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Renting/rebuilding has many benefits

Rented and rebuilt cartoners and case packers are providing a tremendous boon for Great Lakes Packaging, Inc., Valparaiso, IN. A major producer of microwave popcorn, Great Lakes has four packaging lines running its own Family Time brand, as well as contract producing microwave popcorn for a number of major retailers. The plant runs 3.5- and 1.6-oz packages and 11 flavors in nine carton sizes ranging from three-packs to 24-packs.

In 2002, Great Lakes needed to upgrade its packaging lines, and it bought two rebuilt Model B1 cartoners from Langen Packaging, Inc. (www.langeninc.com). Within the next year and a half, it rented two more rebuilt units. "We've had Langen cartoners for seventeen years, since this was an Orville Redenbacher plant, and they're such good machines that we wouldn't consider anything else. They're low maintenance and basically indestructible," says Great Lakes president Joe Glusak. Glusak is one of a group of former employees who bought the plant from ConAgra.

"Renting rebuilt equipment has worked out very well for us," Glusak continues. "It requires much less upfront capital, and the delivery time is much shorter than a new machine. Langen gave us a delivery time of twelve weeks for these machines.

"We consider Langen to be a strategic partner. Not only is their equipment excellent, but they've also gone out of their way to provide maintenance. I can call them in the middle of the night, and they will have a person here the next day. During the busy season, we run these lines twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, so service is critical."

To start a rebuild, Langen totally disassembles the machine and sandblasts and paints the frame. It inspects all of the components that have been removed and replaces any that do not meet its standards. It replaces components that are outdated, and updates everything to meet current safety codes. It will also significantly upgrade major sections of a machine to meet customer requirements. For example, with its large number of carton sizes, Great Lakes needed more carton-collating capacity than was available with the standard in-line carton-loading system. To meet this requirement, Langen replaced this standard system on the machines for Great Lakes with the much more sophisticated racetrack-style Horizontal Servo Pack system. Here again, Langen's penchant for rebuilt equipment paid off. It had some of these systems it had taken off of old machines, and it rebuilt these for the Great Lakes machines.

Great Lakes has also installed two rebuilt Langen Model SPC3000 case packers—one purchased and one rented. Neither of these was operating during PD's visit. Typically, rebuilt machines cost in the range of 70 percent of a new machine and have the same warranty as a new machine

As mentioned previously, Great Lakes has four similar packaging lines all equipped with Langen cartoners. In this operation, wrapped packages of popcorn are fed into the Horizontal Servo Pack carton feeder that is installed on the infeed side of the cartoner. The Servo Pack comprises approximately 50 buckets arranged in a continuous oval configuration. Bags on the conveyor from the packaging line are metered into a bucket until the programmed count has been reached, at which time a servo motor indexes the full bucket and presents an empty one for bag loading. This continues as the Servo Pack moves the buckets around a 180-deg curve to the carton-loading station, where the full group of bags is loaded into the carton.

The buckets on the Servo Pack can be changed to accept bags laying flat or bags standing on edge. In the latter case, a mechanism is installed that stands the bags on edge as they enter the bucket. At Great Lakes, cartons holding up to 12 bags are served by one type of bucket, while cartons holding more than 12 bags are served by another type of bucket running on the same Servo Pack.

An interesting feature of the Servo Pack is that bags for a single carton can be delivered from more than one bucket. Thus, for a three-pack carton, all three bags will be loaded into a single bucket, while for a 12-pack carton, six bags will be loaded into each of two adjacent buckets. At the carton-loading side of the Servo Pack, a servo-driven arm pushes the bags out of the bucket(s) into the carton. The empty buckets then travel around another 180-deg curve to the bag-loading area.

The key to this system is that bucket- and carton-loading operations are not entirely interdependent. For example, if bucket loading is interrupted for some reason, carton loading will continue for a few cycles while the product loading recovers. Conversely, if carton loading is interrupted, bucket loading will continue. This is accomplished by having the racetrack extend at either end to provide accumulation capacity for filled or empty buckets.

Renting rebuilt equipment has worked out very well for us. It requires much less upfront capital, and the delivery time is much shorter than with a new machine.

