Adjacent to the lush Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina a former dairy is now bottling juices drinks and water at speeds more typical of plants in metropolitan areas. Arcadia Farms Arden NC continues to increase its output one part of each line at a time.
A couple of years ago the plant's versatile quart to gallon line added a high-speed filler/capper monoblock from Fogg (Holland MI). Last year it took care of another volume obstacle when it added a high-speed wraparound case packer from Douglas Machine (Alexandria MN). And Arcadia already has identified the next two areas it needs to improve to get the maximum out of the equipment on the line.
"Our last dairy products were packed in 1980 and we changed thank you Lord into juices and drinks" says Nathan Arthur Arcadia's president. Some of the "drinks" are a bit unusual (see the facing page); what isn't unusual is the company's drive to produce the freshest products with the longest shelf life. Short shelf life is what Arthur didn't like about dairy products. Arcadia packs three of its own labels and it also does considerable private label and contract packaging all in high-density polyethylene bottles.
"We looked at either adding more filling lines or speeding up the lines we have" he says. "We chose the latter. Today we run gallons at speeds from 90 to 110 per minute half-gallons up to 200 per minute. The speed really depends on how many people we can get to help out on the palletizer!" With the new case packer boxing gallons at 27 cases/min the existing palletizer can't keep up so Arcadia diverts some cases for manual palletizing.
The Douglas machine replaces another wraparound caser a pneumatic machine with a capability of about 12 cases/min. Project engineering was handled by Package Concepts (Mauldin SC) the same company that serves as Arcadia's corrugated box broker.
One box fits all
Some of the dairy philosophy is still in evidence at Arcadia. It uses the same size corrugated wraparound blank for quarts to gallon jugs. It's what Arthur refers to as a "four-one-gallon" case. Gallons are packed 2x2 half-gallons 3x3 and quarts in a 4x4 arrangement. Although some cases are partially preprinted most are totally generic. Ink-jet printers from Diagraph (Earth City MO) are programmed to print the product identity and bottle size on cases after they're ejected from the packer.
"We like the wraparound style case because it gives you a nice tight pack" Arthur says. "Plus we discovered we could standardize on our case size. That makes it easier for us and really cuts down on changeover time." Arcadia found that the case will also accommodate six round-style half-gallon bottles and for a time it was even used for 1-L bottles of polyethylene terephthalate.
Since some of Arcadia's production is shipped to distant points the company wanted the strongest corrugated case it could buy. The corrugated blank is made of high ring-crush paper in a 57#/40#/57# configuration. Because of the type of paper Arthur says the 57# liners are equivalent to regular 69# linerboard. Arcadia gets most of its cases from J&J Mid-South (Augusta GA). It has a second supplier but says Arthur "we don't jump around for pennies."
When the case packer was installed Arcadia had to buy new cutting dies for J&J since the manufacturer's joint needs to be on the outside for the packer. The joint was tucked inside with the old machine. Nonetheless Arthur says the performance of the new case has been very good.
Lane divider added
To get the full output from the new packer Arcadia ordered it equipped with a servo-driven lane divider to collate the bottles feeding into the packer. Like the case packer it too is mechanical rather than pneumatic in operation. "Since the packer doesn't use flood feeding we needed to divert the bottles into lanes" Arthur says.
The lane divider plays a key role in allowing the packer to reach its current speeds. Arcadia is convinced that it could get 30 cases/min-but that exceeds what the filler can produce. For the gallon and half-gallon jugs Arcadia receives prelabeled bottles protected in plastic bags from its bottle suppliers. A relatively new bottle debagger can feed bottles to the Fogg monoblock at virtually any speed the filler can handle.
Arcadia's tall quart bottles have the potential to be filled at speeds approaching 400 bpm. However Arcadia receives these bottles in bulk so it has to use an unscrambler that can't feed any faster than 165 bpm. The company is working to get quarts bagged in tiers like the gallons and half-gallons so they too can use the debagging system.
Because the case packer and lane divider are completely mechanical they've been well-received by Arcadia mechanics. They particularly like the smoother operation of a mechanically-operated system. The plant originally purchased the old pneumatic packer because it was smaller and cheaper.
"With a year's experience we've had less maintenance on the new packer than on any other piece of equipment we've ever installed" Arthur says with emphasis. "It's pretty foolproof so long as it's lubricated. We'd known about them for a long time. But we hadn't needed the speeds nor could we afford the price. With this Douglas packer we traded up for quality."
Lots of changeovers
On this versatile line Arcadia doesn't enjoy extended production runs. The plant makes and packages most of its product to order. So most days this line will run all three bottle sizes. That's particularly true for the shorter shelf life items like refrigerated fresh juices.
"Occasionally we may run a given bottle size all day but that's rare" Arcadia's president says. "Most of our orders are shipped with mixed sizes so we generally do quite a bit of bottle changing. That's because we're trying to keep code dates the same on all bottles in a shipment."
Since the case size is the same the changeover routine on the case packer for size changes is pretty much limited to the lane divider and guiderails. For the most part this can be done in about five minutes the plant says. Over the complete line a size change rarely takes more than 15 minutes including clean up.
One major contributing factor is that Arcadia only uses containers that have been decorated or labeled by the bottle supplier. When asked about this Arcadia's president slyly replied "We read I think in your magazine that labelers were the number one source of downtime so we didn't want to worry about that.
"Our molders charge us a fee and we buy the labels. But they run slower than we do and their plant environment is drier. So it's a better atmosphere for label application."
Palletizer is next
Obviously an automatic palletizer that can keep up with the case packer is the final piece to Arcadia's high-output puzzle and Nat Arthur confirms the company is looking in that direction. Securing quart bottles in tiered bags to enhance feeding is also on the list.
At the same time it's also looking to improve speeds on its small bottle line and may add a similar case packer to that line. And he says that Douglas is looking into shrink bundling of bottles before casing.
Finally Arthur says the company is looking toward developing a new bottle and size. "If we're going to make blow molds for a new bottle we'll make it so that it fits our box. We want as few changes as possible."