"Ice" wrapping at TalkingRain

Jack Mans, Plant Operations Editor

January 29, 2014

14 Min Read
"Ice" wrapping at TalkingRain

TalkingRain Beverage Company, Preston, WA, has been providing health-conscious consumers with the freshest natural water and flavored beverage since 1987. The TalkingRain family of beverages includes five healthy, thirst-quenching product lines: spring water, oxygenated water, sparkling water, diet flavored non-carbonated water and flavored non-carbonated water. Some are enhanced with fruit flavors, enriched with natural herbal supplements and infused with vitamins. All are delivered in a dramatic package combining a patented on-the-go bottle design with eye-catching labels.

"Our packaging is our competitive advantage," states Doug MacLean, president of TalkingRain. "We're fortunate to have great water, but packaging and labeling are our real strengths. We create many innovative, cutting-edge products, and push a bubble that large companies won't jump into right away."

Tony Tomlin, vp of operations, says that with the volume of different varieties and sizes, changeovers are his biggest production challenge. "We run anything from 500-milliliter to 2-liter polyethylene terephthalate [PET] bottles with flavors ranging from cranberry to lemon chiffon. That means a significant number of changeovers, and our challenge is to maintain efficiencies, while running all of those different skus."

The company produces multiple skus and more than 2 million cases annually at its Preston location. TalkingRain products are sold through distributors in the western U.S. and to Sam's Club, Wal-Mart and Costco nationwide. Selling to warehouse clubs requires private labeling and special handling to pack a selection of flavors in each case. "We take pride in our operational know-how," MacLean says. "Packing different flavors into one case is done by hand in most companies and is very labor-intensive, but we've created an automated 'rainbow' line that packs six flavors in each case."

In addition to its line of still bottled waters, TalkingRain produces a number of other beverages that live up to the innovative look of its packaging. Its sparkling water is available in a variety of mouth-watering fruit flavors, such as Kiwi-Strawberry and Peach-Nectarine. The exclusive airwater(TM) beverage line is infused with 100-percent oxygen. A flavored, noncarbonated line called Diet ICE Botanicals(TM) and Diet ICE Tea Botanicals(TM) combines the innovative, new, no-calorie sucrose sweetener Splenda(R) with fruit flavors and vitamins, minerals and herbal ingredients.

In March, 2004, TalkingRain doubled the size of its plant, which is located on a five-acre site in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, to 92,000 sq ft and installed three sophisticated, high-speed tray/shrink wrappers from SMI USA LLC (www.smigroup.it) to handle its myriad of different bundles. These include 4-, 6-, 8-, 10-, 12- and 24-packs of PET bottles grouped in trays and on pads, followed by film wrapping, as well as unsupported bundles of loose bottles. The three wrappers are installed on two lines. One line incorporates an SMI Model SK450T unit that can run all three modes (trays, pads and loose bottles) at speeds up to 45 bundles/min. The other line incorporates SMI's Model SK602F, which runs only loose bottles, followed by a second Model SK450T. In this operation, loose bottles are packed in unsupported bundles on the 602, and the bundles are then conveyed to the 450, which places multiple bundles in a tray or on a pad, and then wraps that with film. This line is designed with bypass conveyors that enable the plant to run either of these machines individually. The SK602F is a dual-lane machine that can pack two bundles side-by-side, simultaneously, and achieve speeds up to 120 bundles/min. It should be noted that there is a version of the Model SK602F that will run trays and pads, but TalkingRain wanted only the loose-bottle wrapper.

"We looked at wrappers from all of the major manufacturers and decided that the SMI machines were best for our application," says Tomlin. "They are very robust, and their user-friendly controls make changing from one package to another quick and easy."

During PD's visit, both packaging lines were running bottles in trays, so the Model SK602F was not in operation. One line was running 8-packs of 2-L sparkling water, while the other was running 24-bottle rainbow packs of 16-oz Sparkling Ice carbonated water/fruit juice.

Bottles to each wrapper are separated into lanes as they enter the machine. The 8-pack bottles are separated into four lanes and bottles are released in groups, two-bottles deep. The 24-pack bottles are separated into six lanes and are released in groups four-bottles deep to achieve the 24-bottle count.