From a cartoning standpoint, flat cartons, which are supplied by Commercial Packaging (www.commercialpackaging.com), are placed in a magazine that has been extended to ensure an uninterrupted supply. A rotary feeder picks each individual carton from the bucket with suction cups and places it in the carton conveyor. At the carton-loading area, the bags are pushed into the open ends of the cartons. After being loaded, the top and bottom minor flaps of the cartons are glued, followed by the top and bottom major flaps. This is accomplished with a Series 3400V hot-melt system from Nordson Corp. (www.nordson.com). The cartons then go through a section where an overhead squaring chain ensures flap squareness.

The cartoner is controlled by an Allen-Bradley PLC and an HMI with touchscreen controls from Rockwell Automation (www.rockwellautomation.com). Among items controlled by the PLC are the location and amount of glue applied to each carton. A photoeye triggers the glue application. The operator panel displays line speed and package count, as well as error messages to help troubleshoot in case of a machine malfunction.

The cartoner incorporates four servo drives from Emerson Control Techniques (www.emersonct.com), including three on the Horizontal Servo Pack and one on the carton-indexing conveyor. Another feature is quick—change capability—a critical requirement for Great lakes because of the large number of carton sizes it runs.

To start the packaging operation, bags are filled and sealed on a machine from HMC Products, Inc. (www.hmcproducts.com). The microwave popcorn bags, which are supplied by Commercial Packaging, are made from two laminations of greaseproof paper with a metallized polyester susceptor between the plies in the middle of the bag. The susceptor absorbs energy in the microwave and provides the heat that pops the corn. The filler/sealer folds the bag into thirds with the susceptor in the middle portion.

Unfolded bags are placed in a magazine in the intermittent-motion filler/sealer and are picked out of the bucket by suction cups on a reciprocating arm that lays them flat on a conveyor.

A guillotine blade then descends on the bags at a point that is one-third the distance from the bottom and drives it through a slot in the conveyor, folding it and inserting it into bag clamps on the indexing conveyor. At this point, an ink-jet printer from Videojet Technologies (www.videojet.com) prints a use-by date and product name and code near the top of the bag. The bags, now vertical, are indexed beneath the popcorn fillers where vacuum cups open them for filling.

The machine, which has two fillers side-by-side, fills two bags simultaneously. The fillers consist of two sliding plates with telescoping cups between the two plates. The separation between the plates is changed for different amounts of product to accommodate different package sizes. Popcorn is loaded into the two filling hoppers from an overhead conveyor and discharges into the cups, which discharge into the bags.

The bags then travel to the two oil fillers. Nozzles descend into the bags, and the proper quantity of favored oil is pumped into the bags, after which the nozzles retract. Here, as well as at the popcorn fillers, sensors prevent filling into a bag if there is no bag in place or if the bag is not open.

Next, the bags pass through a two-stage top heat sealer, after which the top third of the bag is folded down. A rotary vacuum pick-off unit holds the top flap in place as it picks up the bag and lays it flat on a belt conveyor that carries it into a flattening unit. This unit consists of a belt that runs on top of the bags and presses them against the belt conveyor. The filler/sealer incorporates a variable-frequency drive for easy speed changes for different package sizes and an Allen-Bradley PLC and PanelView HMI from Rockwell Automation.

Bags leaving the flattener pass through a metal detector from Cintex of America, Inc. (www.loma.com) and then enter a Microtronics flowrapper from Doboy (www.doboy.com). A lugged infeed chain spaces the bags into the wrapper section where film from an overhead roll is formed into a longitudinal fin seal beneath the bags to form a continuous tube. The bags then travel through a set of rollers containing heating bars that seal and cut the film to produce individual bags. The overwrapping film, which is supplied by Commercial Packaging, is 1.2-mil biaxially oriented polypropylene.

The bags are then cartoned in the Langen cartoner described previously, before passing through a Cintex combination metal detector and checkweigher and are packed into tape-sealed shippers. Product name and code, production date and a bar code are then printed on the shippers by an ink-jet printer from Diagraph, an ITW Company (www.diagraph.com).

Great Lakes has two Langen case packers, each serving two of the four production lines, but none of these were running during PD's visit.

Shippers from all four production lines are transported on overhead conveyors supplied by Hytrol Conveyor Co., Inc. (www.hytrol.com) to two palletizers from Columbia Machine, Inc. (www.palletizing.com). Each palletizer handles product from two packaging lines. A stretch wrapper from Lantech.com, LLC (www.lantech.com) wraps each pallet load of product.

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