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In-the-Field Plant Stories: Dole Hawaii

Kieferpix/Adobe Stock Dole Adobe Stock 59778955 Pineapple Beach Hawaii 3FTR

A fortuitous assignment sent me to an island paradise a few months into my journalistic career; here’s how that came about…

I’ve already mentioned my cohort at both Prepared Foods and Packaging Digest, veteran senior editor Jack Mans (see In-the-Field Packaging Stories: My First Plant Visit, published August 2020).

I was introduced to Jack virtually about two years earlier while working in R&D at the R.T. French potato processing operations in Shelley, ID. I read industry publications on breaks at the plant including Prepared Foods and was fascinated by Jack’s descriptive step-by-step, plant-walkthrough features. Because I’ve always enjoyed writing, I thought that visiting processing and packaging operations as part of an editor's job would be, as a former colleague would say, the bee’s knees.

While married and still living in Idaho in 1985 and reading the Chicago Tribune help wanted section as a pathway to return to the Midwest, I noticed a job listing for an associate engineering editor at the publication. I applied for and subsequently landed the job. Meeting Jack the day of my interview was like meeting an industry celebrity. Along with the chief editor, Jack interviewed me over lunch that day as he enjoyed a beer, which became a familiar sight over the years.

Settling into my new role at the magazine, I quickly learned that while he loved to travel, Jack loathed lengthy flights, for example to Europe. Or to Hawaii, as it turned out, which I discovered when Dole offered to host a visit to their pineapple operations on Oahu in late 1985. After Jack passed on the opportunity, that plum trip to paradise landed with me a couple months into the job.

And I happen to love pineapple. Sometimes it just works out.

That plant trip, which remains the only time I’ve been to Hawaii, ran as the cover feature in the March 1986 issue of PF with the headline “King of Pineapple Plants Processes Fruit of Kings.”  

During my time on the island I felt as much a tourist as a trade-journal reporter. Several random remembrances…

  • It was jarring for a Midwesterner to drive past palm trees in early December wrapped with red ribbon to resemble candy canes.
  • I stayed in the lap of luxury and had an ocean front view: Dole reserved an upper floor suite of a landmark hotel on Waikiki Beach.
  • Late one afternoon I was riveted by the rare eye-level view though a hotel window of a paraglider descending in the distance.
  • I passed an actor in the hotel hallway who had an occasional role in a popular 1980s TV series set in Hawaii. I recognized him instantly because he was a dwarf.

Fresh-cut fruit is the best.

The plant tour was proceeded by a literal in-the-field visit to Dole’s Wahiawa plantation “near the lush green mountains” at the center of the island, to quote my story. My Dole guide carried a machete, the only plant tour guide of many

Kieferpix/Adobe StockAdobeStock_159778955-Pineapple-Beach-Hawaii-350x382.jpg

dozens over the decades who did so. He expertly cut and sliced a fresh-picked pineapple out in the field — it doesn’t get any more mouth-watering delicious than that.

That was followed by the plant visit to the canning operations nearer Honolulu, the highlight of which was watching the high-speed machines invented by Dole engineer Henry Ginaca in 1913 that peel, core, and cut the fruit. Naturally, they’re called Ginacas, a word that for some reason greatly amused one of my friends. 

Anyway, I reviewed the canning operations to finish out the tour as I continued to take notes and photos.

After returning to normal editorial life in Illinois, I sorted through the processed pictures and found one nice photo of an employee operating one of the Ginacas. It was the only acceptable one that showed those critical machines.

However, the art director took one look, shook her head, and said, “We can’t use that one.”

“But it’s the best shot that shows that essential part of the operations,” I insisted. “Why not?”

“Look at his shirt,” she replied.

What I had mistaken for some sort of environmental logo depicted instead weed, aka, a marijuana plant, which was illegal back in the day.

It was the only sour note from the whole trip, except for the tart, yet sweet flavor of that succulent, just-picked pineapple.

Lesson learned: Always assess employees’ clothing before taking photos of them.

