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Unscrambler boosts shrink-labeling production and efficiency

Packaging equipment purchased in the wake of a recent trip to Pack Expo has helped Verst Group double production of two well-known shrink-labeled Kraft products.

Will Schretzman, Vice President of packaging at Verst Group Logistics, a leading third-party logistics provider for packaging and supply chain solutions, will return this fall to Pack Expo Las Vegas 2011 (Las Vegas Convention Center, Sept. 26-28). Building on past Pack Expo successes, he’ll be seeking new technologies to further streamline operations and boost efficiency of Verst’s packaging lines.

Following his trip to the last show, the company purchased and installed a NEHHLP Low Profile Unscrambler from New England Machinery that considerably sped up the application of new 360-degree labels to Kraft Foods’ revamped packaging for Miracle Whip.

William G. Verst founded Verst in 1968, when he acquired a 30,000-square foot cross-dock company. Today, this multi-faceted, third-party logistics solutions provider has more than 14 locations in the Midwest and more than 1,300 employees.

Among its services, Verst offers turnkey labeling-warehousing-distribution services to consumer packaged goods companies and specializes in shrink sleeve decorating for both large and small brands. The company’s customers have included household names such as Procter & Gamble, Dial, Dr. Pepper and MillerCoors.

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“This is our niche,” says Schretzman. “We decorate bottles with shrink sleeve labels and we are one of the largest contract decorators in the world specializing in this area. Customers come to us when they need shrink sleeve decoration done well, done right, and done quickly.”

Answering Kraft’s call

In June 2009, Kraft Foods wanted to enhance the shelf impact of its spoonable Miracle Whip line by adding a high-quality shrink sleeve to extend the branding landscape completely around the container. Kraft Foods enlisted Verst to help develop and apply the new shrink sleeves to the 12-ounce and 22-ounce Miracle Whip containers. Working closely with Kraft Food’s team, Verst provided the speed-to-market solution to get these eye-catching designs to the store shelf attracting the attention of consumers at point of purchase.

With successful sales of the new Miracle Whip & Sandwich Shop Mayo SKUs and a long-term contract in place with Kraft Foods, Schretzman knew it was only a matter of time before Verst would have to upgrade its capabilities to accommodate increasing demand for sustained output.

“Once the new designs were implemented, we ran the Miracle Whip shrink sleeves on a shared line and managed schedules to maximize the use of our existing equipment,” said Schretzman. “It became evident that we were going to need an entirely new line to keep up with demand.”

In planning for the new line, Schretzman and his team had already identified the need for an unscrambler to automate the maneuvering of the bottles prior to applying the shrink sleeves. Pack Expo Las Vegas came at just the right time, and the team used the show to compare machinery capabilities and pricing all under one roof.

“We researched exhibiting companies on Packexpo.com, so we had an idea of the solutions providers and equipment that we were going to see,” said Schretzman.

Having done their homework, the Verst team hit the show floor to evaluate their final choices among the exhibitors. “We found the layout to be very user friendly. It was easy to get around,” said Schretzman.

After meeting with a few machinery manufacturers, the company purchased NEM’s NEHHLP Low Profile Unscrambler straight off the show floor.

Meeting demand

Designed for user-friendly operation and minimal maintenance, the NEHHLP helped Verst meet Kraft Foods’ production demands—and fast. With the unscrambler, Verst can unload a tote of bottles into a hopper, which feeds them through an elevator into a sorting bowl that sends them into an orienter. The orienter feeds the bottles into a conveyor leading to the labeler, supplied by Fuji Seal Machine Group. With the equipment in place, Verst is achieving output speeds of 300+ bottles per minute, more than doubling the speed of the older equipment.  

A Kraft Foods spokesperson summed things up this way: “Verst had both the shrink equipment and the specialized expertise we needed to get our spoonables product line to market in record time. Their automated system applied the redesigned shrink sleeve labels onto our Miracle Whip products in a fraction of the time it would have taken us to do it in-house—with no capital equipment costs for Kraft Foods and virtually no waste. They streamlined the entire contract decorating process.”

In addition to helping Verst accommodate Kraft Foods’ orders, the installation of the unscrambler has reduced downtime and enhanced overall efficiency while further minimizing production costs.

The heavy-duty plastic bottle unscrambling system is designed for easy changeover—which comes in handy during switches between production of 12-ounce and 22-ounce Miracle Whip containers. Additionally, the machinery’s unique low-profile configuration places the container sorting bowl at floor level for easy access and operator vision. Thanks to these features, the operating team can set the line in just under an hour.

“The labor cost savings we have realized as a result of the unscrambler have been phenomenal,” said Schretzman. “Given our throughput and the speeds at which we run, it would literally take an army to keep up if we were trying to perform this function manually.”

As brand owners continue to jockey for consumer attention on store shelves, the demand for shrink sleeves will continue to increase, and Verst is well positioned for future growth in this area.

The Verst team plans to attend Pack Expo Las Vegas 2011 with the intention of purchasing technologies beyond shrink sleeve equipment in an effort to support the company’s other capabilities as a turnkey packaging solutions provider, including pressure-sensitive label application and shrink bundle wrap equipment.

“For our industry, the Pack Expo trade shows are an absolute must. Everyone who is anyone attends Pack Expo,” said Schretzman. “At Verst, we view the trade show as an opportunity to meet with potential suppliers and customers and take the pulse of the industry.” 

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