Spilling the beans on collapsible IBCs

January 29, 2014

10 Min Read
Spilling the beans on collapsible IBCs

Headquartered in King City, CA, at the southern end of the Salinas Valley in Monterey County, CA, the L.A. Hearne Co. was founded in 1938 to handle, process and market locally grown crops of dry beans and grain. Initially, the company handled dry-bean classes, such as pink, pinto small whites and cranberry beans. In the 1950s, large lima (butter) beans were introduced and have since been the company's main variety. Large limas, with quality to make it to the canning industry, grow almost exclusively in the coastal valleys of California, from San Jose to Orange County.

According to Francis Giudici, president of the family-owned business and a grandson of its founder, "It is common for beans produced in other states to be commingled as they are harvested. Not so here. It has been our practice for decades to keep each grower's product separate. This offers us the ability to produce higher, more consistent quality."

Today, L.A. Hearne is a major agricultural services business in Salinas Valley, which is also known as the "Salad Bowl of the Nation." With more than 100 employees, Hearne operates a commercial seed division, handles and manufactures livestock feeds, blends and applies liquid and dry fertilizers, provides warehousing, distribution and trucking services and also has retail stores that sell Western wear, fencing, animal health and tack products and retail animal and pet foods.

Yet dry-bean processing remains a company specialty to this day, says Giudici. "Today we buy, process, sell and ship approximately ten million pounds of dried beans a year, and we're the largest supplier of large lima beans for canning in the U.S." he says.

Read about how grass seed grower Doerfler Farms harvests benefits from SpaceKraft's 1,000-lb corrugated IBCs at www.packagingdigest.com/info/doerfle.

Hearne's dry-bean operation runs today pretty much the way it began 65 years ago. "We still buy, condition and sell large limas for canning by individual lot, whether the lot weighs 3,000 pounds or 100,000 pounds," Giudici says. "We stay in close contact with the growers to discuss their planning intentions, returning during the growing season to monitor the crops and coordinate harvesting schedules and trucking. Maintaining close relationships with the growers has been critical to our success."

Today, Hearne still conditions beans using the basic principles of machinery that Larry Hearne used when he started the company. Although the machinery and some technology have changed, the process, according to Giudici, is "a series of machinery connected by belts and elevators that separate and clean by size, density, surface roughness and color."

"We built our new mill at our facility in 1977 and have made only slight adjustments since then," recalls Giudici. "Although we have used electric-eye sorters since the late sixties and have upgraded that technology several times in 1999, we added a bank of seven dual-channel, high-speed electronic scanners. We use them as the final step in our cleaning processs."

The company also now uses a SpaceKraft® collapsible, reusable, corrugated intermediate bulk container made by SpaceKraft, a Weyerhaeuser business (www.SpaceKraftUSA.com). Specially designed for flowable solid material, the container measures 40348 in. and is 41 in. high. Made by a patented process, the collapsible bulk container features six plies of continuously wound, single-face A-flute corrugated, having 35# mediums, 57# liners and a 90# inner liner. Continuous winding not only eliminates a manufacturer's joint that could weaken over time, but it also eliminates any metal or wood components.

Giudici admits, the newer electronic scanners have increased the mill's processing speed and efficiency, and cites their ability to sort beans to close tolerances and provide high levels of uniformity as benefits.

"We foresaw the advantages we would get from adding the electronic scanners to our processing line," Giudici adds. "But we hadn't anticipated all of the benefits we've gained by switching from 100-pound bags to 2,000-pound, collapsible, reusable corrugated containers for shipping our product."

California growers plant large lima-bean crops in April and May and harvest the crops from the end of September to mid-November. Large limas mature in roughly 120 days. For growers, the trick is to allow the beans time to fully ripen while harvesting them before they get overly dry on the vine, making them unsuitable for canning. When ripe, the beans are cut and left in windrows to dry from 10 days to two weeks. Harvesters then separate and shell the beans from the vines, dumping the shelled beans into bins that hold from nine to 10,000 lb. When a bin is full, the beans are transferred into Hearne trucks that are capable of holding 55,000 lb.

At the mill in King City, the beans are weighed, graded and assigned a specific identification number (lot). They are then dumped into a large pit from which an elevator supplies a holding tank. Triwall boxes, marked with a specific lot number, are then loaded and used to store the product prior to milling.

The process begins with a large screen cleaner, which comprises 436-ft shaking screens that each have specific, different hole sizes for the beans to pass through or over, each size set a different level. These shaking screens are on a slight slant and the holes are kept clean by bouncing rubber balls. Product that is too large or too small or fails to make specific size standards is channeled into a cull box. The now-sized product is conveyed to a series of gravity tables.