 

Recycling

9 Things to Know About Recyclable HD-BOPE Resin

Nova Chemicals Nova Chemicals HD-BOPE film line at BMS Germany

The next evolution in multilayer films for food packaging and other markets is that they be recyclable, which requires the engineering of an appropriate high-performance resin.  

One of the companies advancing in this area is Nova Chemicals of Calgary, Canada. In July, PlasticsToday reported on the company’s breakthrough development of high-density resin technology for the biaxially oriented polyethylene (BOPE) market. The HD-BOPE technology enables converters to make recyclable multilayer films that perform as well as traditional mixed-material structures. It’s a major advance in the pursuit of a circular economy for plastics, according to Nova Chemicals.

Owen Lightbody, the company’s performance films technical service team leader, and Eric Vignola, food packaging market manager, provided the following responses to our nine questions.

Nova ChemicalsNovaChem Combo Eric Owen  wide

Owen Lightbody and Eric Vignola.

1. The HD portion of HD-BOPE, high-density polyethylene, provides stiffness and heat resistance.

More broadly, HD-BOPE films offer enhanced stiffness, toughness, easy tear, better optics, and improved barrier over blown film alternatives. HD-BOPE also presents significant downgauging opportunities vs. blown film applications, an important sustainability benefit.

2. HD-BOPE is a recyclable replacement for films currently made with BOPP or BOPET.

Biaxally-oriented films made from polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyamide (PA, aka nylon) have been in the market for decades. They are well established materials due to their physical performance properties and suitability for printing, conversion and packaging processes; the current global market size for BOPP, the largest biax segment, is more than 20 billion pounds annually.

Packaging constructed with BOPP or BOPET will commonly have a biaxially-oriented print web multilayer film laminated to a blown-film polyethylene sealant web, for example a PET/PE laminate is a common film structure used for stand-up pouches. The major drawback of these mixed material laminates is that they are not easy to mechanically recycle.

3. HD-BOPE is a value-added material.

HD-BOPE is an innovative and high-value film for companies that are looking for solutions to advance the circular economy and achieve bold sustainability commitments. However, it’s also a relatively new substrate for flexible packaging and time will tell how the pricing dynamics take shape. These are new times with new challenges and drivers and it is through collaboration that the true value will be established.

Nova ChemicalsBruckner BMS Line Tweet

An HD-BOPE film production line at Brückner Maschinenbau in Germany. HD-BOPE resins are designed for use in the print web for lamination to a PE sealant film.

4. The company continues to work with Brückner Maschinenbau to accelerate the development and commercialization of the technology.

The next steps will be the further development of new BOPE resins, BOPE film structures (high transparency, sealing performance, white opaque films, etc.) and optimizing process conditions for highest output.

Our work with Bruckner is ongoing and will be active for the foreseeable future; it will take time for the biax industry to fully adopt BOPE. As HD-BOPE becomes a common substrate, it is expected that many existing BOPP lines will be modified for BOPE production and new investments in biaxial stretching lines will shift from traditional BOPET and BOPP lines towards BOPE capacity.

Continued close collaboration between a biax film manufacturer’s two suppliers, Nova (raw material) and Brückner (equipment), will reduce a company’s learning curve with PE and increase their comfort level in producing HD-BOPE film.

Brückner, based in Siegsdorf, Germany, has engineered BOPE/BOPP hybrid lines and has extensive knowhow on process conditions and film recipes which led already to the sale of four hybrid Lines. Two to three additional biax film manufacturers are expected to invest in hybrid lines before the end of the year.

5. HD-BOPE packaging can be used with form-fill-seal equipment.

We have printed and laminated these films to blown film sealant webs for packaging trials. Just recently, we successfully completed a horizontal form-fill-seal trial to produce stand-up pouches (picture attached). HD-BOPE films are also suitable for flow wrap and vertical form-fill-seal applications.

Nova ChemicalsBOPE Stand-Up Pouch front and back combo

Front and back of a stand-up pouch made with HD-BOPE film.

