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Let the sunshine in

I was visiting the Black Bear Bottling Group plant in Oak Creek WI a few weeks ago to get information for this month’s story in Packaging Digest, and president Pete Caruso was telling me about their efforts in sustainability. We were walking through their warehouse, and he pointed up to what I thought were electric lights, and he explained these were really solar units. It turned out that he had 30 Apollo solar light pipes from Orion Energy Systems Inc. (, each of which Orion says can replace a 465-watt metal halide light fixture. The light pipes consist of an acrylic dome on the roof that collects the light and reflects it down an aluminum pipe into the room below. The Apollo units were installed by Great Lakes Roofing (

Orion also supplies a system that measures the amount of light coming from the light pipes and adjusts the electric lights to provide the set amount of total light in the room. The company received the prestigious 2008 Platts Global Energy Award for this integrated energy management system, which permanently reduces light related electricity consumption when replacing traditional high-intensity discharge ighting systems. The award recognizes the company that has made “the single most innovative technology advance in the area of green technology,” according to Platts. Orion says that users of the integrated system have experienced light-related energy cost reductions of 50 to 80 percent without compromising their lighting needs.

President Obama is scheduled to visit Orion Energy Systems Inc. this coming Wednesday (Jan. 26) when he visits Manitowoc, WI.

“The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” Theodore Roosevelt

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New positioning technology eases changeovers on high-speed conveyor lines

New positioning technology eases changeovers on high-speed conveyor lines
A passive, pressure-based pneumatic system works in minutes to make precise conveyor guide-rail changeovers for entire high-speed food and beverage lines.

A passive, pressure-based pneumatic system works in minutes to make precise conveyor guide-rail changeovers for entire high-speed food and beverage lines.

Historically food and beverage manufacturers have constructed and operated fixed production lines, ranging in length from 500 to 1,000 feet, dedicated to producing only one or two products. The first production lines had fixed guide rails that only allowed for manufacturing one product.  However, upgrades and later systems incorporated two-position pneumatic cylinders attached at three to four foot intervals along the conveyor that allowed for changing the guide rail width to a second size to accommodate another product.

Today, to keep up with the exponentially increasing number of different products and variations on each line—and still remain profitable—manufacturers looked for ways to upgrade their lines to produce a larger variety of products with as little time and effort spent re-aligning as possible.

Initially manufacturers tried to solve the problem by continually adding more and more of the two-position pneumatic cylinders until their lines were able to operate four different guide rails to accommodate the various bottle sizes needed. Cylinders continued to be added until it was impossible to fit any more cylinders onto the packaging equipment. This process of adding cylinders to accommodate the addition of new products always required laborious time-consuming manual adjustment until they reached the point of needing to install an additional costly guide rail.  The new rail, of course, then needed to be manually adjusted, and eventually adjusted every time another cylinder was added to the new rail.

In the beverage industry, bottlers faced difficulty just breaking even due to the high costs of adding and changing bottle sizes so frequently to keep up with the increasing number of different products and demand for unique and short run packaging.

High-speed food and beverage plants needed a flexible packaging system that would allow the input of the required rail width, and then automatically and quickly make the necessary thousand positioner adjustments within a few millimeters of each other.

Due to the cost-prohibitive nature of traditional electronic linear actuators and stepper motors in this application, new “variable position cylinder” technology was developed for the food/beverage industry that allows manufacturers to changeover an entire line to accommodate a different sized product in just minutes.

The technology, a new pneumatic-based position cylinder called Anysize, can quickly and economically accommodate multiple package sizes by adjusting guide rails anywhere between zero to 2 inches on either side of the line, which lets lines process most single container and case product sizes. Users need only to input the needed guide rail width, and the Anysize system automatically makes a thousand or more positioner adjustments, to tolerances of a few millimeters from each other, down the length of the line.

Flexibility Engineering partnered with Parker Hannifin Corp. to design and test the new pneumatic-based positioning system.

Taking cost out of adding flexibility

Cost is a major factor in maintenance or capital investment decisions, and one of the key advantages of this technology is that it was designed with the ability to retrofit exiting production lines. Additionally, a lot of work went into the system’s design to further keep costs down.

