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Label's fresh start

Following processing, top, cut, fresh fruit travels up a segmented, elevating conveyor for gentle handling at the infeed of the automatic weigher/filler. On a nine-up basis that currently reaches just over a 60/min output, below, the weigher/filler accepts manually fed 16-oz PP tubs moving along an indexing conveyor.

Sometimes an introduction is more than a beginning. To Anthony Valerio, it's a phase designed to lead to bigger things. The vice president of Valerio's Produce, in its second generation of marketing fresh-cut fruit and produce to foodservice channels in five states from its Hatfield, PA, base, views the July debut of the company's first retail packages for cut fruit as the start of something big. But, he also sees it as the initial step in a program that, once launched, must be improved.

He acknowledges the high level of engineering that makes possible the quick turnaround of 8- and 16-oz polypropylene tubs of fresh-cut mixed and single fruits for movement to markets from New York City to Washington, DC, in Valerio's own fleet of trucks. But nonetheless, he sees the company "only at the first phase of a program that opens a new door," PD learned during a late November visit to the operation. "The next is to improve some of our internal procedures for higher production levels with fewer people needed," Valerio says.

What he has now is impressive. The packaging line, handling 16-oz tubs of cut, mixed fruit at the time of PD's visit, runs at a slightly better than 60/min rate. It gets there with a next-generation weigh/fill machine, and it fulfills the demand for flexibility with an equally advanced print-and-apply machine that is said to have the highest speed potential of any in the produce industry. The print-and-apply machine reaches this level of output through a unique combination. It pairs Universal Labeling Systems' UPA II blow-on labeler with Zebra's new 112 PAX Series print engine, both acquired through Elmark Packaging. Giving Valerio a smooth transition for product changes, the joined systems keep up with the flow from the filler.

These changes come rapidly. In what Valerio calls "an extremely labor-intensive effort," processing can involve up to 30 people. Finished product is quickly loaded into bins and is then transported up a segmented, elevating conveyor built by Jacob Schmidt, the sole component carried over from a previous bulk packaging line.

Entering Ohlson Packaging's Model 902-PIV–the first in a new generation of high-speed, high-accuracy weigh/fill systems from the machine builder–the fruit gently slides from the transfer point to nine scale/weigh hoppers, its movement managed by a distribution system controlled by a microprocessor from Control Technology. The machine's low profile at half-mezzanine height limits vertical movement, so fruit drops less than a few inches from the hoppers through the discharge chutes.

Manually lidded and banded containers receive blow-on, p-s thermal-transfer labels from the printer/applicator, at a top-rated speed of up to 12 in./sec.

Weighed product then descends into the clear PP tubs manually fed onto the indexing conveyor, also from Ohlson, for nine-up filling to an accuracy of less than plus-one piece. Both components are acquired through Capitol Automated Systems. Finally, before discharge, there is a nitrogen flush, this capability added by Modern Packaging.

The weigher/filler is a definite part of Valerio's second-phase plans, since it is the first high-speed, nine-station machine of its type; reaching its 90/min rated capacity is his goal. "I realize that to get to this level, we'll have to automate tub feeding to the machine, as well as capping and banding, which are also done by hand at this time," he says. Conversations, he adds, have already begun with Modern Packaging to acquire a denester and to widen the line from one to three lanes to facilitate the 50-percent increase in output. Moreover, the line modification "will save the repetitive efforts of at least three people, who are needed in processing," he notes.

With present practices, tubs and press-fit PP closures, made by Anchor Packaging and supplied through Package Materials Corp., pass through a heat tunnel, also due for replacement. "We're looking at several lidstocks and the machines to apply and seal them," Valerio says. Additionally, foot-of-the-line procedures, now largely manual, will experience greater automation as the upstream output rises. What won't change because of its superior performance level is the print-and-apply system. With the ability to adjust quickly for listing of weight variations caused by the differing densities of fruits, the Universal UPA II still operates at speeds up to 12 in./sec. This level will prove more than adequate as the second phase nears completion.

Functioning in the chill atmosphere of the plant, the applicator works off the Universal-supplied Aromat programmable logic controller that handles the quick-change tamp head and triggers the photoelectric sensor. The tamp assembly removes easily for access to the Zebra print engine, which works with Valerio's standard 3-in.-dia pressure-sensitive label. This label, supplied through Elmark Packaging, is converted by Brandywine Label on a .050 paper stock from Raflatac/United Paper Mills. Brandywine prints the label's upper segment with Valerio's logotype in five colors plus a pattern coating on a Webtron 650 flexographic press. The remainder of the label is kept blank. Into this space, the thermal printer fits the balance of the required data, which includes the product descriptive, net weight, bar code and vend-by date, all presented in tight register.

More information is available:

Label printer/applicator: Universal Labeling Systems, 877/236-0266. Circle No. 239.

Print engine: Zebra Technologies Corp., 800/423-0422. Circle No. 240.

Applicator/label representative: Elmark Packaging, 800/670-9688. Circle No. 241.

Conveyor: Jacob Schmidt, 215/234-8001. Circle No. 242.

Weigher/filler: Ohlson Packaging, 877/668-7800. Circle No. 243.

Microprocessor: Control Technology, 800/537-8398. Circle No. 244.

Filler representative: Capitol Automated Systems, 800/972-4149. Circle No. 245.

Nitrogen flushing/denester: Modern Packaging, 631/595-2437. Circle No. 246.

Tubs/closures: Anchor Packaging, 800/467-3900. Circle No. 247.

Container representative: Package Materials Corp., 856/428-7190. Circle No. 248.

Label: Brandywine Label, 610/430-1383. Circle No. 249.

Label stock: Raflatac/United Paper Mills, 800/992-3882. Circle No. 250.

Press: Webtron/Aquaflex, 800/935-1618. Circle No. 251.

PLC: Aromat, 800/228-2350. Circle No. 252.

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