baskets out of the retort and the shuttle transports all carriers to the unloader area.

The Lan shuttle is beneficial in various ways.

First of all, the machine is suitable for heavy loads. For example, we designed and installed shuttles of almost 10 meters, with a tongue that can lift more than 12 tons. In addition, the tongue ensures that no mechanical parts are needed in the retort, which saves you maintenance costs. And finally, our retort shuttle makes your retort room a safer place to work.

Small flaw: of all four methods, this retort loading solution requires most floor space, because the shuttle moves on rails mounted on the floor in front of the retorts.

#4 - Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV)

If you are looking for the highest level of automation, you may think of an AGV.


Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) operate without a track. A short transport section is mounted on top of the AGV so that it can dock at the loader, retorts and unloader to transport a product carrier. Because of the ultimate flexibility, integration of AGVs can be an interesting method for retort loading at production facilities with limited space and retorts placed in different locations.

At the same time, we often see challenges with AGVs.

These challenges relate to the requested capacity (most AGVs only transport one carrier at a time) and by extension, the waiting time (loading and unloading time of a retort increases). Finally we often see that wet and inclined floors are also a challenge for AGV based transport systems.

AGV retort loading

Questions? Get in touch!

Automating your production facility poses many challenges and questions. That is why we take you step by step into the how and why of certain choices in the field of retort loading. Together we will find the solution that suits you best. Talk further?

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