Electronic linear actuators were determined to be too costly and maintenance prohibitive for the quantities required and harsh environments found in some plants. Failure of an electrical actuator system requires highly skilled labor to repair, people who typically have many other responsibilities or may be unavailable (such as during third shifts). Anysize only has one moving part per positioner and is pneumatic-based with only one air line, making it reliable and robust. In the event of failure of a positioner, the system was intentionally designed to be so simple and intuitive that anyone can repair it.

The Anysize system is entirely passive and is comprised of a positioner and control component called a Regulated Air Distribution (RAD) box that regulates the system’s air pressure. The RAD box contains filters for ensuring clean dry air and pneumatic components that smooth fluctuations in plant air. Enough air is stored in the RAD box to overcome short periods of lost plant air pressure, because the system is purely pressure-based.

As mentioned earlier, a single air line controls each positioner from a trunk line. Pressure (up to about 80 pounds per square inch) acts on a piston to apply force on a heavy spring. The advantage of springs is that the extension (movement) of a spring is proportional to the load applied to it. They will move an exact distance every time if the same exact force is applied (Hooke’s Law). These springs are designed for an “infinite life cycle,” which for most engineering purposes equals one million cycles.

The standard Anysize model adjusts rails from zero to 2 inches and anywhere in-between—a so called “infinite positioner.” Other models are available with ranges up to 4 inches. While used primarily in high-speed PET air conveyor lines and beverage conveyor lines, their use is growing on case conveyor and conventional conveyance lines.

The Anysize system has had design improvements over time. Work on air control led to the first patent on the concept of creating a force balance for positioning, with mechanical feedback consisting of the precision spring in each positioner. The air distribution system originally used an E-P regulator and a “tank farm” to supply continuous pressure; however that was replaced with a pilot-controlled regulator for better pressure control. Work is now being done to improve the stroke of the cylinder by manipulating preloading and using statistical modeling of the spring rate distribution.
In the past, to address the ongoing challenge of producing an ever-increasing variety of products and sizes, the manufacturing industry had no choice but to produce, maintain and upgrade costly production lines that were only able to add flexibility by increasing complexity.

Today’s variable position cylinder technology—based on the pneumatic cylinder technology already in use—provides manufacturers with a way to increase flexibility and speed and reduce complexity and cost.

Authors are Bill Service, marketing manager, Pneumatic Div. North America, Parker Hannifin Corp., and Joseph Pawelski, vp, technology at Flexibility Engineering.

PETG shrink-sleeve label film optimized for digital presses

PETG shrink-sleeve label film optimized for digital presses

A new film structure introduced by Klöckner Pentaplast at Label Expo on Sept. 9 is engineered for use with high-resolution digital printing for shrink-sleeve packaging and for high-speed application onto containers.

Jim Mullen, business manager, shrink films, spoke with Packaging Digest at Label Expo this week, noting that there is a challenge having a shrink film that both prints well and is readily converted into a roll of printed film. That two-fold challenge has been met through the debut of Pentalabel LV PETG Films with Y460 coating. One year in development, the new material offers these key attributes:

It is certified for use for a number of HP Indigo digital presses;

  • The film is highly receptive to digitally printed inks;
  • The film is optimized for seaming into a tube in roll form;
  • It is readily applicable for manual application as well as for high-speed application by automated shrink-sleeve label applicators at rates to 180 bottles/min.

Along with a number of partner companies that helped in product develoment, Mullen said the material was field tested by Verst, a major contract packager for shrink sleeving of containers.

Pentalabel PETG roll-sleeve films are claimed to provide the best shrinkage capabilities (more than 20%) available today to ensure smooth seams and the ability to shrink onto simple as well as multiple contour containers made of plastic, glass or metal.

GS1 weighs in on current track-and-trace developments

GS1 weighs in on current track-and-trace developments
Pinned countries require traceability for pharmaceutical products.

Bob Celeste, senior director of healthcare, GS1 US, answers Packaging Digest's questions in discussing what’s going on in traceability and the status of DSCSA implementation.

What do you see happening related to track-and-trace developments?

