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Shrink wrapper is the cherry on the ice cream

Lauren R. Hartman

January 29, 2014

3 Min Read
Shrink wrapper is the cherry on the ice cream

The Richmond Foods' ice cream plant in Leeds, England, flowraps and cartons assorted Nestlé brand ice cream "lollies," or what folks in the U.S. know as ice cream pops. In fact, Richmond now owns several of the Nestlé brands, including Fab, Milky Bar, Rowntrees Fruit-Pastil and Mr. Men, as well as many private-label products marketed in U.K. supermarkets, which are produced at the Leeds plant. After they're flowrapped, the ice cream pops are cartoned and the cartons are counted and collated before they're snugly wrapped in clear film for distribution in seven different formats. All of this is performed at speeds up to 450/min. The wrapping is accomplished by a single Europack Starwheel shrink wrapper from Bradman Lake Group (www.bradmanlake.com).

While many conventional shrink wrappers first loosely apply shrink film around a product and then send the wrapped item through a shrink tunnel that tightly shrinks the film to fit, the Europack system applies shrink film to products so that the film just fits, without actually applying any tension. This is achieved primarily by the geometry of the sealing jaw. As less film is applied, less heat energy is required to shrink the film around the product. This, coupled with improvements Bradman Lake made to the tunnel design, has resulted in smaller, more efficient heat chambers.

Richmond's own top-selling ice cream brand, Skinny Cow, is also packed on the new stick line, with capacity of two million "lollies" a week. A high-volume operation, the packaging line produces 27,000 lollies/hr and does so in a 40-deg-C environment. Durability of the equipment was critical, and the requirements were demanding, explains Richmond Ice Cream's technical project manager Graham Royle. In addition to being able to handle the entire production line's output, the wrapping equipment has to accept cartons containing 3, 4, 6, 8 and 24 ice pops and pack them into 631, 632 and 332 carton configurations.

"This [number] may increase to meet new retailers' demands," Royle says. "The system needs to make rapid changeovers, with downtime kept to a minimum. We also needed machinery that's robust, versatile and dependable."

Royle goes on to say that at first, Richmond considered stretch wrapping the cartons, but couldn't find machinery that would fit into its budget or its production space. Then, Richmond looked at shrink-wrapping equipment, received proposals from various vendors and after initial trials, made a few visits to existing equipment users. It ultimately selected the Europack. A right-angle shrink wrapper, the Europack Starwheel machine is available in stainless steel and can be customized according to user specifications.

In operation, a single lane of layflat cartons is fed into the machine and a starwheel uprights them, one by one, before they are counted. The proper collation of cartons then moves forward, is raised and held to make a two- or three-layer format, and then the group is film-wrapped and pushed into the shrink tunnel by the following pack. The clear film absorbs heat in the shrink tunnel chamber and the packages pass through quickly, in just a few seconds, so the required low temperature of the ice cream is maintained.

Machine control and line interface is, like all Bradman Lake Group machinery, provided by an Allen-Bradley touchscreen from Rockwell Automation (www.rockwellautomation.com). The only changeparts required are starwheel parts for the different package formats. Other machine adjustments are made by handwheels with digital readouts. Changeovers are made in 15 to a maximum 30 minutes.

"The Europack Starwheel machine has done what we wanted right from the start," concludes Royle. "It's versatile, very dependable and just keeps running without any problems."


More information is available:

Bradman Lake Group, 704/588-3301. www.bradmanlake.com.

Rockwell Automation, 414/382-2000. www.rockwellautomation.com.

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