?®Everyday hero?? stretches savings at The Coleman Co.

A two-station machine stretch wraps a bundle of boxed coolers while a second is readied for the other station to save more than 37% in time and labor.

On its Web site, The Coleman Co. lists many of its outdoor camping and leisure-time products under the heading ¡°everyday heroes.¡± That moniker is equally apropos for a stretch wrapping system the company added last year to bundle groups of boxed coolers made and stored at Coleman¡¯s plant in New Braunfels, TX. The wrapped bundles are used only for internal purposes.

These bundles, or cubes, are stretch-wrapped on an automated system from Orion Packaging Systems (Collierville, TN). Orion designates the system as its MPA-66 DST, a modified platform automatic dual-shuttle table that it developed for Coleman after meeting at the New Braunfels facility with Coleman¡¯s manufacturing engineer Raymond Wehmeyer and representatives from distributor Pack-Mark (San Antonio, TX).

Before adding the Orion unit, the New Braunfels plant used another vendor¡¯s dual-station stretch wrapper, which it still employs primarily for additional capacity.

¡°We¡¯ve had good performance out of that machine, but it used a much more manual process than we now have with the new wrapper,¡± notes Wehmeyer. The former process required a worker to first place the load in a circle painted on the floor. Then the worker would step off the clamp truck, swing the wrapper¡¯s arm to the load, grab the tail of film from the carriage, and tuck it into a corner of one of the boxes on the load before pushing a button on the machine to initiate the wrapping cycle.

Now, Wehmeyer says, the clamp-truck driver positions the load on one of the two stations on the moving platform, backs up, and pulls a lanyard switch to automatically move the load into position for stretch wrapping, without having to leave his truck. That¡¯s reduced time and labor costs by 37%, according to Wehmeyer. A lanyard switch is positioned at both stations.

Unusual shuttle system

What makes the new system unique is not the overhead tower wrapper itself, which ascends and descends as it orbits the skid, but the low-profile shuttle table. The table, which had to fit into a tight space in the plant¡¯s warehouse, includes a steel bottom frame structure that is bolted to the floor. The frame includes a track with rails that allow the top steel table to slide left or right on wheels. Electricity powers the system. Workers can load and unload boxed coolers from both stations.

The moving platform measures around 20¡¯ long and accepts bundles from either of two positions. Once a group of boxes is placed onto the table from the left side, the clamp-truck operator backs away from the table and pulls a chain that¡¯s attached to a switch mounted overhead. Pulling the switch triggers the platform to move by sending a signal to an Allen-Bradley MicroLogix¢â PLC, supplied by Rockwell Automation (Milwaukee, WI). The PLC then activates the table to move that load to the wrapper. The automatic rotary tower wrapper applies 80-ga linear low-density polyethylene stretch film from AEP Industries (South Hackensack, NJ).

After the load is wrapped and the film cut off from the bundle with an impulse wire cutter, the table shuttles to the left, returning that load to its original position where a clamp truck picks it up and moves it to a storage location in the warehouse. While the load is wrapped, a clamp truck delivers a skid of case-packed coolers to the right-side position on the moving table, and the process is repeated from that side. By shuttling left and right, the system eliminates the need for buying a stretch wrapper with a conveying system that would typically have a set infeed and discharge side.

Plant process

At its 327ꯠ sq¡¯ plant, Coleman manufactures coolers (or ice chests) in sizes from five to 70 quarts, as well as ice substitutes that consumers freeze and place in a cooler to keep food or beverages cold. Products are made, assembled on nine production lines, then conveyed to a central location where operators separate them by size. Coolers are hand-packed into a shipping case, in quantities of one, two, four, or eight per case, depending on their size. These corrugated shipping cases are taped shut on an older taper.

Cases are then manually stacked, forming the bundle or cube that can stand up to 71¡± high and measure up to 68¡± wide. Cubes are then stretch-wrapped. ¡°During the wrapping cycle, the machine makes a couple of rotations around the bottom of the bundle and moves upwards,¡± explains Wehmeyer. ¡°It overlaps the film as it goes around, and a photoeye senses the top of the stack where the carriage applies film just over the top edge and then moves back down as it wraps the film to within inches from the bottom.¡±

Clamp trucks deliver these wrapped bundles to a warehouse area of the plant for storage. When cases are needed for shipping, operators remove the wrap and a clamp truck delivers boxes to the trailer where two operators stack individual shipping cases from floor to ceiling in trailers. Coleman uses clamp trucks equipped with two large side plates that gently squeeze the load.

Pallets are only used for Coleman¡¯s ice substitute products because their water content makes them heavier, requiring the additional support. Empty coolers, however, are relatively light, and cubes of them can be safely stored several layers high in the warehouse. Wehmeyer contends that by eliminating pallets Coleman optimizes the space in the truck trailers that distribute the coolers.

¡°We pay for shipping costs based on the trailer, not by the trailer¡¯s weight, so when operators pack out a trailer, we want to use every inch,¡± he says. ¡°That means we take different sizes of boxes and stack them so that every possible spot available in that trailer is filled.¡±

Product is shipped throughout the United States, Canada, and to countries offshore. In the United States, Coleman¡¯s products are shipped to distribution centers and ultimately sold at sporting goods stores, mass merchandisers, hardware home centers, and food and drug outlets.

According to Wehmeyer, the Texas plant began using the Orion wrapper in February 2001, one day after its installation. During an eight-hour shift, he estimates the wrapper produces about 150 cubes during the slow season. ¡°It¡¯s as much as three times that many during our busy time of year, which runs from December through early summer,¡± Wehmeyer says. ¡°It¡¯s a 24-seven operation then.¡±

Financial solution

The need to add the wrapper stretches back about two years. As Coleman looked forward to its 2001 centennial celebration, Wehmeyer says, ¡°we introduced a new product line and we also anticipated production increases, so we had a need for additional stretch-wrapping capability.

¡°Initially we were looking at using a more semi-automatic machine,¡± he recalls, saying the company wanted to add a machine without investing excessive capital. ¡°The money [allocated] to a stretch-wrapping machine was included as part of an overall product and packaging budget.

¡°We found savings in other areas that allowed us to increase the amount of money we could invest in stretch wrapping. When we realized we were in good shape economically, I inquired with different suppliers about fully automated machines, but there wasn¡¯t enough capital for those, so we backed off,¡± Wehmeyer explains.

Coleman contacted three or four primary vendors to bid on a machine. ¡°Most of the vendors told us ¡®these are the models we offer,¡¯ but Orion impressed me because they thought outside of the box,¡± Wehmeyer states. ¡°Susan Landry and Joe Lorenz from our distributor Pack-Mark and Mark Collins at Orion met with us here at the New Braunfels plant, and they came back with this machine with the pull switch that allowed our drivers to remain on the clamp truck. They met our very limited space requirements, and best of all, they didn¡¯t stick to rigid equipment models. Their engineering staff built this machine for us.¡±

The custom stretch wrapping system is paying dividends. Wehmeyer says that the 37% time savings translates directly into labor savings, though he prefers not to divulge financial numbers for competitive reasons. Those savings, he says, justify the equipment investment at the Texas plant.

¡°The equipment runs well and we¡¯ve not had a need for any service on it,¡± says Wehmeyer. ¡°But I¡¯ve been impressed with Orion¡¯s assistance from the day we purchased it. They worked with us to set it up and get it running in a day, and we rely on it every day. I¡¯m projecting a return on investment on the wrapper in two years or less,¡± he concludes.

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