Celeste: The national Drug Safety and Quality Act, and its Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) became law in November 2013.  With its passage, we now have a sound policy to ensure product identification vigilance in the pharmaceutical supply chain, and a consistent, standardized approach for combating counterfeiting, theft and diversion of pharmacologics. The law, a long time in coming, has put the entire industry on the same path toward a safer, stronger, more fail-proof automated drug supply chain.

GS1 US has created a resource site that explains the provisions and deadlines of the law, and how it impacts the various parties in the Rx supply chain.  We are constantly developing materials specific to each supply chain partner, and we add these resources to the site as they become available.  Watch for information about which parties can help industry participants implement standards correctly, and videos on the various ramifications, considerations and application of GS1 Standards in solutions to the law. 

In addition, we have also worked with industry members to publish implementation case studies, and a guideline that supports track-and-trace requirements.  Very soon, we will release an update to that guideline that addresses current and future requirements more specifically.  The guideline will help companies comply with early term, mid-term and later requirements of DSCSA.

DSCSA Implementation phases are:

Lot-Level Management --Starting January 1, 2015 for Manufacturers, Wholesalers and Repackagers; and July 1, 2015 for pharmacy (hospitals and retail).  Constituents need to be able to share Transaction Information, History and Statements initially at the Lot (or Batch) level of identification.

Item Serialization --Mid-Term (2017 – 2019).  Mark packages of drug products using a Product identifier (GS1 Global Trade Item Number® (GTIN®) or NDC), Serial Number, Lot Number and Expiration Date. 

Serialized Item-Level Traceability --Later (2023). Make available information that would allow supply chain partners to trace the ownership back to the initial manufacturer or re-packager.  

What are the key drivers behind this movement?

Celeste: It comes down to patient safety, and enabling a safer, automated and serialized supply chain. The ability for pharmaceutical supply chain stakeholders to share information at the lot-level, and to identify and trace prescription drugs at the item-level is essential for providing critical transparency and accountability in healthcare.

A serialized supply chain, where a product is uniquely identified, labeled and tracked every step of the way through manufacture to patient use, allows information to be exchanged with trading partners about where a drug has been.  Having this capability will enable verification of the legitimacy of the drug product identifier down to the package level, enhance detection and notification of illegitimate products in the drug supply chain, and facilitate more efficient recalls of drug products.

How far along are pharmaceutical products in this? 

Celeste: Prior to DSCSA, there existed a patchwork of State Drug Pedigree and tracing laws. Complying with the growing number of varying State laws, members of the U.S. drug supply chain requested that Congress act and create one law that would govern the identification, management and traceability of drug products within the U.S. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and packagers have been able to leverage the work that they have done to comply with the state laws to now support the federal law, so in general, the major companies are pretty far along in their understanding of what needs to be done by when.  Retail and hospital pharmacies, however, may not yet be aware as a whole how the law impacts them (deadlines come in mid-2015 for them), so more work needs to be done to reach these audiences. 

On the medical device side, manufacturers are working towards adoption deadlines under FDA’s Unique Device Identification (UDI).  Class III med devices need to be uniquely marked by Sept. 24, 2014. 

Industry members in both of these initiatives have been working and collaborating for many years to make serialization and UDI a reality.  Now it’s a matter of leveraging best practices and sharing lessons learned, and taking one step at time to create a more efficient, safer and fully automated supply chain.  GS1 Healthcare US is here to help.

What healthcare market workgroups are involved in these efforts?

Celeste: GS1 Healthcare US works collaboratively with industry to create Community Workgroups, including ones focused on the Rx supply chain.  We have groups working on DSCSA readiness, including the Secure Supply Chain Task Force, which consists of more than 50 members across the US pharmaceutical supply chain that work to identify industry-wide implementation needs and enable efficient product serialization and visibility using GS1 Standards.  Members look at specific issues in the industry, and develop implementation guidelines, business cases, roadmaps, best practice guides and educational opportunities to enable industry-wide adoption.   

For more information, visit GS1Healthcare US.

Supportive strap distinguishes Hills Pet Nutrition flexpack

Supportive strap distinguishes Hills Pet Nutrition flexpack
Strapping provides wall support to prevent bulging of the bag.

