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Bagging snacks goes best in class

With state-of-the-art technology for weighing and bagging, Alimentos Bermudez S.A. is set to conquer the snack food markets of Central America, the Caribbean, and the U.S.
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Alimentos Bermúdez S.A. is part of the well-known Bermúdez Group, owner of six food-production companies with operations in Costa Rica, Trinidad, Jamaica, and Barbados. Since its founding in 1989, Alimentos Bermúdez has consolidated its presence in the packaged snacks market to become the leading company in snacks and cookies in the Caribbean, backed by its ISO 9002 total quality certification and the UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development) prize for innovation that it received in the category of medium-sized companies.

In 2009 the firm began to evaluate the need to respond to demands for greater flexibility in packaging processes, which would enable it to serve a growing market for its products in diverse countries in Central America and the Caribbean. Deciding on equipment to fill this need had to take into account benefits in productivity, cost, hygiene, quality, and after-sales support. It was therefore necessary to evaluate the options available in the market through careful study.

“We visited many companies and installations in Latin America and India,” says Mitra Sankar, Bermudez technical support manager. During this process, Mitra and colleagues had plenty of exposure to the ways in which products like theirs can be manufactured and handled, all of which helped them decide which systems would be most suitable for their Costa Rica plant.

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The result of these comparisons led to the selection of two baggers from Kliklok-Woodman (www.kliklok.com) each paired with a 16-bucket combination scale from Yamato (www.yamatoamericas.com).

“We reviewed all of the packaging offerings from Kliklok-Woodman and carried out tests based on the widths of our bags and the production methods of the bagger machines made by Kliklok-Woodman and found that their equipment would be the best for packaging our products,” says Mitra.

For product weighing operations, the choice focused on solutions offered by Yamato, a global company with nearly a century of tradition in manufacturing weighers for diverse industries and applications. According to Mitra, key factors that tipped the scale in Yamato’s favor were outstanding precision, user-friendly operation, durability, and ease of cleaning and maintenance.

The installation at the plant also included metal detection equipment made by Fortress Technology (www.fortresstechnology.com) and product-coding equipment from the Woodman Codeline series.

Reliable and efficient
The packaging and sealing process for banana or plantain chips begins with the ADW-516-SN Yamato multihead weighers, specially designed for snacks. The versatility of these weighers is quite varied. They can handle different types of snacks at different weights and presentations at speeds to 120 units/min, depending on the size and weight of the bag. They use a weight calculation system that selects the best combination of 4 to 6 weighing bins, which guarantees precision at the desired weight. This system ensures uniform distribution of the entire product to the feeding bins, and then to the weighing hoppers, where a load cell sends a signal for the quantity of product in the weighing hopper. The weigher then selects the proper hopper to achieve the most accurate weight possible. This model includes individual discharge chutes to increase speed while reducing the whirlpool effect on the product. It also reduces product deterioration while helping the packaging machinery to create better bags with cleaner seals.

Once that precise combination has been found, the product is discharged towards the bagger below, a Kliklok-Woodman Gemini II vertical bagger. A conveyor belt then moves the bags containing the product to an accumulation table for the final manual packaging process into cases for distribution.

The integrated properties of these systems guarantee optimum performance and simple operation, which has greatly improved the production line at Alimentos Bermúdez. The Kliklok-Woodman vertical bagger makes it easy for the operator, featuring a user-friendly touch screen. Woodman’s specialization in bagger machines specifically aimed at the food industry guarantees precise product handling without difficulties or interruptions.

A special characteristic of these machines has to do with the Woodman stripping system, which makes it possible to adapt to a new product and reduce the length of the bag by as much as 4 inches to obtain a more compact package while significantly lowering materials costs. The Kliklok-Woodman vertical baggers are perfectly suited to packaging the Alimentos Bermúdez plantain chips. “In our operation we have minimal rates of rejects and very low levels of waste, thanks to this super mechanism that can only be found in the Woodman machines,” says Mitra. Maintenance is simple, too, because the parts are interchangeable and service is reliable and prompt, guaranteed by permanent availability of replacement parts.

