Responding to demand by grocery store customers for an easy-open display shipper, private-label tomato processor Fremont Co. pioneered a new type of display shipper that's easier for store workers to open and make ready for display. The new case replaces both traditional RSCs as well as HSC shippers for plastic bottles of ketchup.
"We were hearing more of our customers asking for new packaging, so we went to the stores and talked to the store managers and the stock personnel and asked them what they wanted," explains Jim Fox, vice president of production for the Fremont, OH, company.
"They wanted a case that they didn't have to cut open, that came display-ready, without using dividers that would hide the bottles in back. They wanted a case that could be stacked three pallets high in the warehouse [versus two previously], and they wanted product identification on all four sides of the case."
The case-packing line that's capable of handling the unique shipping case is a result of a collaboration between Fremont and equipment suppliers Kayat Engineering (Edgewater, FL) and SWF Dyna-Pak (Sanger, CA). SWF Dyna-Pak supplied a preformer that partially forms the blanks that are then fed to Kayat's wraparound case packer that completes the case forming and packing. Kayat also supplied the shrink bundler. The equipment, modified from standard designs to pack this case design, has been running since March in Fremont's Rockford, OH, facility.
Two years in development
The case itself took two years to develop and was designed by Green Bay Packaging (Green Bay, WI). Made from 200#-test, B-flute corrugated, it consists of a wraparound corner-post display tray with top flaps. The corner posts provide top load strength and stability without the need for interior dividers, and the top flaps allow the case to be stacked without putting pressure on case contents. In testing, says Fox, the new case displays almost twice the stacking strength of the previous version.
About 90% of Fremont's business consists of filling private-label products for grocery chains and private-label distributors such as Western Family Foods, Tigard, OR. That firm describes itself as a private-label procurement and marketing company, distributing food products to warehouse distributors throughout the U.S., ranging from Associated Grocers in Seattle, WA, to Affilliated Foods in Amarillo, TX.
"It is a time-saver, which equates to a cost-saver," says Western Family's Dick Gardiner, vice president of marketing. "It's easy for the consumer to get the merchandise from it. It's sturdy and great for chimney-stacking, which is the preferable way to display at retail." Chimney-stacking refers to the practice of vertically stacking cases in columns, versus interlocking them.
The display shipper was just moving through Western Family's distribution chain as Packaging World went to press, so it was too early for feedback from the company's grocery store customers. "But," says Gardiner, "I can tell you from experience on similar display-ready cases, the retailers love them."
Dual vendors, one line
Although the equipment was custom-designed around the new package, Fremont sought to avoid untried equipment designs.
"We want proven equipment design concepts, and we wanted a supplier who would integrate those with the new package design," says Fox. That led to the selection of dual suppliers for the case-packing line. "Kayat has the reputation of making equipment that is reliable and soundly designed. They also provide high-quality follow-up service. They could pack and wrap the new case design but couldn't preform it. That's where SWF came in."
SWF had designed a case former for the fresh vegetable industry; these formers were handling cases similar to Fremont's design. "They had the concept solidly in hand and had several machines out there," Fox adds. "We got everybody together and basically locked them in a room and talked about viability. Everybody was intrigued with the concept and realized that other processors out there were also going to be interested in this design."
Fremont also took the opportunity to upgrade other machines on the line. Filling, labeling and conveying systems were refurbished or replaced. In four weeks the entire bottling and packaging operation was gutted and redesigned.
The bulk of Fremont's production on the line consists of 12-packs of 28-oz bottles, although it also produces 12- and 20-packs of 20-oz bottles; 12-packs of 40-oz bottles; and 9-packs of 64-oz bottles. To provide future capacity, the equipment was specified and tested by Fremont at speeds of 25 to 30 cases/min, or upwards of 320 containers/min. Current speeds are 225 containers/min, or about 19 cases/min.