One of the few downsides of flexible packaging is that there may be bulging caused by lack of support for larger bags, but this invention poses a unique solution to the problem.

This patent filing from Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc., Topeka, KS, is for a flexible packaging that uses an interior strap to connect front and back walls for support. The strap can be more than one heat-welded to opposing walls and can be in a crisscross configuration. This permits a flexpack with squared-up walls, rather than the typical rounded sides, yielding a package that can contain product in an efficient, linearly symmetrical shape without bulging. Such a pack offers prominent and desirable front-forward shelf positioning and can be stacked.

Additionally, there is an allowance for a flexible packaging container that has an easy-pour system and is also resealable using a slider or other style of reclosure. Also, heat-weldable handles can be affixed to the package for consumer convenience.

While noting the applicability of the package for a granular or dry dog or cat food, the invention explicitly states that it can contain any type of dispensable or flowable product in product netweights ranging from 3.5kg to 16kg or roughly 7.75 lb to 35.25 lb. Appropriate thermoplastic films include polyethylene and polyester.

For the full patent filing, visit Fresh Patents.

Mitigating packaging damage in the supply chain

Mitigating packaging damage in the supply chain

Before putting together a plan to reduce package damage during distribution and transportation through the supply chain, you need to examine how damage occurs and ponder these questions.

Even stretching the limits of extreme accountability, it’s virtually impossible for an inanimate object—say, a case of twenty-four 18oz cans of corn—to heed a common warning: “Travel at your own risk.”

Or even the caution “Items may shift during loading.”

Much as it would be convenient to attribute dents, rips, and punctures to the products themselves, the inconvenient truth is the supply chain is an imperfect mover. Touch points can become flash points for product damage. Entire unit loads rejected at distribution centers can cost well over a thousand dollars each and create significant delays.

In the end, supply chains suffer, manufacturer-retailer relationships are jeopardized, and consumers wind up paying.

So, how extensive is the problem? Is there a viable solution? And just where do you start?

Before putting together a plan, let’s examine how product damage occurs and some questions to ponder.

Risk all around

It’s fair to say that billions of products—all types, all sizes, all purposes—make the trip from the manufacturing plant to a distribution center to a retail store.

Despite its repetitive nature, this exercise presupposes a certain level of risk for product damage. Yet other factors outside the transportation and handling of these products contribute to damages.

Each component of the supply chain—package design, manufacturing, transportation, warehousing/distribution, retail support, retail operations—as well as Mother Nature herself can be a source of damage.


The material and strength of packaging, and even the design, can factor into damage. Consider:

  • Flute and wall construction. With four sizes of flute patterns (which can run horizontal or vertical) and varying thicknesses of wall construction, corrugated boxes run the gamut when it comes to durability. Flute and wall construction must be appropriate to the need. Certain types of cardboard are better for shipping heavy items, some types are more resistant to puncture, while other types are better for printing and display.
  • Stackability. What does the unit load sit on in the warehouse—pallets, slip sheets? What are pallets made of and what is their condition? How many levels can the unit load be stacked without affecting compression?

Unit Load Design

Is there overhang or underhang? What about column or interlocking stacking? How the unit load is designed and “interacts” with material handling, packaging and transportation go a long way to determining the extent, if any, of damage.

Palletizer Performance

The “heartbreak of gaposis” frequently threatens case integrity. Ideally, there should be no gaps between cases that are stacked on top of each other. However, over time, cases can shift, creating a gap that can lead to product damage. Gaposis that originates at the palletizer dramatically increases the potential for damage.

Stretch-wrap Effectiveness

How appropriately stretch-wrap is applied can be a big factor in whether a product sustains damage. First, it’s important to ensure compatibility between the film used and the stretch-wrap machinery. Another area to examine is the force-to-load measurement, or the amount (in lbs.) of strength/force applied to hold the product together.

It’s important to monitor whether the recommended pre-stretchage is being adhered to in the process.

Trailer Loading Pattern

It’s not easy loading a 53-ft.-trailer. But there’s a way to maximize its space. Loading decisions must seek to balance productivity, safety, transportation and equipment costs, and product protection. One effective strategy is “pinwheeling,” in which the direction of every other pallet is altered. It combines loading pallets straight and turned. Pinwheeling helps to more fully utilize the space in a trailer or container when there is inadequate width to permit loading two turned pallets side by side.

