Case erector and bag inserter combination accelerates fruit and vegetable packing process.

A Pearson bag inserter installed at Simplot’s Quincy, Washington plant fills 24 cases per minute and provides quick changeover for the processors’ varied product lines. Source: Pearson Packaging.
The J.R. Simplot Company’s Food Group has always focused on quality and innovative products. The company’s Roast Works™ line of flame-roasted and seasoned vegetables and fruits and other blends of vegetables and pasta products allow customers to develop improved menus. The Quincy, Washington, plant is a key part of Simplot’s strategy. The plant has two components, a frozen food plant that runs seasonal vegetables grown in the Northwest, including green peas, snap peas, corn, carrots, limas, pasta, and rice, and a repack facility that handles products from other Simplot plants. Products include basic fruits and vegetables plus a large number of blends, enrobed products, and products with added seasonings. The plant freezes and packs in excess of 300 million pounds of products each year, placing it as one of the largest vegetable plants in the country.

To meet the packaging demands of over 500 SKUs for foodservice, organic, export and retail customers, Simplot installed a new system for packing fruit and vegetable products into corrugated cases with poly bag liners.

“The majority of our customers want the convenience of a bulk package that contains 20 to 55 pounds of frozen product,” said Mike Pirkey, packaging manager for Simplot’s fruit and vegetable division. According to Pirkey, this size is easy to use in foodservice applications and is equally useful for customers who use the frozen product as a component of their final product, such as a prepared meal.

“We have both foreign and domestic and customers who repack into smaller portions, so it’s important for us to offer the product in this format.” The only alternative, Pirkey says, is bulk totes that contain 1,200 to 1,500 lbs., which many of Simplot’s customers don’t have the capability to handle.

The new system was installed last summer and includes a Pearson R235 Case Erector, a B240 Bag Inserter, and existing Powell scales. The Pearson Case Erector is set to run 24 cases/min., sealing case bottoms with pressure-sensitive tape. The Pearson Bag Inserter uses parallel motion that increases both speed and reliability.

“Our scales are set to fill 24 cases per minute, so we needed all of the components in the line to support this speed,” said Pirkey. “Anything slower would have been a bottleneck.”

Another key requirement for this line is flexibility and rapid changeover. The Bag Inserter runs 20 different case sizes with bag thickness ranging from 2-3 mils, and according to Pirkey, changeover has to be done with no tools in five minutes. “We often run 55 to 60 different SKUs per week and I’ve seen runs as short as 12 minutes. We make products to stock, but stock turns over very rapidly, so we have to be capable of responding quickly to customer demands,” explained Pirkey.

Simplot stopped using another bag inserting system at this plant because of the limited number of bags it could handle and changeovers that required 30 to 60 minutes. “We went back to a manual operation for inserting bags until we could find something better. Compared to manual operations, automation of this line gives us a savings of 30 to 40%,” Pirkey said.

Productivity is growing at the Quincy plant. “For the past three years we’ve averaged significant double-digit growth in packing capacity. We will be pushing everything we have to maximum speed and have our eye on rates of 28-30 cases per minute for this line.”