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Bottles are filled, capped and labeled before being grouped into three-packs or six-packs on the bundler, above and below. The dual-lane system outpaces single-lane machines by collating and shrink-wrapping bottles at a faster output than other systems DecoArt says it evaluated.

Priding itself on offering the most complete line of acrylic arts & crafts paints and specialty finishes in the world, DecoArt paints a colorful picture, formulating its products in thousands of hues and finishes, and packing them in small, easy-to-use squeeze bottles. Perched on a bluegrass-green knoll in Stanford, KY, the heart of Derby racehorse country, DecoArt operates an unassuming but highly sophisticated 108,000-sq-ft manufacturing/product development/packaging and label-converting operation that's ever expanding, and ships home decor products and arts & crafts paints, stains and finishes to craft stores across the country and to more than 40 different countries.

This self-contained bottler/manufacturer, which even converts its own bottle labels, produces an amazing 40 million containers of product per year, a veritable work of art in its own right.

As such, the top player in the arts and crafts market has been upgrading its packaging lines recently, in order to keep up with mounting production demands. With some creative expression from equipment supplier Kiowva Packaging, DecoArt opted to replace its manual cartoning process and was back on its artistic track by installing a pair of dual-lane shrink-film bundlers from Great Lakes/Arpac that boost efficiencies on two lines running 1- and 2-oz bottles.

The arts & crafts paints are available in more than 22 different product families with some 1,400 stockkeeping units (skus) produced for surfaces from fabric to metal to clay pots. DecoArt develops at least two new products a year, printing its own bottle labels in multiple languages "so that people all over the world can understand how to use the products," explains David Clifford, vp of operations.

The plant in Stanford houses four bottling lines, a spacious warehouse, a product-development area, a paint formulating room and an in-house label converting department that process-prints and inspects the bottle labels in several languages for products distributed to countries such as Italy, Germany, Japan and Spain.

Batches of product range from 25 to 300 gal, Clifford tells PD. Bottles of the primary acrylic paints are marketed under such brand as Americana, Crafters Acrylic™, SoSoft, EasyCling, UltraGloss and many others, ready for shipment worldwide, now bundled in clear, polyethylene shrink film.

Packaging equipment durability is a must. Each week, the company can package an amazing 650 different skus per line–a virtual rainbow of paint colors, in tiny polypropylene 1- and 2-oz bottles (from Silgan Containers), topped with hinged PE flip-cap closures in several colors (from Rexam).

With shrink film in place, the multiple bottles enter an integral shrink tunnel, which tightly and securely shrinks the PE film wrap around them to produce a single unit of six bottles.

With that much output, Clifford says DecoArt needs high-performing, reliable equipment. Kiowva, which has worked with DecoArt for a number of years (see sidebar), recommended the dual-lane Model 708-HBD system because it would provide the right amount of output on the lines. Bundling has so far reduced downstream labor by about 30 percent and cut material costs versus the cartons by 90 percent.

Wraps up to 60 bundles/min
The first of the two 708-HBD bundling machines was installed on an existing bottling line in early March. The second was about to go onstream as of the writing of this article. Soon to mirror each other on the adjacent lines, the machines are able to collate and transfer groups of the paint bottles into three-packs or six-packs depending on retail needs. The bottles enter the shrink bundler from a single-lane infeed and are then mechanically grouped into one or two sets of three to be wrapped in two separate lanes before the bundled packs head to a shrink tunnel that tightly seals the film around the bundles.

Capable of shrink wrapping up to 60 bundles/min in the dual-lane configuration (a single-lane model is also available), the 708-HBD machine is controlled by an Allen-Bradley SLC 5/02 programmable logic controller (PLC) with Great Lakes/Arpac's standard operator interface, keypad and four-line alphanumeric data display with self diagnostics.

The rated 60 bundles/min speed fits DecoArt's needs well, Clifford says, as current bottling line speeds are 120/min, and the bundlers easily keep up with that pace, bundling three-packs at 40/min and six-packs at 20/min.

"Our speeds are governed by the bottle filler and labeler," he tells PD.

The integral shrink tunnel is incorporated on the same frame. Proximity sensors, photoelectric sensors and temperature sensors located throughout the system continually communicate to the PLC bottle position as well as the position of all moving devices and temperatures of the seal bars and companion shrink tunnel. Photoeyes on the infeed detect any fallen bottles, and proximity sensors on the system's pop-up guide bridge and main ram indicate their exact positions.

