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Shrink wrappers deliver just desserts

Lakeview Farms benefits by replacing its older L-bar sealers with shrink wrappers for multipacks of refrigerated desserts.
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FILED IN:  Applications  > Food  > Dairy
     

4-oz single-serve cups that are multipacked in a low-rise corrugated tray and shrink wrapped.

The Bristol plant originally built under the direction of Kraft Foods uses a “flow-through” design where product is cooked and then pumped to four machines for filling and sealing. Downstream a pick-and-place machine inverts the cups and places them into a tray prior to shrink wrapping. Operators manually place four shrink-wrapped trays into a corrugated case for shipping.

As Delphos OH-based Lakeview Farms continued to grow it became evident to management that shrink wrapping at the Bristol WI plant was shrinking profitability. L-bar shrink-wrap machines were adding labor and excess material to the cost of the product. “We had a mix of five manual L-bar machines and one automatic and the process took too many people too much time and too much film” says plant manager Peter Fink.

“We had been using shrink packaging for about five years and simply outgrew the technology we started with” Fink states. “Our growth was gradual so we compensated with time and labor to maintain output with the packaging equipment we had.

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“We endured a lot of downtime for changing the seal wires four to five times a day and we had a lot of rewrap too as a result of bad seals. We can’t allow poorly wrapped product to leave the plant because if a multipack comes apart in the store we’ll hear about it from our customer.”

Fink says “We looked at lots of different automatic L-bar machines and none of them would run for more than a couple of hours without a problem or if they did run the quality of the wrap was not up to our standards.”

After testing alternatives Fink was approached in early 2004 by Lantech distributor Harder Packaging about trying a beta version of the then-new SW-1000 intermittent-motion shrink wrapper. “We agreed to ‘shake down’ the shrink wrapper” Fink says. “Lantech knew we’d put a lot of cycles on it in a short time and this enabled us to suggest a number of improvements that were adopted as well.”

Addressing film consumption

A total of three such machines have since replaced the L-bar machines. Downtime except for roll changes has been all but eliminated. In addition three employees have been reassigned from packaging while reduced film consumption alone will reportedly offset the cost premium over L-bar machines. The machines produced more than 500 multipacks in “just a few weeks” early this year with hardly a hiccup according to Fink.

Film consumption was also an issue management wanted to address with the former equipment. For speed the 13”Lx8”Wx4”H packs were fed with the 13” dimension as length so trim off the side seal was excessive when using 18” center-folded film. The manual machines also created film waste by allowing the operator to determine the bag length by how much film was pulled through for each pack. Hurried operators were not worried about using “just enough” film. And whether manual or automatic the L-bar machines sometimes crushed product in their jaws.

The new wrappers use Lantech’s Ever-Clean™ rotary side-seal system in conjunction with an electronic film drive. The rotary side-seal mounts a sharpened cutting wheel and a heated fusing wheel adjacent to each other on the same axis. The system allows setting of the true seal temperature not an arbitrary voltage. Because the sealing wheel does not have to cut the film the temperature can be set for the minimum needed to fuse or “laminate” the seam instead of melting the film to a liquid state which causes buildup on the seal surfaces. The heated wheel maintains light pressure against a rubber backup wheel.

“The side-seal system has proved very reliable and easy to set up for our work force” Fink says. “Film doesn’t stick to the sealing surfaces so it has eliminated the need for routine cleaning.”

Running 60-gauge 18” center-folded Bemis Clysar film Lakeview Farms currently puts about 10-15 cycles per day on each of its three Lantech shrink-wrap machines. “We’re producing more with three fewer operators on the line using less material and have virtually no rewrapping” Fink says.

“We received the third machine just as we started producing a large order in early January” Fink remembers. “We just rolled the machine in set it up and within 20 minutes it was running...and we’ve never looked back.”

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