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Article | October 31, 1998
Small machine is big business for coffee roaster
A compact form/fill/seal machine makes a packaging engineer out of an entrepreneur and launches a whole new business in the process.
How realistic is it to expect a small-business owner with no prior packaging experience to own and operate a form/fill/seal machine and auger filler?
Ask Kyle McMullen of Newhall Coffee Roasting Company Valencia CA. In addition to being everything from the company president to its delivery driver he's now the engineer maintenance manager and operator for his new small-scale packaging line for ground coffee. The line consists of a compact f/f/s machine from Matrix Packaging Machinery (Grafton WI) fed by an auger filler from All-Fill (Exton PA). The film supplied by Curwood (Oshkosh WI) is a standard material for coffee bags consisting of 35-ga metallized polyester laminated to a 1-mil proprietary sealant layer.
Putting advanced packaging capability in the hands of an admitted non-expert "opened up a whole new business for us" says McMullen. Previously the firm was roasting high-quality coffee beans mainly to supply its own two coffee shops plus other local restaurants. That coffee was hand-filled into premade 2- and 5-lb bags (with one-way degassing valves) that were manually heat-sealed. "It was real time consuming" says McMullen "but at that time we didn't have that many accounts so it wasn't that big a deal."
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With the f/f/s equipment Newhall can now target the lucrative market for office coffee for movie and television studio executives in Los Angeles 30 miles away. "People in that industry want top-quality coffee and they want it in a convenient format" says McMullen. The Matrix machine made it possible to produce 4- to 8-oz single-serve pouches that combine the convenience of single-pot quantities with gourmet coffee taste.
The combination of quality coffee in a convenient package is proving to be an easy sell. Newhall already is signing up such well-known showbiz accounts as "Melrose Place" "Beverly Hills 90210" the "X-Files" even Dreamworks SKG.
While the equipment is sophisticated enough to produce standard f/f/s bags automatically at speeds to 90 bags/min it's simple enough-and affordable enough-that McMullen's three-person company can not only own it but also can operate and maintain it with only two days' training.
After comparing many vf/f/s machines McMullen chose the model 916 R from Matrix. "I liked the fact that it was made in the U.S." especially since parts are easy to obtain he says. "It's well-built with steel all the way throughout whereas a lot of the other ones use a lot of plastic components." Most important it was sized just right: "It was what we needed. A lot of companies out there make these machines but this one really fit what we were looking for."
In practice the equipment operates like other standard auger filler and f/f/s combinations. McMullen or a colleague climbs a ladder to dump buckets of ground coffee into the auger filler every few minutes. "My next purchase will be an automatic hopper/feeder" he says. As the auger screw rotates coffee is metered into the f/f/s machine where film unwinds from rollstock passes over a forming collar is vertically heat-sealed along the back and cross-sealed after each fill.
Even though it's a compact there's nothing small about its output. "Right now I've got it set at forty bags a minute and I can't keep up with it" says McMullen. "I'm going to be able to grow into this machine" he says referring to the 90-bag/min maximum throughput capacity.
Changeover is easy says McMullen. It consists of pushing a few buttons to call up a new bag length from the controller's memory. No mechanical changes or tools are necessary.
New hands at packaging
Matrix set up the equipment and trained McMullen and his colleagues in an intensive two-day session. Still the lack of experience meant that the project wasn't without its glitches early on.
"The first week or two there was a lot of waste" McMullen admits. "Every time we made a package change we'd lose twenty feet of material."
Today it's a different story. "Now we can do it without losing any film. We learned that within three weeks."
Since the film is unprinted packages are decorated with a single pressure-sensitive label that's hand-applied. As Packaging World went to press McMullen was looking into preprinted film.
Unlike the premade 2- and 5-lb bags that Newhall supplies its restaurant customers the f/f/s bag has no degassing valve. McMullen says he lets the coffee sit for 24 hours after it's ground to let the gases escape. Then as soon as it's safe to package "We run it through this machine and our goal is to get it out to customers some time that same day."
With the equipment in place Newhall is able to supply the high-quality coffee that picky studio executives have come to demand at a price competitive to that provided by traditional office coffee suppliers. "That's because I don't have the overhead" of a large commercial supplier says McMullen. "I've got this machine as overhead now but I'm hoping to have it paid for in the next year and a half. It's just been a huge success ever since we've gotten it."
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