What began as a trickle of automation has turned into a flood at Blue Diamond Growers cooperative in Sacramento CA. Last summer the nation's leading almond producer put the finishing touches on a sophisticated empty case-handling and filling system in its bulk packing area where 1-lb bins and 25- and 50-lb corrugated cases are packed for food processors that use almonds as ingredients. Making the transformation even more dramatic says project engineer Darrell Nelson is that as recently as 1993 Blue Diamond didn't even have an automatic scale in its bulk packaging operation. Once an automatic net weigh filler was installed on a trial basis and Blue Diamond saw how much could be saved by reducing giveaway additional investments followed. A second net weigh filler was added in 1994 as well as a case erector and plastic liner inserter. After Blue Diamond completed a facility study that determined the firm would maintain its production operations in the Sacramento plant a modernization and automation program was begun. Last summer three more Temco (Benicia CA) net weigh fillers were added along with a conveyor system to move almonds from processing to packaging. Downstream a random-height case taper from Marq (Yakima WA) does the work formerly performed by as many as five people. Among the more intriguing things about the five net weigh fillers now running at Blue Diamond is how each can be used to fill either corrugated cases or bins that hold 1 lb. One key to this flexibility is that both empty- and full-case conveying is done overhead. Cases ride a declining conveyor section to get to floor level where the fillers are located. When Blue Diamond needs to run bulk totes at a particular filler the declining conveyor is lifted out of the way by an overhead hoist on one end and a pivoting connection at the other. That makes room for entrance and exit of fork lifts carrying the bulk bins on pallets. Equally important is that the floor-level conveyor sections carrying cases beneath the five product discharge chutes are all portable. Like the decline conveyor they are easily disengaged and wheeled out of the way when bulk totes need to be positioned beneath the scales.