If any of these sensors detects a problem, an error message is displayed through the operator interface screen on the side of the machine. The bundler also has a 2-ft-long infeed conveyor. The 4-in.-wide main contoured pusher ram gently groups the bottles into the clear, heat-shrinkable PE film from Kiowva that is specially made by Versa Pak.

Converts labels in-house
Interestingly, since about 30 percent of the company's business is international, Clifford says DecoArt prints its own bottle labels in-house to accommodate multiple languages. "We ship to more than forty different countries, so we're running these bottling lines constantly. Since we have a strong foothold in the international markets, it was easier to produce and print our own labels in different languages so that people in different countries can understand how to use the products."

The time was right to automate the bottle-collating and unitizing process, he adds. "We're the first user of the dual-lane bundler for this bottle size. There was quite a bit of labor before in loading groups of bottles into our paperboard cartons. The cartons also had to be manually stamped with color and product identification. There was a lot of repetitive motion in hand-packing the cartons, so automating it with a bundling station has cut our packing labor by thirty percent and allows our staff to do other things."

Automatically bundling the bottles also boosts efficiencies and provides the bottle stability DecoArt wanted, explains Kiowva Packaging's vp of sales, Dave Neuer. "The dual-lane type of machine is new in the Great Lakes/Arpac line. Great Lakes introduced it at the Pack Expo show in Chicago."

Kiowva assessed DecoArt's line labor, packaging material, inventory space, potential bottlenecks and repetitive motion among workers, as well as downtime on current packaging equipment. Kiowva then presented the information to Clifford and his team, which reviewed the cost advantages of shrink bundling versus using the chipboard carton to pack the decorative paint bottles.

Designed to accept the bottle three-packs in a 3 x 1 x 1 configuration and six-packs in a 3 x 2 x 1 configuration, the 708-HBD machine is advantageous for doubling the output speed of a single-lane model, the operations vp points out. "The single-lane bundler didn't have the output we needed. A dual-lane machine was perfect for us," Clifford tells PD.

Filling, capping, labeling
At the time of PD's visit, Clifford was expecting two short conveyor units to arrive from Advanced Handling Systems that would bridge the filling and labeling stations with the new downstream bundler and buffer things downstream. "This will give us a little bottle accumulation time before our employees case-pack," he tells PD.

The simplified system requires few of the mechanics, traditional transfer and handling devices, and hassles DecoArt says it has seen before. "We needed flexibility, a machine that can handle changeovers and different product types and bottle sizes. That's why Kiowva suggested this machine."

Here, bottles are labeled with p-s wraparound labels that DecoArt flexo-prints in order to accommodate so many skus. The bottles then single-file to the infeed of the shrink bundler.

Production on the lines is three 8-hour shifts a day, five days a week. Each day the plant generates nearly 250,000 bottles overall. Bottling begins on the U-shaped Line 1 after empty bottles are manually loaded into a bulk feed hopper and are oriented onto a single-file conveyor by a Palace Packaging device.

Formulated in a separate department and brought to the packaging lines in 140-gal, stainless-steel drums, the paint is pumped to a straightline 8-head Filamatic volumetric piston filler from National Instrument. After conveying through a starwheel to the filler, the bottles receive the respective paint color and then make a 90-deg right turn to be capped on a Resina U-40 four-spindle straightline screw capper. With flip-caps in place, the bottles single-file to the infeed of a PDC Intl. Model 50-M neckbander/tunnel that secures a tamper-evident neckband onto the containers for an extra measure against leakage. The sealed containers then gather on a steel accumulation table (built in-house) before receiving a pressure-sensitive paper label applied by a wraparound labeler no longer available.

DecoArt prints its labels (from UPM-Raflatac) in four colors on a Comco flexo press that prints them two-up. Equipped with a die-cutter and slitter, the 7-in.-W press typically runs the 3,500-label rolls in four-color process and can also print line colors. The press room is located off of a label-roll inventory/storage area, where rack-upon-rack of labels are printed, coded and inspected.

Collating, wrapping, shrinking
Bottles enter the 708-HBD wrapper on a 90-deg infeed conveyor and continue until they contact a product stop located next to a main ram located at a film application/sealing station. This centers the first three bottles in front of the ram. As bottles continue to progress on the conveyor, stacking up against each other, product guides prevent them from moving to either side. A pop-up guide located in front of the main ram drops down, and a bridge lowers, covering a seal frame gap. The main ram then pushes the set of centered bottles into the PE film that's unwinding from four 14-in.-dia rolls, through the seal frame and onto a stationary plate.