Another way to stabilize, secure and protect loads in a trailer is by using dunnage, such as air bags, partitions, braces and load locks.

The type of dunnage selected depends on the type of shipment and the other packaging materials being used, as well as convenience and price.


From travel distance to changes in road conditions and elevation, transportation can have wide-ranging effects on the level of product damage. Stiffer trailers combined with rough roads can magnify the compressive stress on boxes by a factor of 10.

Shock and vibration can affect stiff trailers with no cushion load.

One way to avoid this is to use air-ride suspension trailers, which are uniquely adapted with air hoses that span from the truck to the trailer. They are also larger, using more air volume to accommodate the greater weight of truck and load.

A matter of protection: The environment or the product?

Because products must be brought securely to market, some form of packaging will always be needed. Therefore, any discussion about improving the sustainability of production and consumption must always address packaging as an essential part of the supply chain.

The main purpose of packaging is to provide protection for products. Logically, the more packaging there is, the more protection there should be.

And the resulting higher cost is passed on to the consumer.

The logical question one would ask, then, “Is all the packaging that’s being used necessary?” In many cases, the answer is no.

 But is there an optimal balance between overpackaging and underpackaging?

Consider that while shifting to more eco-friendly materials meets consumers’ increasing demand for more-sustainable packaging, the likelihood for damage rises.

In fact, it’s possible that damage waste has a greater adverse impact on the environment than the extra packaging itself.

Given the economic and environmental costs vs. benefits of different materials, designs, applications and logistical operations, what’s the best way to effectively manage these variables to make the most appropriate packaging decisions? How can we arrive at the optimal packaging solutions that strike the right balance between cost, environmental impact, and safety, while allocating costs appropriately?

It’s the heat and the humidity

Climate and geography can be significant contributors to product damage. Heat and humidity are the two biggest enemies of packaging strength.

Forty% of the strength of corrugate is lost within the first 30 days of storage. Higher humidity levels can drastically affect corrugate strength. Corrugate is 71% weaker at 95% humidity vs. 50% humidity.

Excessive moisture or water can soften or even dissolve the corrugating adhesive, causing delamination; a box that literally falls apart won’t offer much protection. Heat can also reduce the moisture content of corrugated boxes, making them brittle.

Less-than-ideal or fluctuating climate conditions reduce corrugate effectiveness and shorten its useful life.

How big is this problem?

As much as 11% of unit loads arriving at a distribution center have some level of case damage. On average, the figure is around 2%.

On the surface this number might seem small, but the ramifications can be quite large.

Most of the damage on an inbound load is compression based, with the lowest tier of a unit load being the most vulnerable, and the second tier the next most vulnerable.

Surprisingly, the top tier is third on the vulnerability scale. This tier is susceptible to impact-related damage caused by unit loads leaning or being out of vertical alignment.

Evidence of damage is heavy creasing to the corrugate, a punctured case or other tell-tale signs, such as tears and rips.

Workers have a couple options. They can pull the pallet and put it in a “re-coup” area and submit a claim to the manufacturer. The pallet is designated as “damaged on delivery from the plant,” and the carrier takes it back.

However, a troubling trend has emerged. Faced with the manufacturing-industry standard of a two-hour unload window or risk hefty detention charges, retailers frequently reject entire unit loads at the dock—even if only one or two cartons are damaged.

Is this practical? Can retailers really afford to do this? After all, they must need the product (they ordered it, right?). But are they cognizant of the tremendous cost and waste that result from this practice?

A very small percentage—typically less than 1%—of the products within the cartons are damaged. This means that the cases are doing their job to protect what’s inside. On the other hand, there is the potential for a significant amount of undamaged product being rejected.

So, although eliminating damages completely from supply chains is unrealistic, companies can approach the issue pragmatically and establish a system to measure and monitor the process so improvements can be made more efficiently.

You’re getting warmer . . . no, colder

With the landscape of product damage defined, the path toward improvement must start with a robust system that helps pinpoint where efforts need to be focused.

