Food Engineering

System integration boosts cheese plant's production capacity

March 28, 2003
Finding the room for needed packaging automation equipment was only one obstacle faced by Berner Cheese Corp., a custom packer in Dakota, Ill. Another was the need for interconnectivity between machines operating in a job-shop environment.

Berner packs glass jars, aerosol cans and squeezable plastic containers. The company wanted to boost line speeds by 33 percent to150 percent, depending on container type. To meet that objective, Berner retained Centerline Systems Inc. (CSI), the Batavia, Ill., representative of AMBEC Inc., to integrate equipment in a production area of less than 8,000 square feet. Berner also asked AMBEC to provide a tabletop conveyor and pressureless combiner.

The firm wanted to achieve line speeds of 300 containers per minute (cpm) on round packages and 120 cpm for the squeeze bottle. The fastest rate at the time was 120 cpm, with squeeze-cheese production running at less than 90 cpm. To meet the goal, the firm needed to integrate a wrap-around case/tray packer, a 24-spout piston filler, an air rinser, three aerosol gasser/pluggers and a labeler with the following equipment: separate cappers for glass, squeeze and aerosol; a rotary valve inserter and crimper for aerosol; two labelers; metal detectors; and a depalletizer.

Because of the handling difficulties with squeeze cheese, designers isolated the squeeze filling and capping, installing two bypasses to separate those containers until they were conveyed to the cooler. The rotary air rinser, eight-spout piston filler/capper/induction sealer for the squeeze cheese was aligned parallel to the gripper/rinser, 24-spout piston filler, capper and induction sealer for the other containers.

Conveying filled packaging to a double-decked cooler was one of the biggest engineering challenges. The aerosol cans are two-piece aluminum with a rounded bottom, making them prone to tipping. Glass containers tended to slip when conve ying elevations changed. These and other problems had to be resolved prior to equipment installation to avoid potentially ruinous downtime.

Fully modulated line controls were essential to run the packaging line at 300 cpm, so CSI installed its proprietary modular mounting platform to manage 55 motors and 33 variable frequency drives. As a result, each conveyor system changeover can be handled at the main control panel. The plant floor already was networked through an Allen-Bradley DeviceNet, facilitating a full supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system that allows Berner to better track production costs. The system also enables CSI to troubleshoot the line off-site with a dial-up connection.

The payoff from the packaging overhaul was immediate: Even the difficult-to-handle squeeze cheese saw a 50 percent gain in production volume. Production volume from one shift now is double the output achieved from two shifts prior to the installation.

FE Ambec, 10330 S. Dolfield Rd., Owings Mills, MD 21117. (410) 363-4400.