6. Markets are progressing in Europe and North and South America.

Our objective is to help enable circularity of plastics through the use of HD-BOPE in flexible packaging. Our first collaborations with film manufacturers were in Europe, with Polivouga-Industry Plastics SA based in Albergaria-a-Velha, Portugal, and Plastchim-T of Dobrich, Bulgaria, both of whom have now purchased BOPP/BOPE hybrid lines from Bruckner. In addition to that development work we are supporting in Europe, we are also working with companies in North and South America who are progressing HD-BOPE.

7. HD-BOPE can help brands meet their sustainability goals.

As noted earlier, a lot of current packaging today contains BOPP and BOPET, which are more likely to contain mixed materials and are thus difficult to recycle or are non-recyclable. Moving as many of these applications as possible to BOPE retains the physical properties of biaxial oriented films coupled with the ability to move to monomaterial, recyclable film structures.

Also critical for brands is availability of the material. And as noted, we are collaborating in multiple regions of the world and film formulations are being testing in-field now, with several partners looking to qualify packages within the next few months. Our goal is for brands in any region of the world to be able to work with a nearby film manufacturer or converter who has expertise in HD-BOPE.

Nova ChemicalsNova Chemicals BOPE HD film rolls

Rolls of HD-BOPE film. 

 

8. Monomaterial packaging created with HD-BOPE may qualify for How2Recycle or other recyclability labeling.

However and as far as we know, a HD-BOPE based package has yet to be tested. We expect that monomaterial polyethylene packaging will be suitable for the PE recycling stream.

9. We've progressed past the proof-of-concept phase with multiple film manufacturers.

Currently, we’re working on optimization of the materials, process conditions, and film designs. Film formulations are being testing in-field and several partners looking to qualify packages within the next few months.

Qualification of any new material is — and should be — a rigorous and complex process. There’s a lot at stake — brand reputation, consumer experience, the potential for food waste. Once the suitability of the raw material is determined, refining the settings for converting steps such as printing, lamination and of course packaging is required. Many products are also shelf-tested and/or consumer-tested before the decision to use in a commercial product is made. Value chain collaboration is essential to bringing a game-changing innovation like HD-BOPE to market and has proven invaluable to our success in this project.

 

 

Equipment Rentals are Red Hot — Here’s Why

Photo supplied by Frain Frain-plant-featured.jpg
Frain’s manufacturing floor hosts 9,000 machines under two million square feet, including new and used processing and packaging equipment.

What’s the hottest trend in buying packaging equipment in a post-pandemic recession for consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies? How has COVID-19 affected whether you buy packaging equipment new or used? Or whether you buy, lease, or rent?

We asked Rich Frain, CEO of Frain Group, a single-source provider of integrated processing and packaging machinery solutions whose inventory includes roughly 9,000 pieces at its two million square-foot facility outside Chicago in Carol Stream, IL.

The company provides all manner of new and used equipment through sales, leases, and rentals, so we were happy the CEO took time out to discuss buying trends.

 

What big trend do you see driving the way companies are buying packaging equipment?

Frain: There’s a huge push by CPGs to get new products to market. I believe I read the number to be 60,000 new SKUs [stock-keeping units] a year. More than double the number of new products over the last 15 years. Products from leading brands are experiencing challenges from new product start-ups eating away at traditional leaders margin and market share — they just don’t have the growth and profits they used to have, and CPGs know this.

Also, ecommerce and trends like single-serve package goods are amplifying the changing patterns of consumers usage. All of these items combined are forcing companies to look at things in different ways. They’re hellbent on coming out with those 60,000 new SKUs to maintain dominance, and everybody ignores the 76% as failure rate in 12 months per research from Nielsen. All these things are forcing manufacturers to think about everything in different ways, and that’s a big deal, considering they’re trying to do this when they have scarce resources to produce those products.

 

What are the trends you see in terms of buying new vs. used, as well as how people buy?

Frain: In the last 12 years we have evolved our business model. We no longer sell used machinery the traditional way. Since 2008, companies started getting rid of the extra mechanic here, the extra engineer there. With employees working at 110%, it was very difficult to deal with getting a piece of used equipment set up and working right, even one starting in very good condition. Just as an example, we might put 160 hours into a machine, with those hours split between four or five associates — electricians, mechanics, engineers, clean-and-paint. Which is 50% less time than it would take for a company that doesn’t do this every day.

