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Pasta plant extraordinaire

The only way for this new pasta producer to meet the needs of three different market segments is to have a packaging operation designed for maximum flexibility.
Farmer members of the wheat growers1 cooperative enjoy seeing their own branded pasta in retail stores in their region. However,Shortly after case taping four lines of variable information are ink-jet printed on both side panels of a case of 24 cartons of Above photo shows two horizontal f/f/s machines used to package long goods. 3Chimneys2 connect the floor level packaging machineThe volumetric cartoner on the short goods side is capable of up to 200 cartons/min and is equipped with a magazine feed that alShown here is the film unwind stand on one of three identical vertical f/f/s systems used to produce DGP1s elbows, macaroni, sheAbove photo shows long goods cutting machine and, on the far right, the trackwork that takes buckets of pasta up to the overheaAbove photo shows long goods cutting machine and, on the far right, the trackwork that takes buckets of pasta up to the overhea

Packaging in multiple sizes for multiple markets simultaneously-that was the key objective as Dakota Growers Pasta Co. a startup wheat growers' cooperative designed its 300-sq-ft plant in Carrington ND. The plant went into production in November 1993.

The major markets served by the firm are

*foodservice and institutional users

*retail stores (primarily for private label customers but DGP also packs under its own brand) and

*processors that use pasta as an ingredient in the packaged foods they market.

Most of the firm's business is in the first two categories as DGP packs 240 SKUs for its foodservice and institutional customers and 277 SKUs on the retail side. That kind of variety and the need to be competitive in three very different markets meant that DGP had to be as flexible as possible in its approach to packaging.

"Some of the big pasta firms have high volumes in one particular product so they can dedicate a high-output pasta production line to one packaging line" says plant superintendent David Tressler. "But that kind of dedication was never an option for us because we have too many customers with too many packages. We had to be able to go to many different packaging destinations simultaneously yet we wanted to be able to produce the pasta in large batches. This keeps us keep from having to start and stop and it minimizes waste.

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"With our system I can total up all the orders for say spaghetti in a given diameter and produce a batch that will fill all those orders regardless of what market segment it's for or what style of package it requires. I don't have to think at the processing stage that I have to hit such and such a packaging line so the amount I produce isn't governed by how much that one packaging line can handle."

DGP can operate this way because of two product conveying systems that serve as the link between processing and packaging. One handles long goods like spaghetti and linguini while the other is for short goods like macaroni and shells. In fact the area devoted to packaging is split just about down the middle long goods on one side and short on the other.

The two sides combined are capable of packaging about 2 lb of pasta per week. Packaging is done 16 hr per day processing 24 an arrangement that allows about 8 hrs of in-process product accumulation.

Five machines for long goods

On the long goods side product is directed to any one of five packaging machines by means of the Pasta Elecon® Multi-Axis Conveying System from Gough Econ Inc. (Charlotte NC). It uses buckets to carry product to the packaging lines. What makes it unusual is it substitutes a single-chain drive instead of a two-chain approach. Dual-chain drive is fine for linear transport but it can't negotiate a turn because the chains are of fixed lengths. Traditionally to send long goods left or right required a transfer point of some kind and transferring products as fragile as spaghetti invites problems.


Gough's single-chain system permits buckets of pasta to turn to the right or left as easily as they move up or down. DGP is the second firm to employ the system which Gough designed originally for Hershey.

The Gough system consists of 377 buckets on 1' centers moving steadily in a 100' x 38' overhead loop at 50 ft/min. The buckets only drop down to floor level to get another charge of pasta from one of two automated cutting machines. Every even-numbered bucket gets fed by the first cutter. Odd-numbered buckets are fed by the second cutting machine. Through PLC controls it's possible to package two different long goods at one time one produced in each cutter.

When loaded the buckets are conveyed over five packaging machines that produce a variety of package sizes and styles. Each day's production schedule determines the machines that will receive pasta. These are the options:

*Model OM/10 intermittent-motion horizontal f/f/s machine from Ricciarelli available in the U.S. from Sasib Packaging (Skokie IL). It produces retail packages in flexible film from 12.8 oz to 5 lb and it's used most often for 3-lb retail packages.

*Model SOPL260 continuous-motion flow wrapper from Stiavelli (Pistoia Italy). It film-wraps retail packages from 12.8 oz to 3 lb and it's used most often for packages weighing less than 2 lb.

*Ricciarelli Model LRO Cartoner that packs pasta into retail cartons weighing from 8 oz to 3 lb.

*Two SASIB Integra v/f/f/s systems with Ricciarelli G/3 MP scales. These lines wrap pasta in 10-lb foodservice packages.

The product is transferred from the overhead buckets into the floor-level packaging machines in essentially the same way regardless of which machine is selected. Take the OM/10 machine for instance. If it's scheduled for production buckets carrying the correct pasta (A buckets or B buckets) are instructed to dump into a "chimney" directly above the machine. This chimney is actually the equivalent of a hopper. It holds 40 or 50 lb of pasta laid flat in a tall vertical column.

PLC link

Each chimney has a level sensor connected to the PLC that controls the Gough Econ system. When the level of pasta in a chimney gets low the PLC receives that information through the level sensor and is programmed to trip a bucket to replenish that chimney.

As for the buckets themselves each has a round gear on its hub. Only when this gear is engaged does the bucket trip and the engaging is accomplished by a straight toothed gear activated by an air cylinder on command from the PLC.

At the bottom of the chimney is the f/f/s machine. Its scale apportions the pasta into discrete weighments of predetermined size. These weighments are dropped into a chamber in the OM/10 wrapper and then a piston pushes the pasta from the chamber into the film. A fin seal is heat-sealed onto the bottom of the pack and the end seals are produced by a jaw that includes a cutoff knife.

Packages produced by the intermittent-motion OM/10 are case-packed semi-automatically. The Stiavelli SOPL260 machine however is a continuous-motion unit capable of speeds to 100/min. It's linked with an automated case packer from Fallas (Waco TX) that packs the film-wrapped long goods in RSCs. Conveyors linking machines throughout the plant were supplied by IMH (Oshkosh WI).

Should the first two pac