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Packaging technologies blossom at seed company

Filling of plant seeds into cans and pouches sold to commercial growers took a big step forward when Seminis built a new plant. Front-and-back labeling systems are standouts.
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What better opportunity to explore new more efficient packaging equipment than a consolidation of packaging operations? Seminis Inc. the world’s largest seller of seeds to commercial fruit and vegetable growers is a perfect example. The firm recently closed two plants and combined its operations into a brand new facility in Oxnard CA. Canning and pouching operations were both upgraded significantly.

The steel cans Seminis uses come in two sizes 404x700 and 201x400. Automated equipment used previously consisted of two combination scales feeding two downstream seaming machines. Each scale/seamer pair was dedicated to one can size.

Now replacing this equipment in the Oxnard plant are two new scale/seamer pairs. Unlike the older systems however in which seaming took place downstream from the weighing/filling operations on a completely separate piece of equipment the new equipment integrates filling and seaming stations in one automated transfer system. Thus the amount of floor space required for packaging equipment in the new plant is greatly reduced.

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Making this possible is a Model F1 container transport system from Optima (Goshen NY). Operating at speeds to 45 cans/min it positively captures each can from an infeed conveyor and then moves it around a long oval-shaped track. As cans move around this track they stop once to receive a load of seeds and then once again beneath a BM2 can seamer also from Optima. Placement of lids and lid seaming are both done automatically.

Weighing and delivering the seeds on each line is an eight-head Ishida combination scale from Heat and Control (Hayward CA). Accuracy has been greatly improved since these were installed says plant engineer Jim Silveira.

Seeds are expensive

“On the old lines we used vibratory feeders mounted over a load cell” says Silveira. “They weren’t very accurate which was especially bad because some of these seeds we package are incredibly expensive.”

Description of can contents is no longer done by weight but according to seed count. “We count by weight” Silveira explains.

In other words after weighing out 1 kg of seeds the firm uses a machine to count them. If the number of seeds in 1 kg equals x then to package ½ of x Seminis selects ½ kg as its target weight. For 2x target weight is 2 kg and so on. A slight overfill is built into each package because selling fewer seeds than the label specifies is simply not an option. But even with a deliberate overfill the savings since the new equipment was installed is significant. “By reducing overpackaging from 1.5 percent to 0.5 the Ishida scales paid for themselves in about six months.”

An added advantage is that the combination scales are easy to clean. “When we switch from one seed to another every single seed has to be removed from the scales before we can begin on the new seed” Silveira says. “A thorough once-over with a high-pressure air hose does the trick.”

While the combination scale adds accuracy the F1 transport system brings flexibility. “In the past we had one line for large cans and one for small” Silveira says. “If for example we didn’t have an order ready for the small cans that line stayed inactive. Now if we have multiple seed orders for the same size can we can run one order on one line and the other on the other line.”

Helping to make the F1 transport system so flexible are quick-release clips and fasteners on the guides that transport the containers around their oval track. These snap securely into place with no need for tools. “In an hour we can go from running one size to the other” Silveira says.

New and improved labeling

Labeling got an upgrade at Seminis too. Both new can lines have a p-s labeler from Quadrel (Mentor OH) that routinely applies front and back labels and occasionally adds a third label on the can top.

Not all information is carried on labels. Standard company identification warranties notices to purchasers and other information is preprinted on the sidewalls of the cans. But other information varies so much that preprinting doesn’t make sense. So this information is carried on pressure-sensitive paper labels that are applied online.

For example if hybrid cantaloupe seeds are being packed a label with a photo of a cantaloupe is applied by the Quadre