Powder pack

By Peter Wuerl, Contibuting Editor in Shipping Containers on May 31, 2008
The results of hundreds of planning hours, the new line can run two- four- and six-packs of 401, 502 and 603 size cans and takes less than 30 min to change over. Here, cans in three lanes feed into a new case/tray packer.

Make no small plans for they have no power to stir the soul.

This quote, by Italian Renaissance philosopher Machiavelli, could aptly describe the 2007 project by PBM Nutritionals, LLC to add a new packaging line to its nutraceuticals manufacturing facility in Georgia, VT.

PBM Nutritionals' primary business is powdered nutraceuticals with an emphasis on infant formulas.

The project certainly stirred the souls of all who were involved. And, its scope was anything but small. According to Dennis Phillips, PBM Nutritionals' operations manager, the project team put a herculean effort into making sure that every detail was done to perfection. This was particularly true of the planning that went into the footprint, which was a critical element due to the limited space available.

“It took a very creative effort to get a footprint that everybody was comfortable with,” says Phillips. “We ended up with twenty-six revisions before we got the final layout that everybody could agree on,”

The result of hundreds of planning hours was a one-of-a-kind project incorporating two key components: a Z conveyor; and a mezzanine platform that doubled back over the conveyor and shrink wrapper. These signature components enabled PBM Nutritionals to get maximum utilization from every inch of space in the plant.

Purchased by chief executive officer Paul B. Manning in 2005, the Vermont facility had been manufacturing powder infant formulas for 20 years. As a former customer of the plant, Manning was familiar with the firm and realized its potential. The vision of Manning and chief operations officer Adam Burke resulted in the new line that introduced four-sided coding, increased flexibility and speed, and vastly improved changeover time.

The entire installation was accomplished during an extremely compacted two-week period in July-August 2007. The installation was a highly orchestrated event to make the most of the two-week window. Major equipment and components were prefabricated off-site. Pinpoint accuracy in planning assured the timely delivery and assembly of the line components.

“That was a tremendous accomplishment by the entire team in the window that we had,” says George Salg, vp of engineering.

Without the leadership of Manning and Burke, the project never would have become reality. Phillips credits their leadership and vision with revitalizing the firm.

“They pumped life into what had been a pretty quiet facility. They've been a breath of fresh air as far as picking up sales, increasing volume and really bringing daylight into the facility,” says Phillips.

The plant has two lines, with the new line accounting for 40 percent of total production capacity. Private-label formulas are supplied to domestic and international retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, Target, Loblaws and Walgreens, as well as its own Ultra Bright Beginnings formulas. PBM Nutritionals is the only ISO 9001: 2000-certified, infant formula manufacturing facility in the U.S., a fact that added an extra level of complexity to the new line installation project.

“We are highly regulated by the Food and Drug Administation, actually to the same level as a pharmaceutical company,” explains Salg. “Clean-build requirements add complexity and take more effort, and the product has to be pristine.”

Cleaned and sanitized

So pristine, in fact, that during the installation, every piece of equipment, from the largest component to the smallest nut and bolt was cleaned and sanitized prior to arrival at the plant. After the installation, PBM Nutritionals perfromed an additional round of detailed cleaning.

The project was led by system integrator, Cal-Pak, Inc. (www.cal-pak.com). Mark Scollard, Cal-Pak president, was the point man overseeing the line concept, design and layouts. Cal-Pak was also responsible for removal of the old line, building alternations needed to accommodate the new line, placement of new equipment, installing the new line, debugging and commissioning the equipment.

“Mark was very professional and dedicated to the project,” says Salg. “He did a very good job with follow-up after the installation. We think his project-management capabilities are top notch.”

Changeovers in 30 min or less

The previous line was 30 years old and ran a maximum of 20 cases/min only in a wraparound four-pack. The new line was built to have the capability to run a two-, a four-, and a six-pack for 401, 502 and 603 size cans. The four-packs needed to run at 50 cases/min utilizing the same floorspace as the previous line that ran 20 cases/min.

Cal-Pak designed the line to changeover in less than 30 minutes. Depending on the specific changes required, some changeovers are done in as little as 10 min.

PBM Nutritionals uses a variety of cans made of metal or composite materials. Can heights range from 9½-in. tall to 4-in. tall and include many different widths. After the empty cans are filled in a designated filling room and are seamed with a lid applied using a clincher and seamer, the cans are labeled and overcapped. Some cans may also receive an insert under the overcap. From there, the cans move into the new portion of the line.

