The most recently installed of Mt. Olive Pickle Co.'s packaging lines is a state-of-the-art pickle-packing line that incorporates most of the equipment featured on the company's other lines, as well as some new, more automated machines.
As with most of the lines, the pickles packed on the new line consist of either fresh or processed products. Fresh-packed product, which includes kosher dill and bread and butter varieties, consists of fruit pregraded by size and quality that is blanched with salt water and then sent directly to the packaging line within a few hours after arriving at the plant. If the cucumbers are to be processed, they are placed in one of 1,200 fiberglass brine tanks and go through a natural fermentation process. After these cucumbers are cured, they are machine-graded and returned to the tanks, sorted by size, where they are kept until needed for packaging.
The operation of the new line begins with the company's first and only bulk-glass depalletizer. This semi-automated machine takes bulk-palletized jars and puts them in single-file order for conveying into the packing room where they are filled with product via a rotary volumetric filler. Engineered specifically for filling bulky products, the filler separates the jar and the product so that there is no chance for broken glass to come in contact with the product. A vibratory feeding channel provides smooth feeding and distribution of the product over a vibrating, rotary filling table.
Once the jars are discharged from the filler, they are split into two lanes, each manned by four "toppers." Toppers are operators who top off the jars with additional product when needed to reach the proper weight, as well as force the pickles below the top of the bottle so that the cap can be applied. After being topped off, the jars merge back into one line and are conveyed through a vacuum brining and filling machine, which adds the brine to the jars by an overflow method. This technique resembles almost a waterfall-like process, where the spicy, liquid brine used to give the pickles their flavor is spilled into the bottles as they pass through the machine.
Next on the line, an all-stainless-steel capper vacuum-applies the closures, after which the jars are checked by an inspection system that looks for high, missing or cocked caps. According to Jimmy Carr, Mt. Olive's plant engineer, the company recently upgraded all of its lines to include the new inspection systems, which he says provide much greater accuracy than was possible with previous, homemade systems.
Jars with securely placed caps are then conveyed through a 10-ft-wide, 100-ft-long pasteurizer that is divided up into discrete zones where temperatures are closely monitored. Immediately following the pasteurizer, air knives use centrifugal blowers to dry off the wet jars in preparation for label application. Once dry, the jars are conveyed past a cold-glue label applicator that adds a three-quarter-wrap label.
Jars are then carried past a small-character ink-jet printer that applies the date of manufacture to the jar. Next, a tamper-evident banding machine applies a clear-plastic neckband to the jar. It is at this point that conveyors carrying HSCs or trays erected by Wayne equipment and inserted with partitions (see main story), converge with the line for case packing.
Jars on the new line are packed in HSCs with an X-style partition through the use of an automatic case packer that uses closed-loop, positive-control servo motors to drive all of its major axes to enable precise timing adjustments for improved product handling. After case packing, HSCs are printed with a bar code and SKU information using an industrial print system from RSI (see sidebar on p. 52).
Following case coding, a shrink bundler and heat tunnel wrap the filled HSCs with a clear film that is then shrunk tightly around the pack. The last stop on the line is automatic palletizing.