When you have to move 275 million to 300 million cans of produce a year, you can't afford delays in the packaging of your product.

A continuous-motion shrink-wrapping system specified for agricultural cooperative Pacific Coast Providers is capable of applying film to either single- or double-stacked trays of cans or bottles.

Yet that was the problem faced by Pacific Coast Providers, one of the nation's largest agricultural cooperatives, when it converted to two high-speed labeling lines at its food service warehouse/distribution center in Lodi, Calif.

"The shrink wrapper we already had was a bottleneck," said Jim Farmer, distribution warehouse manager for PCP. "The machine just couldn't keep up."

With 150 grower members, PCP offers a broad line of California-produced fruit and tomato products to a large number of retail grocers, including Albertson's, American Stores, Kroger, Safeway/Vons and Walmart. Sensitive to the need for a highly effective distribution program, the cooperative's goal is a quick order turnaround time that helps reduce distribution costs. PCP promises its retail customers it can send out prelabeled shipments within three days, while orders requiring proprietary labeling are handled in seven days or less.

As a result, the bottleneck in PCP's labeling line could not be tolerated. As cooperative officials began searching for a solution, the supplier of PCP's new tray loaders and packers suggested a tray shrink-wrapping system manufactured by Packaging Machines International (PMI).

PMI representative Nick Bujanovich toured the plant and recommended the CSI-TW30, a continuous-motion shrink-wrapping system capable of applying film to either single- or double-stacked trays of cans or bottles. "PMI designs the system and manufactures it for continuous operation," Bujanovich said. "PCP's goal was to shrink wrap at least 50 trays a minute."

The process begins with unlabeled cans that are filled with vegetables, sealed and then transferred to PCP's labeling facility on pallets. Stored in a "bright stack" system, the cans are pulled as orders come in from grocery chains. After labels are applied to the cans with a Bear labeling machine, they enter a Vantage Pack tray loader, which sends the trays to a Diagraph Case printing system that prints codes on each tray. The trays are then stacked and sent to PMI's CSI-TW30 shrink wrapper. After film is applied, the cases are placed on pallets and shipped out.

Farmer said that PCP was impressed by the CSI-TW's rugged features, including a synchronized film delivery system, separate drives for wrapper and tunnel, continuous motion seal carriage and a high-efficiency heat tunnel that provided a quality wrap each time. "But what I really liked was that the machine could handle trays of either a single tier or a double tier, depending on the order, with no downtime," he said. "Because the CSI-TW is so flexible, there is no need for changeover to accommodate the varying loads."

The CSI-TW's size was also advantageous. Because the machine has a small footprint, PCP had no difficulty installing it into the packaging line. In fact, PCP gained space for conveying and palletizing. FE

Packaging Machines International, 531 Bonnie Lane, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007. Tel. (847) 640-8451.