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Perfecting pasta packaging

A line at Barilla's greenfield plant in Avon, NY, features a cartoner and two case packers. 
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FILED IN:  Machinery  > Inspection  > Metal detectors
     

You’d expect that a company that’s been preparing pasta for 130 years would have things down pretty well by now. And you’d be correct, judging by Barilla America’s greenfield operations in Avon, NY, which opened in summer 2007. Packaging World’s recent visit a little over a year later focused on the long goods (spaghetti) operations. The 24/7 pasta-processing systems, dominated by mixers, extruders, and 200-ft-long dryers, supply dedicated packaging equipment, including a cartoning line—the focus of our visit—that features a Tishma Innovations, LLC® (www.tminn.com) cartoner.

Equipment for the plant, which was carved out of a cornfield, was ordered in fall 2006. Assembly of the lines began in January 2007, and production followed six months later; the inaugural production was on June 12, 2007, according to plant manager Carmine Simone. Barilla packages seven different pasta thicknesses from angel hair to fettucini on the long goods line. The day of our visit, the line was packaging #7 (thick) spaghetti at a rate of four tons/hr into a standard, windowed 1-lb carton. The cartoner can also accepts a 2-lb carton. The line layout is as straight as the spaghetti, running from the cartoner infeed to a case packer about 100 ft downstream.

Cartoner criteria

Simone says that Barilla took a team approach to equipment selection, with input from key personnel. According to company managers, the choice of a Tishma Innovations cartoner was a natural, and not only because the company desired to source the machinery stateside as much as possible.

“Tishma Innovations is the only American company that manufactures this type of equipment,” offers plant engineer John Davlin. “Tishma Innovations was also willing to do a lot of work with us to develop a machine that would fit our needs and had the right personnel with the right attitude to assist us in that.”

Lead time and the availability of spare parts were also in favor of Tishma Innovations, Davlin says. And, adds Barilla America director of operations Mike Biegger, the position of the U.S. dollar versus the Euro factored into the decision. Biegger also oversees Barilla’s Ames, IA, plant.

“We considered the machinery’s performance in terms of efficiency of the quality of the product,” explains Simone, “and we looked at how safe and how operator-friendly it is to operate.” Barilla had prior experience with Tishma machinery at its Ames plant, though that was a used machine for a completely different application: frozen-dinner tray packaging.

“Product and carton handling on the machine are straightforward, uncomplicated, and easily handled,” observes Simone. “It’s also easy to time from a maintenance standpoint, and the machine can accept small defects in the cartons. It’s a good machine that compares favorably with the efficiency of our other machinery in addition to its cost advantages.”

Down the zigzag ‘chimneys’

Fresh from the dryer, the pasta is delivered via bucket conveyor to a series of four Ricciarelli (www.ricciarellispa.it) weigh scales that supply pasta to the cartoner’s infeed. The line is capable of speeds to 240 cartons/min, but due to production restrictions operates at 220 cartons/min. Davlin says that’s because of having four scales. “If we had five scales, it would run that much faster,” he points out.

The pasta makes its way down what he calls “chimneys,” or 20-ft-tall, zigzagged chutes, to a vibratory feeder. The zigzag pathway reduces product breakage. The pasta is delivered to a reciprocating feeder—resembling a wheeled cart—that delivers the pasta into the cartoner’s flights. It moves in tandem with the conveyor, and then reloads from the vibratory feeder in cyclical fashion. That was a custom improvement done with Ricciarelli, says Davlin. “It permits the pasta to settle before it drops into the cartoner flight,” he explains.

The cartoner’s U-shaped flights are also a Barilla design. A hinged lid closes down to contain the product as it’s pushed into a carton.

“The critical part of this machine, or almost any cartoner, is when the product is introduced into the carton,” says Davlin. “That whole area is extremely critical as far as design, gaps, and spacing.” The cartons’ end flaps are engraved with product and production coding using a Videojet (www.videojet.com) laser unit that’s mounted about midway on the machine. “We’ve been very successful with our laser coders,” adds Davlin.

