Fast is no longer a word; it's a mantra. For many manufacturers and processors, how quickly they can deliver high-quality product can have tremendous impact on their bottom lines. Like deciding if a feather is falling or floating to the ground, the lines between efficiency and accuracy, and profitability and loss can be slight. As manufacturers evaluate capital equipment purchases for the coming year, changes in automation and government regulations will no doubt impact their spending habits. Perhaps nowhere will this be more evident than in packaging, where the industry seeks to meet regulations and improve efficiencies.
Examining the packaging process from the beginning to the end of the line, companies like Amy's Kitchen, Faribault Foods, Montchevre Cheese and AmeriQual uncover niches where money can be saved and efficiencies improved.
Improving process infeed and wrapping"Pizzas are a difficult product to wrap," says Todd Eckert, packaging program manager at Shuttleworth, Inc., a manufacturer of custom infeed conveyor systems. "They have a lot of loose ingredients on them that tend to shift around and fall off, and their extended shape requires very careful handling to keep from damaging them." Eckert should know. Shuttleworth supplies Servo SmartFeed conveyors to Amy's Kitchen in Santa Rosa, CA, which manufactures more than 50 million vegetarian meals a year, including a variety of frozen pizzas.
At Amy's Kitchen, achieving efficiency in its packaging line meant smoothing the process from product infeed to wrapping. "They have a very high volume operation and wanted to double their wrapping capacity," says Eckert. "We were looking to resolve difficulties that they experienced with their original feeding equipment. Like most everybody else in the frozen pizza industry, throughput was limited by rate of flow from the feeder, which literally limited their production flow by 50 percent."
Amy's was using a pneumatic plunger-type device to time release pizzas into the wrapper. This caused pizza shingling, product damage and process-line slowdowns. All of which contributed to increased costs-both in time and labor-across the packaging line.
To solve the problem, Shuttleworth integrated its Servo-Smart Feed conveyor with SIG Doboy's Linium wrapper. The SIG Doboy wrapping machines can handle up to 170 12-in. diameter pizzas per minute or more and as many as 250 fun-size pizzas per minute. Production, however, is still modified by the rate of infeed. To compensate, Shuttleworth's conveyor infeed system accepts random input from the pizza production freezer and sequences it with proper spacing between the flight chain fingers to feed the wrapper.
Mating the two systems created a balance that substantially improved product infeed and wrapping. By balancing the flow of pizzas going into the wrapper, Amy's Kitchen significantly increased its throughput and reduced product damage considerably.
Simplifying multiple linesFaribault Foods produces about 17 million cases of canned goods per year-about one-third are its own brands, one-third are copackaged for nationally distributed food brands, and one-third are copackaged as national store brands. The products span a wide range, including canned vegetables, pastas, soups, dry beans, refried beans, chicken, chilis and stews. At one time, packaging these diverse products for a variety of customers meant utilizing several different types of processes.
"We needed to streamline logistics and leverage shared technologies in our packaging line," says Andy Murray, Faribault's vice president of purchasing and procurement. "We wanted a solution that allowed us to meet the expectations of our new customers and position us to compete with the major national and multinational food processors."
The solution came down, literally, to one can. Faribault selected Crown Holdings' 300 x 407 D & I (drawn and ironed) two-piece steel can with conventional 300 diameter ends. By using only one type of can, and therefore one set of specifications, Faribault simplified its production processes. There is no need to run different lines for different products. "It's an economical, high-performance package," says Murray. "It's strong enough to ensure container integrity through processing, shipping and handling."
By working closely, Faribault and Crown have further been able to reduce costs and increase efficiencies along the entire line. Faribault schedules regular Crown visits to its facilities to help implement quality control measures, ensuring the cans meet the company's specifications. Crown's responsiveness has built a valuable sense of trust. "With other suppliers, we had to inspect every pallet to ensure the cans met our requirements," says Murray. "With Crown, we don't have to examine the pallet, we send the cans right into production." This proactive troubleshooting serves as an extension of Faribault's quality control, saving time and reducing waste.
Streamlining labelingAt Montchevre's Belmont, WI-based cheese processing plant, labeling was the challenge. "We needed to retire our three-step hand production process and replace it with an automated, in-line labeling system," says Jean Rossard, Montchevre's plant manager. "Our old labeling solution didn't effectively fit our needs since it only had a top labeling head which caused too much downtime and frustration." Not only did the company want to improve productivity, Montchevre also wanted to create high-impact labels that had consistent package appearance and a high-quality image.
To improve its labeling process, the company turned to a fully-integrated, automated thermoform fill-seal R230 rollstock packaging system with in-line labeling technology from Multivac. The new system applies top and bottom labels with an accuracy of up to +/- 0.5 mm at speeds up to 3,779 inches per minute. A mounted printer operates at speeds up to 13 cycles per minute and a video jet printing system is synchronized with the labeler to achieve optimum production levels. "The labeler is also programmable and allows us to quickly change the dies to accommodate our full product range," says Rossard. In addition, top and bottom mounting allows for more flexibility and efficiency in placing brand and other information on different sides of the package.
The new system has moved Montchevre from a three to one-step process, resulting in improved efficiencies. "The new system has a more exact tool width, which helps eliminate excess film. This translates into significant cost savings vital to keeping our operation up and running," says Rossard. "Without the right packaging and labeling system in place, it would have been difficult for us to take on the 30 percent increase in demand we have in our product."
Put it, place it, pack it-quickly"You're putting product in, sealing, strapping and palletizing-none of this is going to happen unless the case erector is working well," says Ben Klipsch, director of operations for AmeriQual Group. Based in Evansville, IN, AmeriQual is one of three US companies that manufactures prepackaged meals, or MREs, for the military. The company faced considerable downtime due to a case erector that often jammed and improperly erected cases.
MREs are packed in cases comprised of V2s, a triple-wall fiberboard that consists of three solid sheets laminated to four flat facings. It is the thickest fiberboard available and has the highest bursting strength of all mil spec grades. In fact, the cases are made to withstand a drop from a helicopter in the field. V2 is extremely resistant to being scored and bent, so it wasn't surprising that AmeriQual had a tough time finding a case erector that could handle the job. "The case erector is the start of the process so it has to be running consistently or nothing else is going to happen downstream," says Klipsch.
After trying another case erector that offered no improvement, AmeriQual purchased two R-235G case erectors from Pearson Packaging Systems. The units are fully automatic and provide hot-melt glue closures. They have a low-profile deck designed to provide easy access to all machine adjustments. Although AmeriQual primarily runs the V2 cases, the R-235Gs also handle other types of rations packaged in standard corrugated cases.
The new case erectors produced the results AmeriQual needed. Downtime has been reduced by 10 to 15 percent and maintenance costs are down 30 percent. The success has come with struggles, as Maintenance Manager Jack Zenthoefer points out. "The toughness of the case has caused some problems, things that probably wouldn't have happened on a standard corrugated case," he says. "It takes a pretty robust machine to erect that shape but we're able to take care of most of our issues in-house."
For more information:
Steve Lipps, SIG Doboy, 715-246-6511,
Jim Wilson, Crown Holdings, 215-698-5264,
Scott Reed, Pearson Packaging, 800-732-7766,