Paperboard blanks, which are in a magazine beneath the inlet of the wrapper, are picked up by suction cups and placed on an upward-inclined conveyor that delivers them up into the machine to coincide with the delivery of a group of bottles, which are pushed onto the blank. Fingers push the loaded blank through a section where hot-melt glue is applied to the sides, which are then folded into place. The trays then travel into the wrapping section.

A roll of film is mounted beneath the machine near the shrink tunnel and passes over a series of dancer rollers that pull the film from the roll and feed it up into the wrapper. After each wrapping cycle, a brake stops the film movement to maintain proper registration. A knife on a rotating shaft cuts the film, which has its top facing downward, to the proper length needed to wrap the package. A flight bar connected to chains on either side of the machine comes around behind the tray and pushes it into the wrapping section. The cut piece of film is fed up through a gap between the grouper conveyor and the wrapper conveyor, and the edge is pushed beneath the bottles as they travel onto the wrapper conveyor. Another flight bar traveling faster than the bottle conveyor then lifts the trailing edge of the cut film, folds it over the tops of the bottles and pulls it down ahead of the bottles.

The motion of the bottles pulls the leading edge of the film beneath them to the point where it overlaps the edge placed beneath the bottles previously. The bundles then enter the shrink tunnel where hot air with adjustable flow direction and temperature shrinks the film around the tray and creates a very tight, neat bundle. The wrapping system includes a print registration system triggered by an eye mark on the film to maintain the accuracy of the wrap.

Wrapping film is supplied by Printpack, Inc. (www.printpack.com), Bemis Polyethylene Packaging (www.bemis-industrial.com), and Pliant Corp. (www.pliantcorp.com).

The wrappers employ servo drives for all major operations and utilize systems from SMI's SmiTec Division, which designs and manufactures components and systems for the automation and control of its machines. This begins with an innovative solution called MotorNet System (MNS), which is a multi-axes control system for industrial machinery, based on the SERCOS(TM) field bus. It provides independent control of more than 20 axes and includes brushless servo motors, input/output field modules, optical fiber wiring and a human/machine interface with a SCADA system.

The color-touchscreen operator interface includes message displays and self diagnostics, as well as pre-programmed settings for machine parameters such as speed, timing and temperature settings. It provides fast, accurate setup at the touch of a button when changing product size and film. Another interesting machine feature is an automatic film-joining device in which a sensor detects low film level on the roll and automatically splices film from a new roll onto end of the old roll without shutting down the machine.

"We are very satisfied with the SMI wrappers," says Tomlin. "SMI was here during startup, and they give us excellent service when we call them. They will certainly be at the top of our list when we're ready to buy another wrapper."

During PD's visit, TalkingRain was running 8-packs of 2-L sparkling water at a speed of 160 bottles/min on one of the lines. In this operation, bottles, which are supplied by Amcor PET Packaging-North America (www.amcor.com), are received in bulk on pallets. They are depalletized and delivered to a neck-guided air-conveyance system from Bevco Conveying Systems (www.bevco.net) in which the bottles are supported beneath their neck finishes and pushed along by air pressure. Bottles then enter an air rinser from Bevco where parallel gripper conveyors invert them and transport them over air jets, followed by a vacuum header to ensure dust removal. The bottles are then turned rightside up around another set of wheels, and are deposited on the discharge conveyor. The speed of this conveyor will closely match the speed of the grippers to ensure the maintenance of a gap between bottles. This gap is read to determine a backup on the line. If the line backs up, the rinser, including the infeed conveyor, will stop before the backup reaches the machine. The machine will automatically restart when the backup clears.

After the rinser, the bottles enter a bottle diverter, also from Bevco, in which a swinging arm divides them onto two conveyors, each feeding a mono-bloc filler/capper, consisting of an existing 50-head presure filler that has been serviced by Bevcorp LLC (www.bevcorp.com), which also supplies replacement parts, followed by a new 12-head screw capper from Alcoa Closure Systems Intl. (www.alcoacsi.com). Bottles are transferred from the filler to the capper's rotary turret through a star wheel. Closures, which are supplied by O-I (www.o-i.com), are loaded into a floor hopper from which a bulk elevator/feeder lifts them to the sorter.

