Black Lab, LLC, a custom blender of granular and aggregate materials for industrial applications, has significantly extended the shelf life of its products while safeguarding product quality by converting to an advanced valve bag packaging solution.
Based in Chardon, OH, Black Lab manufactures a popular brand of flooring compounds for use in commercial applications. It also produces customized blends of dry granular materials for building and construction professionals, including mortars, grouts, urethanes, concretes and other cements. These are formulated according to customer specifications.
Maintaining product quality
Black Lab's packaging materials must protect the quality and consistency of products from the elements and other ambient conditions. Early in 2010, problems arose involving several packages of Black Lab's flooring blends, which at the time was packaged in standard valve bags with slit or perforated polyethylene liners. Instead of maintaining a uniform consistency, the bags' contents formed into small clumps, especially at the valve end. As a result, a substantial amount of flooring compounds had to be returned and discarded.
"Contractors using the flooring blends are accustomed to a granular, highly consistent product that is easy to mix and apply," says Daryl Deckard, Black Lab general manager. "The flooring blends are designed to create a flat, even flooring surface. Any clumping of the blends results in uneven application and poor product performance."
Finding a solution
Black Lab officials traced the clumping problem to ambient moisture seeping into the standard bags at the valve end. To prevent a recurrence, they consulted with Mondi Americas, a company that designs and manufactures industrial and consumer packaging products, and were informed about an innovation already in development--the Airstream valve bag.
Airstream valve bags are equipped with a non-perforated barrier foil and patented de-aeration system featuring an interrupted longitudinal seam outlet. The system significantly improves air permeability without adversely impacting the bag's moisture protection function. Air enters the valve bag during filling forms a stream that is effectively channeled and allowed to escape quickly through the seam outlet. The bags are tailored to meet the requirements of fine powder filling and high-end filling lines.
Mondi Americas supplied Airstream samples to Black Lab for testing. After a successful trial, Black Lab converted its flooring blends' packaging entirely to Airstream valve bags.
"The results of the changeover were amazing," notes Black Lab's Deckard. "We saw an immediate end to any clumping problems due to ambient moisture. The new bags were highly effective in protecting product consistency."
Added shelf life
After the new packaging solution proved successful in its first application, Black Lab decided to expand use of Airstream bags to the company's custom-blended aggregates, including grouts, mortars and sand blends. The company began gradually to replace its inventory of older standard valve bags.
The shelf life of Black Lab products surged due to the packaging change. Previously, overall shelf life ranged from nine to 12 months depending on the product type. After the change, it increased to an average of 12 to 18 months.
"An additional four to six months or more of shelf life is a huge advantage for our customers," says Deckard. "They want our products to be stored and ready for use when needed. Some of our aggregate materials cost as much as $80 per bag. If a bag of aggregate only lasts six months, that can mean a loss for our customers."
Smoother packaging operations
The Airstream valve bags are integrated into packaging lines at Black Lab's Chardon facility, and at sites in Serena, IL, and Fresno, TX. On these lines, Taylor Products-brand bulk fillers from Magnum Systems are used in conjunction with mixing machines and weighing scales. The fillers employ air to propel aggregate materials through the mixing machines and into the bags.
Black Lab's Deckard observes that the Airstream solution has resulted in an improved packaging operation. Because the bags allow air to quickly escape during filling, they promote smoother filling and packing. They also contribute to more accurate weighing of materials.
Black Lab uses approximately 750,000 Airstream valve bags annually, in different sizes including 25-lb., 50-lb. and 60-lb. The bags are manufactured at Mondi Americas' production facility in Romeoville, IL. Three production lines are currently in operation there, with a fourth line scheduled to go online soon to meet increased demand.
The Black Lab bags are preprinted in two colors using flexographic printing equipment. They carry company logos, contents, mixing instructions, warning labels and similar information. The flexographic process used is capable of printing packaging in up to six colors.