The SWF Dyna-Pak H4610 tray former magazine feeds flat blanks to the machine's forming station, which shapes the corner posts. When completely formed, the case walls and corner posts have vertical flutes, providing greater stability to the corrugated compared to flutes running horizontally. Both sides of each corner are double laminated for maximum strength. The forming machine is completely enclosed, with clear protective plastic doors for easy accessibility, and operation is fully automatic.
Kayat designed a special conveyor that carries the partially formed cases from the SWF to the Kayat PTF-28 wraparound packer. The infeed conveyor features pneumatically driven pins that regulate the feeding of partially formed cases into the packer. The pins protrude from a slot cut into the deadplate at the discharge station of the preformer. They move forward in the direction of the conveyor, pushing the cases onto the moving conveyor belt.
Meanwhile, bottles enter Kayat's servo-driven lane divider, designed especially for this installation. One special feature of the divider is the gentle product handling needed for bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate. Fremont's previous lane divider used pins to grab the bottles and air cylinders to move the bottles into each lane. This handling made them susceptible to delamination or slight separation of the layers that make up the rigid bottle, which can cause loss of clarity. The new laner also uses servo-driven belts to stop and start the bottles, grabbing them in a spot that minimizes the potential for delamination.
Once the preformed blank and bottles are in place in the PTF-28, a pneumatic gate opens and allows bottles to descend a few inches onto the preformed blank at the packer's forming section. This virtually eliminates the PET delamination Fremont had experienced with its previous drop-packer, which dropped the bottles 18".
The machine then indexes the case to the next section, where hot melt adhesive is applied and the top flaps are folded and sealed. As the cases leave the packer, two large-character ink-jet coders from Videojet (Wood Dale, IL) print product information on two sides of the case. The conveyor to the shrink bundler is set at a 90° angle to the discharge of the packer. A second pair of Videojet coders mounted on this conveyor prints the same information on the ends, resulting in product identification information on all four sides of the case for those customers that require it.
Clear guard doors on the PTF-28 allow operators to keep an eye on all parts of the packing operation. "The machine is well-guarded," says Fox, "and you can access all critical areas quickly and easily." Quality Assurance Manager Debbie Gibson appreciates the safety aspects of the Kayat equipment. "The openness of the machine is a plus. If there's a problem, the operator can see it right away, and the emergency stops make the machine very safe."
From the PTF-28, the packed cases are conveyed to Kayat's dual-roll SW200 shrink wrapper and heat tunnel to provide the final package. The SW200 provides features for easy maintenance, including a disconnecting seal bar and slide-out trays for spare film rolls. The dual film rolls do not require complex threading and are easy to load. "It doesn't require a lot of physical strength to change the film rolls, which means that any of our line operators can easily maintain the equipment," notes Gibson. The SW200 can handle film in thicknesses from 1 to 3 mils; Fremont chose a 2-mil LDPE film.
Being a private-label packer, changeover is a significant issue at Fremont. The time required to change over the case packing line remains the same as before: 30 minutes. What differs is the number of mechanics required for that changeover. "We're doing now with two or three people what we used to have to do with four or five," says Fox. Specific savings figures weren't available.
Kayat's equipment eases the process with nearly tool-less changeover. "All rules and guides for changeover are built into the machine, and change parts are well-marked," Fox says. "What few tools are needed for changeover came with the equipment."
Even though customer demand drove the package change, Fox estimates the equipment will pay for itself in less than two years thanks to material savings. "When you compare our current corrugated and film costs versus the corrugated costs for an RSC with a divider, there are very significant savings. They basically justified the equipment." Also, only two operators are required to run the equipment, versus three previously.
"Everyone involved in the project has been wonderful to work with and eager to solve problems," says Fox. "We're definitely meeting our production goals, and we can realistically expect an increase in production once we complete the learning curve."
For Western Family's part, the new display case ends up delivering more value to its grocery store customers. "The greatest expense for the retailer is his labor cost," says Gardiner. "Any time we can do something to help the retailer reduce their labor, they love it. And when you get a display case as classy as this, it can't be anything but a winner."