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'Green machine' saves green

Retrofitted side sealer boosts hf/f/s shrink line throughput 50% and reduces film waste at Berkeley Contract Packaging. Those savings are passed along to customers.
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Side-sealing equipment retrofitted to seven horizontal form/fill/seal shrink machines is generating productivity gains and cost savings for Berkeley Contract Packaging (www.berkeleypackaging.com), a Kenilworth, NJ-based contract packager (CP) specializing in blister-packing, shrink-wrapping, banding, pouching, sealing, and kit assembly.

Known as the “Green Machine,” the retrofit side-sealing equipment from Shrink Packaging Systems (www.spsgm.com) is boosting shrink line throughput 50% for Berkeley. Bemis Clysar (www.clysar.com) has exclusive North American distribution rights for the Green Machine in an agreement signed with Shrink Packaging Systems. Berkeley employs Bemis Clysar film for the shrink-wrapping lines.

One Green Machine is mounted on each of seven hf/f/s shrink packaging machines. The wrappers have been added gradually since 2003. Each line is capable of producing 20,000 packages/eight-hour shift at Berkeley’s 150,000 sq’ facility in Carlisle, PA. A smaller facility in Kenilworth serves as both the CP’s headquarters and as a packaging site. Together, the two locations run more than 40 packaging lines.

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The packaging process

On any given day, Berkeley packs a variety of different-sized promotional products, items with on-pack trial sizes, or “irregular” multipacks ranging from bottles and tubes to cartons.

Products are received by pallet load from consumer packaged goods companies. Berkeley employees collate the packages into cartons or other packs, sometimes tip-gluing items together. If desired, the assembled products are labeled or printed with batch codes and expiration dates before being sent on for wrapping.

Using flighted infeed conveyers, the products are then propelled to the wrapper and into a tube of polyolefin shrink film.

The promotional packages enter the tube and are side-sealed, then cross-sealed into individual packages. Packages are conveyed to the shrink tunnel where tight, protective overwraps are created. Packaged products are then labeled, if required, and manually loaded into point-of-purchase displays or master shipping cases.

Before adding the first of the Green Machine units in 2005, Berkeley experienced unsatisfactory seals attributed to an in-line side-sealer device that used hot wire to longitudinally seal packages prior to entering a shrink tunnel. Excess ambient heat from the sealing wires resulted in defective seals and variation in the appearance of the shrink-pack.

Jack Concannon, general manager at the Carlisle facility, explains. “The wires built up a plastic residue over time from the film. That caused a significant amount of downtime. Occasionally, we had to dissasemble the side sealers to replace wires and various components.”

The heat generated from the hot-wire system also took its toll on mechanical parts, including drive belts, which periodically warped, melted or broke, creating ongoing maintenance and inventory issues.

Developing the Green Machine

To remedy these problems, Berkeley worked with Shrink Packaging Systems. “It had some experimental units and brought one here in 2004,” recalls Concannon. “We installed it and tried to help the company in the developmental process.”

During the next 18 months, Berkeley, Shrink Packaging Systems, and Bemis Clysar collaborated to evaluate and modify the technology. By 2005, the final commercial version of the Green Machine was installed at Berkeley Packaging.

Tom Papp, Berkeley’s president, was pleased with the installation. “The retrofit was accomplished in just a few hours, then we were up and running,” he said. “We saw the improvement immediately.

“One of the things contract packagers are always faced with is reducing cost and ensuring on-time delivery,” Papp adds. “Not only did the Green Machine increase our productivity and reduce the scrap level, it gave us better on-time delivery in a short period of time.”

The Green Machine uses a proprietary hot-tip sealing device to eliminate the intense heat generated by the hot-wire systems. Operating at low ambient temperatures, the Green Machine uses less energy, lengthens component life, and virtually eliminates the problems of the previous wire sealers.

            “You don’t have the wire and the film feeding through the wire so there’s no build-up of plastic on the wire that eventually began to insulate the wire so that we did not get the full temperature on the side seal,” Concannon says of the former system. “The new system is much simpler. It’s just a small tiny heated tip that the film passes.”

The Green Machines’ technology enhancements have reduced downtime and the need for skilled maintenance support. Digital temperature controls simplified set-up and ensured repeatability from run to run, and self-compensating seal adjustments ensured consistency of seal appearance.

With the Green Machine units, film changeovers can be made quickly. To prevent production disruptions, a jam sensor automatically stops the line in the event packages become wedged in the side seals.

“There is virtually no maintenance involved anymore,” Concannon says. “Each line has greater throughput because we have no downtime. Plus, it saves on mechanical parts, because we don’t have to replace wires.”

Rewrap Rx

Not only did the Green Machine units provide Berkeley with equipment advantages, but also with reduced film waste. Berkeley has downgauged film from 100-g to 75- or even 60-gauge Bemis Clysar films for some customer applications.

Strong, thin seals, packaging aesthetics and protection also improved, providing the consistency and appeal so important to the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Berkeley ships to outlets such as Wal-Mart and Target, as well as to pharmacies and grocery stores.

The Green Machine allows Berkeley to pass along cost savings to customers. In one instance, a customer realized an 18% cost reduction on repeat orders as a direct result of throughput gains.

Papp says, “We’ve become a strategic partner with our customers and they rely on us to solve problems and provide value beyond just running the job. We’ve found we can bring genuine savings and value by implementing the Green Machine on our high-speed shrink-packaging lines.”

Adding more Green Machine units in the future appears likely. “It depends on our volumes,” says Papp. “We’re always looking to expand our operations. Customers like this type of package. It has replaced some of our corrugated packaging.”

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