Grouping, casing, coding

The cans convey via a single-lane tabletop conveyor at a 49-in. elevation. From the conveyor, the cans are transferred to a Nedco Conveyor Technology (www.nedcoconveyor.com) accumulation-style conveyor.

At the discharge of the accumulating conveyor, cans enter a Douglas Machine, Inc. (www.douglas-machine.com) one-to-three lane divider at a 36-in. elevation.

The cans are then divided into the three-lane infeed of a Douglas Machine WDL-55 case packer that groups the cans according to the attached case pattern matrix. The cans are packed in either a tray of full wraparound shipping case. The trays or cases are then discharged onto the Z case conveyor, which also provides a four-sided case code with the help of a Graphic Controls (www.graphiccontrols.com) GC 5000 high-resolution case coder.

Custom designed to fit the new line, the Z-conveyor comprises three conveyor sections and two servo-driven transfer stations.

A reject station is positioned at the beginning of the coding conveyor to reject cases or trays with open flaps. The coding conveyor processes the good cases, which are next checked by Accusort (www.accusort.com) Model 22 II bar-code scanners. If there is a no-read bar code, the case is rejected.

Wrapping, tagging, palletizing

After coding and scanning on two sides to assure that a readable bar-code has been applied, the good cases are then transferred onto the infeed of a Douglas Machine single roll S-50 shrink wrapper. A sheet of shrink film is wrapped around the package if it is a tray. If the case packer is making full wraparound cases, the S-50 wrapper acts as a transport conveyor.

The tray then goes proceeds a heat tunnel, discharges onto a cooling conveyor and is transferred to the infeed of a Ryson Intl. (www.ryson.com) vertical spiral conveyor.

At the discharge, cases/trays incline up the 92-in. spiral elevation. This puts the cases/trays on the mezzanine where they travel past a Kennedy Group (www.kennedygrp.com) tamp-on labeler. Here, a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag is applied. A Thermo Fisher Scientific (www.thermofisher.com) AC9-Accu Star HD case weigher verifies the RFID tag and checks for cases that are either underweight or overweight. Cases/trays that are under weight or those with no-read RFID tags are rejected by a cross-push mechanism onto a static table. Approved cases/trays move off the mezzanine and onto an overhead case conveyor. They then go onto the FKI Logistex (www.fkilogistex.com) Model 881 high-level palletizer.

The palletizer discharges completed pallets to an Orion Packaging Systems (www.orionpackaging.com) M55 pallet wrapper. After the pallets are wrapped, they are discharged to a pickup conveyor that transfers them to waiting forktrucks.

A 'real home run'

Phillips and Salg are generous in the credit they give to all who have played a role in the success of the project. They give particular recognition to system integrator Cal-Pak and key equipment supplier Douglas Machine. “Douglas Machine has some very unique equipment,” Salg notes. “They are able to handle the line speeds and the variety of packages that we were looking for.”

The team from PBM Nutritionals is also worthy of recognition, particularly Gary Cudek, junior engineer who designed the mezzanine platform, and Dan Orr, in-house packaging specialist. Jim Francis, a senior packaging operator, and Jeff Partlow, a packaging mechanic, went to Douglas Machine's plant in Minnesota to participate in a factory acceptance test.

“This was a real home run,”adds Salg, “when you talk about ownership and training, and having a chance to interface with the people who actually built the equipment. When the equipment arrived and was set in place, our packaging team had a good idea of what was coming.”

The packaging group was tremendous, especially the ownership that it exhibited.”

Pulling it all together

According to Phillips and Salg, none of this would have happened without the expertise of Cal-Pak.

“Cal-Pak's expertise in this part of the packaging world is demonstrated by the success of the project,” Phillips concludes. “They pulled it all together.”


More information is available: Cal-Pak, Inc., 781/944-8000. www.cal-pak.com. Douglas Machine Inc., 320/763-6587. www.douglasmachine.com. Accu-Sort Systems, Inc., 800/227-2633. www.accusort.com. FKI Logistex, 877/935-4564. www.fkilogistex.com. Graphic Controls LLC, 800/669-1535. www.graphiccontrols.com. Kennedy Group, 440/951-7660. www.kennedygrp.com. Orion Packaging Systems, 800/333-6556. www.orionpackaging.com. NEDCO Conveyor Technology Co., 800/286-3326. www.nedcoconveyor.com. Ryson Intl., Inc., 757/898-1530. www.ryson.com. Thermo Fisher Scientific, 781/622-1000. www.thermofisher.com.
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