We looked at wrappers from all of the major manufacturers, and decided that these machines were best for our application. They are very robust and their user-friendly controls make changing from one package to another quick and easy.

For more information about shrink-wrapping operations, go to Packaging Digest's home page and click on the Carton, case Info Channel. Visit www.packagingdigest.com

Closures travel down a chute to the release point, where a transfer star picks them up and carries them to the capping head. A head set comes down, picks up a cap and swings over to the rotating bottle turret, where it lowers and screws the cap onto the bottle to a preset torque setting.

Bottles from both filling/capping systems are combined in bulk on a common conveyor that transports them to the labeling operation, where they are again separated onto two conveyors feeding two Trine Model 4500 hot-glue labelers from Accraply-Trine, Inc. (www.trinelabeling.com). A feedscrew delivers bottles into a starwheel that meters them into the labeler. Labels are pulled from a horizontal roll and pass an electronic registration system that detects the registration mark on each label and adjusts the speed of the feed roller so the labels are perfectly positioned as they enter the cutting system. This consists of a rotating drum with an attached knife that contacts a stationary knife to cut the label from the roll.

The label then transfers onto a rotating vacuum drum that transports it past a hot-glue applicator. TalkingRain uses a wraparound label, so the unit applies glue to the leading and trailing edges of each label. Stationary pads on the vacuum drum lift the sections of the labels where glue should be applied, so they contact the glue applicator, while the remainder of the label is held tightly against the drum, so that it does not contact the applicator. As each bottle leaves the infeed starwheel, it moves against the leading edge of the label on the vacuum drum, and the drum then turns the bottle so the label is applied and the edges are glued

After leaving the labeler, bottles pass a Videojet Technologies, Inc. (www.Videojet.com) ink-jet printer that applies a product code to the shoulder. This is followed by a Filtec level and cap inspector from Industrial Dynamics Co., Ltd. (www.idcfiltecna.com). Bottles are then conveyed to the SMI SK450T wrapper and shrink tunnel described previously. From the wrapper, bottles are conveyed to a Columbia Machine Inc. (www.palletizing.com) Model HL6000 floor-level palletizer. Pallets are then stretch-wrapped by a machine from Lantech.com, LLC (www.Lantech.com).

The second wrapping operation that TalkingRain was running during PD's visit was a 24-bottle rainbow pack. The plant runs rainbow packs containing up to six different flavors, but in this case, the pack consisted of eight bottles each of three different flavors. In this operation, trays containing the different flavors are delivered to an uncasing system from Climax Packaging Machinery, Inc. (www.climaxpackaging.com). This system comprises three side-by-side uncasing units, each containing six pickup heads. Trays are delivered on a conveyor in front of the uncasers, and are indexed into the intermittent-motion units. When the cases are in place, the heads descent and grasp the bottles with vacuum cups. The heads then rise, swing over a takeaway conveyor and lower to place the bottles in six lanes with two flavors in each lane. This orients them in the proper sequence when they enter the wrapper.

The key to this operation is that workers must place cases of product on the infeed conveyor in the proper sequence so that the bottles are in the proper lanes when they are placed on the wrapper conveyor by the vacuum heads. Climax makes a system to feed trays of product automatically, but TalkingRain has not installed this system.

The servo-driven uncasers are controlled by an operator station equipped with a touch screen. The number of heads on each machine to be used for each product flavor is programmed into the unit, and can be recalled by touching the screen.

In addition to the two wrapping lines, TalkingRain also has a line that places bottles into plastic trays. During PD's visit, this line was running the same 2-liter bottles of Sparkling Water as the SK450T described previously. In this operation, individual bottles are delivered to a Hartness International, Inc. (www.hartness.com) case packer, which meters them down an inclined conveyor into plastic trays. Machines that stack and denest the plastic trays are supplied by AIDCO International (www.aidcoint.com).

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About the Author(s)

Jack Mans

Plant Operations Editor

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