In other words, this cannot be a “needle in a haystack” approach. 

First, learn whether the damage occurred in manufacturing, distribution or in transit. Develop a thorough understanding of how each part of the process affects the other: Is loading being done properly at the distribution center? Is the product appropriately stabilized? Are incidence rates being observed, captured and tracked?

The more in-depth information you uncover and the more precisely you can identify the sources of the issues, the better you’ll be able to develop and execute a corrective action plan.

A key element of this strategy is a root cause analysis, which reveals the “where, what, why” aspects of product damage, setting the stage for impactful, money-saving improvements throughout the supply chain.

To put it another way, don’t treat damage research like an Easter egg hunt. Wandering around hoping to find treasures—or in this case, problems—isn’t a strategy when so much money is on the line. You need to be laser focused on specific targets, so you know exactly where to make improvements.

About the author

Gene Bodenheimer, senior vice president, retail logistics damage research at Genco, leads the company’s team responsible for investigating solutions for unsaleable products as well as supply chain solutions within Genco's retail vertical.  Over his 25-year career Bodenheimer has spoken on a wide variety of topics including reverse logistics, health and beauty accessories and damage research.  He can be reached at



Universal printing system provides years of savings

Universal printing system provides years of savings

The Optimizer KR-Universal is designed for on-demand printing in medium- to high-volume runs of regular-slotted containers (RSC), and die cut and multi-wall kraft bags. The new KR-U staging, indexing conveyor carries stacks of 60 valve bags, 90 gusset bags or 25 RSC cases to a servo-driven lift table where a powerful vacuum feeder moves each piece to the Optimizer printer. Adding a restacker and return conveyor brings throughput to 45 pieces per minute. The system handles case sizes ranging from 10x12 to 36x39 inches (width x length) and bag sizes ranging from 12 x18 to 36x36 inches. The versatility and efficiency of this feeding automation combined with the company’s direct contact, plateless printing process provides years of savings by freeing manufacturers from the high costs of short-run preprint. This is printer in action at Pack Expo International 2015.

Iconotech, 800-521-0194

Pack Expo Booth #E-8030

The case of the backwards machine

The case of the backwards machine

"I've got a problem, KC."

My pal Jimbo McClenehan was on the phone. "Of course you do, Jimbo. It's the only reason anyone ever calls me. I am still waiting to hear I won the lottery."

"Seriously, KC, I just took delivery of a backwards machine," he says. "You'd better come have a look."

At the plant, Jimbo showed me his shiny new packaging line. The key machine was the monobloc filler and capper. The machine he had bought was supposed to be right to left but the builder delivered their more standard left to right configuration.

"What happened, Jimbo?" I asked.

"I don't know, KC. The shop drawings I got for approval showed the correct layout. But this is what was delivered."

"Didn't you notice it on a factory visit? Or at the factory Acceptance Test (FAT)?"

"I didn't do either, KC. We were already over budget and I could not afford it."

"Fiddlesticks on staying at home!" I exploded. "You spent two hundred thousand dollars on a new machine and couldn't find a couple more to visit the builder? Had you done that at major construction milestones, you would have noticed the problem when there was time enough to fix it.

"In a perfect world, the builder would swap this for a new machine but that would take four months to build a new one and you can't afford the delay."

As Ben Franklin says, "Penny wise, pound foolish." As true today as it ever was.

Corona treater to improve ink adhesion and productivity

Corona treater to improve ink adhesion and productivity

Introduced at Label Expo this week, the CoronaFlex improves ink adhesion on rapid speed flexographic presses and a multitude of digital printing applications. The all new corona treater provides OEMS and printers with powerful and dependable treatment via a compact footprint and easy to use operator interface.

CoronaFlex meets the diverse needs of narrow web printers by offering flexible integration options, the ability to optimize wettability on a wide range of substrates and an intuitive touch screen that guides operators to increase treating performance.

It can be outfitted into any position on all OEM presses, has a large scalable treatment window, and treats both conductive and nonconductive films without the need for an electrode or cartridge change. CoronaFlex ships with a complete turnkey installation package providing everything that’s needed for an easy installation.  

Enercon Industries Corp., 262-250-6070