There are four film rolls total, two rolls per lane. Next, a hold-down device above the stationary plate lowers onto the bottles to keep them from moving and toppling. The main ram now retracts to its home position, and the pop-up guide and bridge rise as the seal frame closes. A seal dwell timer controls the amount of time the seal frame stays closed so that the seal bars cut and fuse the film. After the seal frame opens, the cycle repeats itself, and the next set of products is pushed onto the stationary plate.

Finished packs exit the tunnel and accumulate on a stainless-steel table prior to case packing.

When this happens, the previous set is pushed onto the shrink tunnel belt, and the paint bottles wrapped in film travel through the tunnel, which creates a snugly uniform bundle of bottles. Exiting the tunnel, the just-shrunk film is somewhat soft and tacky. Therefore, a turbo cooling fan located at the exit of the tunnel unit blows ambient temperature air onto the bundles as they pass, cooling the PE shrink film and maintaining the bundle's esthetics. The completed bundles now travel onto the customer's conveyor.

Exiting the tunnel two at a time, the bundles gather on a large stainless-steel rotary accumulation table before line workers load them into 24-count corrugated shipping cases from Inpeake Packaging. The cases are ink-jet-printed on a Little David Microjet printer from Loveshaw with an internal production code, paint color, product ID and Julian date. The cases are then sent through a Little David tape sealer, also from Loveshaw, before being manually palletized 126 cases to a pallet, off-line.

Painting the big picture
Experiencing rapid growth, DecoArt is poised for even more growth. The payback on the bundling machines should only take 1.3 years, Clifford says. "That's pretty good. It's certainly justified. We've wanted to do this for several years, and the machines have gotten really efficient at bundling. Great Lakes/Arpac has really done a good job with this type of equipment."

More information is available:

Bundlers: Great Lakes/Arpac L.P., 847/678-9034. Circle No. 201.

Bundling equipment representative, consultant, shrink-film supplier: Kiowva Packaging, 877/546-9821. Circle No. 202.

Bottles: Silgan Containers Corp., 847/384-5590. Circle No. 203.

Caps: Rexam Closures & Containers, 812/867-6671. Circle No. 204.

Shrink film: Versa Pak, Inc., 419/586-5466. Circle No. 205.

Conveyor: Advanced Handling Systems, 513/351-6500. Circle No. 206.

Bottle orienter: Palace Packaging Machines, Inc., 610/873-7252. Circle No. 207.

Filler: National Instrument Co., Inc.,410/764-0900. Circle No. 208.

Capper: The New Resina Corp., 800/207-4804. Circle No. 209.

Neck bander: PDC Intl. Corp.,203/853-1516. Circle No. 210.

Printing press: Comco Intl., 513/248-1600. Circle No. 211.

Label stock: UPM Raflatac, Inc., 828/684-3931. Circle No. 212.

Tape sealer, ink-jet printer: Loveshaw, 800/572-3434. Circle No. 213.

Shipping cases: Inpeake Packaging, 502/774-8661. Circle No. 214.

PLC: Allen-Bradley, 414/382-2000. Circle No. 215.

Equipment leasing is on the rise
Kiowva Packaging's sales vp Dave Neuer says his three-year-old packaging solutions, equipment and materials supply firm is growing quickly, a sign that more packagers are leasing equipment. "We estimate that twenty-five percent of all new business will come through new-equipment sales," he says.
Kiowva typically sells equipment such as shrink and stretch wrappers, shrink bundlers, tapers, ink-jet coding and labeling systems, carton erectors, vacuum-packaging systems, skin and blister machines, strapping and tying machines, case packers and palletizers and strives to partner with "top manufacturers in their fields." The firm also supplies materials as well as training, financing and warehousing services. Neuer points out that he's noticing more packagers leasing equipment. "With more companies downsizing, equipment may replace manual functions that permit the work force to be more efficient. If we can help our customers produce more product, in less time, at a lower cost, it all goes to their bottom line: Increased profit."

Kiowva offers 12- to 60-month leasing arrangements through American Packaging Capital and American Express, with options to buy equipment at the end of the lease. "More and more companies will lease equipment to reserve capital," Neuer says. "In many cases, we can show a customer a return on investment so great, that the savings per month on labor, material, etc., will actually pay the monthly lease payment."

What are customers looking for? "Most of the time we have to help them identify certain needs and then work closely with them to review the equipment and educate them on how the equipment could benefit their company," he says. "The trends in equipment are different for every customer. Some may be current on all the new packaging technology, others are still growing and changing, while others may be ready for their first piece of equipment because they can now justify it. Shrink-bundling machinery certainly is a growing category that appears will continue to grow."

He says Kiowva is looking to join forces with independent sales reps who want to provide a systems approach.
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