The tables have "gates" on the higher side to cull stones and extra dense foreign material. These tables also are set at a slight angle with a rocking motion. Air is forced through small holes on the tabletops. Heavy (dense) product works its way to the high side of the table while the lighter product moves to the low side and is culled. The product from the high side is more closely separated by a small "stone table." The mid-sized product is conveyed to an elevator and the next step in the process. Good product from the stone table is blended back with the middle-gravity product. The culled product, made up mostly of rocks and dirt, is disposed of.

The beans next enter felt-covered rolls measring about 4 in. dia and 4 ft long. These rolls are set side-by-side and spin in opposite directions. The smooth beans work their way down the roll. Any rocks, splits or rough-sided objects are ejected. The product that makes it to the end of the rolls is then conveyed by a belt and elevator to a polishing auger. This auger is inverted, and the void is filled with the product and fine sawdust. The beans make their way up flighting to a screen that sifts the sawdust back out, putting a shine on the skin of the beans. Water may be added to remove any mud.

When polished beans leave the sifting table, they are again elevated and conveyed to the bank of electronic-eye sorters for the final stage of the cleaning process.

Hearne uses Sortex (www.sortex.com) 3000 Series dual-channel electronic scanners to inspect and grade the beans. Each electronic unit has two inspection channels or chutes set at approximately 70 deg off the vertical. Small air-pressure lines are at the bottom discharge belt. Rejects are resorted over a slower, precise resorter to reduce loss and improve overall uniformity of product.

"The scanner units inspect for color," Giudici says. "To establish the brackets for the scan, we select a sample of good beans from a lot being processed. The same is done for product we want to eject. These samples are put in and read by the machine, to set acceptable and unacceptable standards."

Gravity-fed from the bin above the bank of scanners, individual beans slide down the channels at the rate of about 2,000 lb/hr (approximately 500,000 beans/channel/hr). "With all the machines operating, we scan about 12,000 pounds per hour," Giudici points out. "After procesing, we yeild roughly eighty-seven percent of the beans received from the field."

Once the beans pass inspection, they are taken by elevators to a 12,000-lb bulk hopper for packaging.

Hearne has received dried beans shipped in 100-lb multiwall or cloth bags "since beyond memory," Giudici says, "but the bags have had significant drawbacks in terms of handling time and worker safety," he admits. "Lifting and stacking one-hundred-pound bags all day is hard work and a tremendous physical strain."

It was traditional to stack 30 to 36 bags on 48 X 60-in. pallets for storage. It was also tradition to hand stack off of the pallets onto trucks that came in. The pallets were too large and costly to coneviently stack directly into trucks, so the practice of restaging onto a pallet and then loading the awkward shrink-wrapped pallet into trucks began. This procedure required more handling time and more lugging and lifting by workers. Plastic totes were another option the company experimented with, but Giudici figured the storage costs could skyrocket under a plastic- tote system. "When we came across these collapsible, reusable corrugated IBCs at a tradeshow three years ago, we decided to experiment to see whether we could use the IBCs to replace the traditional bags."

The new IBC comprises a self-forming or automatic bottom, the six-ply shell and a die-cut, corrugated overcap. Collapsed containers are delivered to L.A. Hearne packed 18 to a pallet. Film shrouds are used over the top of the container and under the cap.

The SpaceKraft bulk containers are gravity-filled from a bulk hopper. An operator sets up a tote on a standard 40 X 48-in. pallet and forklifts the pallet to an in-floor weighscale adjacent to the hopper. Container setup takes only seconds. Once the container and pallet are tared, the operator manually opens the hopper's 436-in. spout and closes the gate when the scale indicates that the 2,000-lb load is achieved. An operator then pulls a film shroud down over the top and forklifts the filled container to a storage area.

According to Giudici, filled containers are stacked four-high in the warehouse and normally are not strapped to their pallets until being readied for shipment.

"The advantages of the corrugated SpaceKraft totes were quickly evident," says Giudici. "Before, we needed one operator to fill the bags and another to move the bags. Now, one operator can fill 2,000 pounds of beans into one corrugated container in less time than it took two operators to fill twenty bags. Not only have we reduced handling time significantly, but we've also eliminated a great deal of lifting."

Giudici says customers also benefit from Hearne's switch to the SpaceKraft IBCs. "Many canners saw the advantages of bulk shipping—the handling time savings—and most customers already had provisions for dispensing the corrugated boxes into a supply hopper."

Giudici says he's so impressed with the advantages of the IBCs that he says Hearne charges customers a modest container deposit for them, crediting the customer for the deposit when an empty tote is returned. "We try to get a minimum of two trips from every container," he says. "We try to get more use from them before they're recycled. We're in our second year of shipping in these IBCs."

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