The carton flaps are sealed using hot-melt adhesive applied by a Nordson (www.nordson.com) hot-melt glue applicator. “Nordson may or may not be a standard for Tishma, but it is definitely a standard for us,” says Davlin.

A Rockwell Automation (www.rockwellautomation.com) controls package on the cartoner represents a new direction for Barilla. “For the first time in the history of Barilla, every machine is controlled by Rockwell ControlLogix,” Davlin points out. “Not only the Tishma cartoner, but every machine in the plant is on this same control platform.”

Adds Simone, “Rockwell’s network is user-friendly for connecting drives. It also has a strong presence in the U.S. and good after-sale assistance.”

After exiting the cartoner, the cartons pass through a Safeline (www.safeline.com) metal detector and then through a Mettler-Toledo Hi Speed (www.mt.com/hi-speed) checkweigher (see sidebar).

Two case packers

From the cartoner, the cartons are directed to one of two case packers: A Zucchini (www.zucchinisrl.it) case packer is used as a primary means to put the cartons in a case, and a case packer from  Douglas Machine Inc. (www.douglas-machine.com) that produces a wraparound-style club-pack case. According to Simone, the Zucchini retail case packer is run about 70% of the time, though the Douglas was operating for our visit. Barilla provides an eight-count case for club stores.

The Douglas case packer is an off-the-shelf model that can be adjusted to about any size carton it receives. “This particular Douglas is capable of handling our long-goods pasta and cartons for our short-goods pasta as well, which are a significantly different carton size and case size,” notes Davlin. While this first Douglas packer is a mechanical machine, Barilla is planning to install two new all-servo Douglas case packers in early 2009.

On the retail side, the Zucchini case packer erects, glues, and loads 20 cartons per case. Davlin points out that it is basically a mechanical machine, but that there are servos driving some of the carton-pushing and case setup operations.

At the exit of each packer, a Markem (www.markem.com) coder marks each box. “We chose the Markem case coders because of their wax-ink type of system that allows a bar code to be read on a corrugated box,” Davlin explains. “It’s difficult to get readable bar codes on a brown corrugated box using black ink. We chose Markem coders about three years ago in Ames, and they were the only units that could provide a Class C-level scannable bar code.”

Cases from both case packers are delivered to an FKI (www.fki.com) palletizing system paired with a Lantech (www.lantech.com) stretchwrapper. After stretch wrapping, a Weber (www.webermarking.com) printer-applicator applies a label to the pallet load. “Weber has long been an industry leader in label application,” says Davlin. “That’s been an error-free operation.”

Quantifying performance

The cartoner and other machines on the line have performed well, according to an Overall Equipment Effectiveness-related standard that Barilla uses that compares available run time and output with actual run time and output. Simone reports that the entire line has operated at about 72% efficiency over the first half of 2008. That’s well above average: According to performance experts, a typical packaging line OEE is in the 50% to 60% range (see Taking aim at OEE , packworld.com/article-26275, published Oct. 2008).

All products are packaged under the Barilla brand; the company does not package private-label goods. Barilla installed a second Tishma Innovations cartoner in mid-2008 on another long goods line. It features several design improvements to its first machine. As Davlin explains, the changes include a custom lid-closing system along with a rail that holds the sealed ends closed before the product is pushed into the carton. “Tishma did a major redesign on this hold-down assembly,” he says. “They came up with an innovative new design.”

The products from the plant are shipped throughout the U.S., primarily in the Northeast, and to Canada.

Biegger says pasta category sales have been steady the past few years, but the failing economy may actually rally the company’s sales. “When the economy is bad, people tend to eat at home rather than in restaurants,” he says. “Pasta and sauce is a pretty cost-efficient meal for a family.”

Meanwhile, the Tishma Innovations cartoner and the other machinery on this line remain efficient for Barilla.

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