A portable, new, powdered-dairy drink pouch for the military, designed with an appealing profile and a convenient, new zipper closure that facilitates product preparation and encourages consumption, is making its way to the front lines. Says Lester Weiss, chief operating officer of Trans-Packers Services Corp. (TPSC [www.transpackers.com]), a Brooklyn, NY, provider of the drink pouch, “Rehydration is one of the most important processes for a soldier in the field. If the product looks attractive and appetizing, the soldier will drink it. We also feel that this new rehydration packet has commercial application, as well.”
For 18 years, TPSC, a contract blender and packager for the military and for institutional and industrial organizations, has supplied the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate (CFD), part of the Army Natick Soldier Center, Natick, MA, with a range of specially packaged food and beverage products that provide convenient delivery options and essential nutrition to U.S. troops. Among these products, TPSC was instrumental in developing a dry, powdered, dairy-shake mix that, for five years, has been supplied to soldiers in a four-side-sealed pouch and reconstituted by adding water to the pouch.
Last year, Natick proposed a new pouch design that takes on a bottle shape when the recommended 6 oz of water is added and provides a stable container from which the soldiers can drink the shake. “Natick was trying to guarantee more usage,” says Weiss. “They wanted the package to be resealable and to be more ergonomic.”
The challenge for TPSC was to find packaging equipment capable of creating the pack’s unique, hourglass profile and tapered top, while at the same time meeting the company’s space and speed requirements. Custom-engineered by Bodolay Packaging Machinery (www.bodolaypackaging.com), the solution came in the form of Bodolay’s L-80 horizontal form/fill/seal machine equipped with specially designed sealing and cutting mechanisms in a compact footprint.
Introduced to PD readers in a previous issue (see PD, Aug. ’06, p. 38), TPSC is a second-generation family-owned business that, since 1969, has provided contract blending and copacking services from its 100,000-sq-ft facility in Brooklyn. With more than 50 different packaging machines on-site, the company has made a business of creatively configuring equipment to meet its customers’ changing needs. When it came to the new dairy-drink pouch however, its existing arsenal of equipment lacked the capabilities to create the unique, new pack. “We have made a business of rebuilding,” relates Weiss, “but for this application, we had no choice but to install new equipment.”
A first for military rations, the new dairy-drink pouch measures 10.535 in. and incorporates a half-circle die-cut on each side, placed approximately halfway up the pouch’s length, making the pouch easy to hold when filled. Two inches from the top of the pouch, the sides taper diagonally inward to create a 3-in. opening. A press-to-close zipper is placed approximately ¼ in. from the top of the pouch, and above it, a tear notch is positioned to allow for easy opening of the package. During use, the soldier tears open the pouch, adds water to a fill line clearly printed on the outside of the pack—about ¼ of a canteen cup, according to the package’s printed instructions—seals the pouch using the zipper and shakes the package to mix the water and powdered dairy mix.
The pouch’s 100-g contents combine with the water to create a 430-calorie, calcium- and Vitamin D-fortified Chocolate, Vanilla or Strawberry shake that can be consumed immediately after mixing. To provide the proper barriers and to meet the CFD’s required three-year shelf life, the pouch is constructed of a foil barrier layer, a sealant layer and an outer polyethylene layer. The film, supplied by Cadillac Products Packaging (www.cadprod.com), is reverse-printed to eliminate ruboff of information and is decorated with a camouflage-brown background and dark brown lettering. Text includes clearly printed product instructions, a Nutrition Facts box and an ingredients list.
For the dairy-drink pouch application, TPSC sought a hf/f/s machine that could meet its production needs, could fit in a 25-ft-L footprint, was USDA/3A-accepted for use with dairy products and could create the pouch’s unique profile. As Mostafa Farid, president of Bodolay, explains, the hurdle in creating equipment to meet these requirements was engineering a cutting mechanism compact enough to meet TPSC’s space requirements yet still generate the ergonomic pouch shape.
This meant that when two filled, three-side-sealed bags are conveyed side-by-side, the die-cutter would have to cut an oval shape in the center between the two bags to form the hand holds and produce a “V” shape at the top to form the tapered edge, then slice the two bags apart with a vertical cut.
“It is a cutting issue,” Farid says. “If you want to use a vertical cutter to do a 10-in. bag with these three cuts, you need to have a lot of force to really punch this. When you talk about a lot of force, you are talking about a lot of space.
“We tried to have a die-cutting company make the die, but they could not do it in one step. They said they could develop it in three steps, but the problem was that, because of the variation in the index and the accumulation of error, the cut of the oval would not match up every time, and we would get sharp edges on the top and bottom corners of the oval. You can’t have sharp edges on a foil pouch—it could cut someone. Therefore we abandoned that idea, and we developed the sealer and cutter ourselves.
“It took us a lot of R&D to make a die-cutter in such a way that we didn’t have to use a huge press mechanism to press and cut the foil-and-film lamination. We had to look at ways to reduce the necessary force.”
The result of Bodolay’s efforts is a cutter held in a one-piece tooling frame that provides all three cuts in one step and can be adjusted to accommodate different-size profile bags.
“If they want to make a similar bag, but larger or smaller in length, all they have to do is move the dies away from each other, or closer to each other,” says Farid. “If they want to make the bag wider, all they have to do is adjust the dimensions between the sealer and the cutters.” The cutting mechanism can also be shut off to enable the production of standard hf/f/s pillow packs.
Further customizing the line, TPSC has installed a Markem (www.markem.com) SmartDate® thermal-transfer coder to add a date code to the rollstock as it is going into the former. To fill the pouches, TPSC selected an All-Fill (www.all-fill.com) auger filler with two filling heads, driven by two brushless, direct-drive servo motors, for accuracy.
“The servo drives make the filler a lot more accurate,” says Weiss. “There has to be exactly 100 grams of product in each pouch. If there is not enough powder in the pouch, the drink will not reconstitute easily, and if there is too much, then we are giving product away.”
The L-80 makes two pouches at a time, for a total output of 50 to 55 bags/min.
After much research and development by Bodolay, the hf/f/s machine was installed in March, and since then, says Weiss, it has never been turned off. “Bodolay was very supportive,” he says. “They backed the machine 100 percent. We saw that it made sense the way the machine was designed. It was risky, but it worked out.”
Says Farid, “When we designed the cutter and sealer, I wasn’t sure that it would run twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the way Trans-Packers is running it now. Basically, this configuration has never been tested, especially in one step. In several steps, similar things have been done, but as far as I know, it has never been done in one step. And, it works really, really well. Trans-Packers is considering installing a second machine; we are very excited about the future applications for this configuration.”
|More information is available:|
|Bodolay Packaging Machinery, 813/754-9960.www.bodolaypackaging.com.|
|All-Fill, Inc., 866/255-3455.www.all-fill.com.|
|Cadillac Products Packaging Co., 800/837-0055. www.cadprod.com.|
|Markem Corp., 800/258-5356.www.markem.com.|
|Trans-Packers Services Corp., 718/963-0900. www.transpackers.com.|