Manually multipacking a growing variety of refrigerated salads was getting too cumbersome and slow at Star Foods. So the Burlington NC-based firm looked to automate the process in order to better serve grocery-chain customers such as Kroger Winn Dixie and Piggly Wiggly.
“Initially we only offered three salad options in one size” says Jason Griffith vp of plant operations at Star Foods. “With such a small inventory we were able to utilize manual labor to pack. As we grew we began to offer these salads in a choice of 7- 12- and 24-ounce cups. We knew we would need to look for a more practical efficient and cost-effective packaging option.”
Just more than a year ago the food manufacturer began using a Delkor Systems’ (Minneapolis MN) Model 140 Spot-Pak packaging system. Before purchasing the Spot-Pak Star Foods relied on the manpower of five employees to pack the plastic tubs of salad into corrugated cases. A sixth operator ran the tape machine that sealed the cases. That proved not only exceptionally slow but also extremely costly. With the addition of the Delkor machine Star Foods was able to redeploy five of those operators. It also eliminated the need for the expensive 43¢ corrugated cases because the Spot-Pak substitutes a flat and inexpensive sheet of corrugated plus shrink wrap for a full corrugated case.
Wrapping up the benefits
Since the Spot-Pak system was installed Star Foods pays just 8¢ to purchase a corrugated pad plus a modest investment in shrink film that now goes around the multipacks. “It’s a significant savings” Griffith says.
He also says Star Foods experienced significant product damage with the previous corrugated case. Employees that handled the cases in the warehouse and grocery stores would sometimes drop or throw the cases occasionally causing the salad tubs inside to rupture. Now that workers can actually see the product Griffith says they tend to be more gentle with the Star Foods product. “We were surprised that less product damage resulted. We weren’t really looking for that. But this new system really saved us on breakage” he says.
Since Star Foods purchased the equipment less than two years ago the machine has already paid for itself according to Griffith. He adds that it’s been quite easy to maintain.
“We’re a small company compared to many” he says. “When you talk about putting out a couple hundred thousand dollars it’s a really big investment. We convinced the owner of our company to make the investment after we saw what we could save and it’s really paid off.”
Stuck like glue
Multipacks can be made in either 6- or 12-tub configurations in the 7- 12- and 24-oz sizes. The tubs are packed in groups of six for distribution warehouses or into 12-packs for distribution by Star Foods’ salespeople to grocery stores. Star Foods also offers its salads in 5-lb tubs which are packed in groups of two.
Multipacking begins after filled and sealed salad containers are conveyed to the Spot-Pak machine. As the tubs of salad enter the Spot-Pak they’re divided into three lanes.
Vacuum pickup heads take a corrugated pad from a magazine and place it on a conveyor. Nozzles deposit rows of adhesive onto the corrugated pad. A second set of vacuum heads then picks and places the cups of salad onto the adhesive on the corrugated pad. The adhesive temporarily bonds the tapered cups in place so that they remain stable as they’re conveyed through a shrink wrapper.
For the two-level 12-packs after one pad is filled it’s conveyed a short distance forward to a stacking station where another set of vacuum heads raises the pad and its load of tubs above the conveyor. A second completed layer is conveyed directly under the elevated pad. Then the vacuum heads lower the upper pad and place it on top of the bottom one.
Packs are then conveyed into the cooler where the Delkor shrink bundler is located. The packs are conveyed through a roll-fed curtain of 2-ga clear shrink film from Tyco Plastics (Minneapolis MN). Heated knives cut the film from the roll and a lap seal is made so that the multipack is enclosed in a tube of film. Salad multipacks are then conveyed through a heat tunnel that heats the film tightly to the pack to secure it.
Finished packs are then palletized prior to distribution to North Carolina South Carolina Virginia and parts of Tennessee.
Griffith describes the Spot-Pak as “a great piece of equipment.” He continues: “We’ve gotten support from the Delkor owners and the people that maintain the machinery. That makes a big difference. You can buy a Cadillac but if the dealer doesn’t stand behind it it’s not much good. Delkor really stands behind their machinery.
“Delkor is a first-class operation” Griffith adds. “I can call them today if we have a problem and they’ll either try to help me fix it over the phone or get someone out here the next day. They really take care of their equipment. Once a year they even come in and give it a complete tune-up. They’ve been very good to us.”