Support for a growing business
In the food industry there is an ever increasing preference among consumers for products made from natural raw materials with a high nutrition content. In the segment known as native snacks from the region, Alimentos Bermúdez S.A. has a large share of the market in Central America and the Caribbean, as well as a considerable penetration among the U.S. public. The plantain chips and dried bananas attract the attention and satisfy the palates of many consumers, who enjoy the quality and freshness guaranteed by their processing and packaging. The new configuration of the packaging line makes it possible to satisfy all demands and significantly improve productivity. “We already had our product on the market, but we felt that we could make a better product if we had the right machinery,” says Mitra.
To ensure the quality of their products, the versatility of the machinery installed at Alimentos Bermúdez offers guarantees in terms of speed, hygiene, durability, and consistency in volume and content. The supply of plantain was also a factor taken into consideration.

“We wanted to be near our raw materials, so that we could package a fresh product,” says Mitra. “We have a number of local farms that produce plantains and bananas and deliver them directly to our processing and packaging plants. From Costa Rica we can easily dispatch our snacks to the Caribbean islands.”

The packaging efficiency of Alimentos Bermúdez S.A. products is confirmed by speeds of up to 80 or 90 bags/min on 36- or 50-g bags, which constitutes the productivity limit for bagging machines. The filling capacity also means a high degree of efficiency on the packaging line.

Of equal importance for the efficiency of the process is the precision in weighing the products, which is ensured by the Yamato weighers. In a high-volume operation like this, even minimal differences in weight in each unit can represent considerable economic costs over the course of a year.

The versatility in the packaging of Bermúdez snacks stems from the different types of clamps that the baggers have, which can be adjusted to different height to provide shorter or longer seals. “The machines have various options that other brands do not provide, which was probably a significant factor in our purchasing decision. For example, using the same bagger, with minimum changes, we can make a flat-bottom bag, which is currently very popular because of its attractive appearance,” observes Mitra. “The flat-bottom bags are freestanding in contrast to other types, enabling consumers to see the front of the product, which in turn aids marketing.”

The clamps are easily changed, significantly reducing shutdown times for the machines. Additionally, the Woodman equipment has an exclusive vibration system for the bags, which adjusts the product inside the bag before it is sealed. “This is found only on the Woodman machines,” says Mitra. “When working with large-sized bags of 200, 300 or 500 grams, for example, you don’t want the products to come out of the bags, which is avoided by adjusting the contents before the package reaches the clamp,” says Mitra.

Hygiene, an essential component in food handling and packaging, is integrated into the setup of the line in a platform provided by Woodman that includes a washing system for all of the feeding and weighing hoppers, thus eliminating the need to remove them and take them to a washing site. The system is integrated into the hoppers and enables washing to occur in the same place as the machine’s heads. Also as part of this function, the baggers have clamps that facilitate a clean seal to prevent any object, condiment, or particle from contaminating the bag before it is sealed.

This ability to provide optimum seals is also associated with another essential property for perishable products, namely their shelf life at the points of sale. “For us, the excellent seal obtained is very important, particularly bearing in mind that we manufacture in Costa Rica and then export to the Caribbean,” says Mitra. “The seal that we get using the Woodman baggers does not allow oxygen to enter the bag, which means longer product shelf life. We thus have more time to be able to send our products to the US and other countries.”

Also helpful in lengthening shelf life is the nitrogen that is backflushed into each metallized polypropylene bag. “The nitrogen goes inside the bag, the oxygen comes out, and then we seal it, thereby extending shelf life,” says Mitra.

Solutions for the future
For a company such as Alimentos Bermúdez S.A., committed to the mission of doubling its sales and share of the snack market over the next five years, technological support for the processing and packaging processes of its products represents the foundation of its strategy for growth. The characteristics of its recent acquisitions are aimed at all of the objectives that the Bermúdez Group has set for its future: to maintain consistency in the quality and safety of its products and to provide excellent service to its customers.

Posing new challenges to the growing firm are the enlargement of its product portfolio to include ripe plantain snacks, yuca (casava), and malanga along with the exploration of potential markets in Latin American countries other than those the company currently serves. These challenges will be met more successfully thanks to the reliable relationships the firm has established with key technology providers like Kliklok-Woodman, Yamato, and Fortress Technology. 

This story was adapted from a feature originally appearing in the September issue of El Empaque, the leading packaging magazine of Colombia.

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