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Ryt-way opens to reclosable pouches for pet foods (sidebar)

Downstream of its pouch-filling equipment, Ryt-way has also added new robotic case packing and case erecting equipment to automate what was once a labor-intensive process.
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The robotic pick-and-place case packer is from Blueprint Automation (Richmond VA). Ryt-way purchased the machine that Blueprint operated at Pack Expo West 97 show in Las Vegas sponsored by the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (Arlington VA). The Model ABF T case erector is supplied by Wexxar (Naperville IL).

The contract packager wouldn't divulge specific savings figures but Tim Hickey vice president of sales and marketing and Tom Chlan maintenance manager do agree that reducing labor costs was a top priority for investing in this equipment.

"We're looking at it as a long-term benefit" says Chlan of the equipment. "We're sensitive to the labor issue not only from a cost standpoint but also just the limited availability of people [to perform these tasks]. We anticipate a payoff on this equipment in less than two years."

Before case packing however the pouches discharge from the horizontal form/fill/seal machine. First they pass through a Metachek metal detector from Lock Inspection Systems (Fitchburg MA). Pouches then are conveyed to a Mark II Icore checkweigher from Ramsey (Minneapolis MN).

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From the checkweigher pouches are conveyed flat as they enter the infeed of the Blueprint packer. The machine accelerates the pouch on the infeed conveyor. When the predetermined number of pouches are in place on another conveyor the robotic pick-and-place head uses vacuum cups to lift that group of pouches and deposit them into a case that's erected and bottom tape-sealed on the Wexxar machine immediately upstream of the case packer.

According to Blueprint the two-axis robotic module makes a parabolic or curved motion to accomplish its task that purportedly is smoother than the 90° movements made by some robots. The curved motion says the supplier reduces the chance that the robotic head could drop packages.

The curved motion is executed by a motion controller from Emerson Motion Control (Chanhassen MN). Pre-programmed sequences in the motion controller instruct thedrives to accelerate and decelerate the

motors that move the robot. This creates specific repeatable paths of motion to match the picking or placing task at hand. For example if pouches need to be stacked in layers in the shipping case the controller provides a different path for each layer depending on how far down into (and out of) the case the pick-and-place unit has to travel.

An Allen-Bradley (Milwaukee WI) SLC 5/03 programmable logic controller oversees the pick-and-place machine's operations among them coordinating the motion controller's activities. The operator interacts with the case packer via an A-B PanelView 550 touchscreen.

Once the case is filled it discharges from the packer and is conveyed downstream to a 3M (Minneapolis MN) Matic case sealer. This sealer folds down top case flaps and applies pressure-sensitive tape to seal the case shut. Afterward cases are hand-stacked onto a wooden pallet.

Full pallets are then stretch-wrapped on an Orion Packaging Systems (Memphis TN) machine. "The Orion wrapper has been around [at Ryt-way] for quite a while" says Chlan. "We brought it aboard when we started up the Lakeville plant." Hickey adds "It's so reliable that we sometimes take it for granted."

Just as with the pouch filler Ryt-way has made a considerable financial investment in its downstream equipment. The line as a whole is expected to propel Ryt-way's expansion in the pet food/treats business something the firm does not take for granted.

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