At the same time, it’s almost impossible to get new or even used equipment on a timely basis. As soon as Frain receives a piece of used equipment that’s in the top 10% or 20% of what people require and it’s gone. So we have augmented our sales with rentals. At the same time, demand for new equipment is so high, but the lead time for it is anywhere from three to six months.

Renting is a way to get speed-to-market without having to wait for new equipment, or in the interim until the new machinery arrives. Also consider that we could be talking about not just a single piece of equipment, but an entire new packaging line. The average queue to build a new line is usually 8 to 10 months and you’re usually working with multiple machinery manufacturers. You may think you can get equipment fast, but you can’t always get it all at the same time. If a $12,000 coding system doesn’t show up on time, you’re stuck — you can’t do anything with that line. It equals months of lost sales to get that product to market negatively impacting an organizations bottom line.

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You cite 2008 vs. today — recession then and recession now. Do rentals spike or is this a steady trend?

Frain: This is not just a recession trend, it’s a market demand, and It just keep’s growing for us. Let me put it this way: In 2008, rental was 20% of our business; in 2020, it’s 75% of our business. Look at the market and how things have changed over that timeframe, ecommerce has exploded, changing consumer base and their different demands. The reality is now, only 20% of buyers pay cash up front.

It’s not that companies don’t have money, but many of the largest brands haven’t brought in much shareholder value in 10 years. They used to spend $300 to $600 million a year, just buying everything they needed. But over the last decade, they’ve tightened up their belts. They would much rather invest that free cash on innovation, and new product development. They are looking for different ways to handle infrastructure investment.

Each plant now must justify the internal money spending. That’s driven rentals up. Rentals are a variable expense, as opposed to when you lease or buy, because those are a fixed expense. You can’t get out of those fixed expenses, even if you stop using the equipment and there’s no money coming in.

 

How is a rental agreement structured?

Frain: We have a three-month minimum. Upon completion, the unit can be rented on a month to month basis or stop at any time. Compare that to buying or leasing, which locks you into payments for 12, 24 or 36 months.

In addition, a rental is a variable expense vs. a lease, which is a fixed expense. If you’re renting a piece of equipment for $2,500 per month, and it’s no longer required, you just return it. But if you’re paying $2,500 a month to a lease, and you no longer require the machine, you still owe payments through the end of your lease term, whatever that is.

When you rent equipment, you’re paying one-thirtieth to one-fortieth of the cash flow that would normally be spent on a piece of new equipment. So, if you’re buying a new machine for $100,000, you’re going to put 50% out today, and you’ll owe the rest in six months when it comes in. That’s not chump change, even for a large brand or manufacturer today, when you consider they may have multiple plants that want to spend $50,000 every day.

On average, our rental is between $2,500 and $3,500 a month. That’s much easier to get approval from your CFO or controller.

 

What if a buyer wants to do a rent-to-own down the road but doesn’t know up front?

Frain: Our rental clients receive follow up calls to allow the option to convert rentals, over a fixed expense. The conversion rate is about 50/50: Approximately 50% of the client base chooses to keep the equipment as a variable expense.

 

So is rental more a way to hedge financial risk, or a stop-gap while you’re waiting for equipment to be shipped?

Frain: It’s absolutely both. The ideal way to do this is to “rent until you know,” or “pay as your grow” rental as an insurance policy before buying. This allows you the first 90 to 120 days of production to see how well the product is doing in the marketplace. If you’re getting the reorders, the rental can be converted into a lease, or you can make the outright purchase. A portion of the rental payment will apply to both the purchase or the lease, and 22 months later you can own it.

These options give our customers flexibility, and what makes us a popular option with them. Most of the time, renting is used as an insurance policy against risk. And to a lesser degree, companies rent when they order a new machine but need to get their line up and running until it comes in. And it doesn’t matter how you get your equipment. We do it all three ways: buy, lease, or rent.

Frain rents, leases, and sells equipment, but says rentals are riding high as CPGs back away from investing millions of dollars in new capital equipment purchases.

 

Let’s address COVID-19 — how has it affected equipment purchasing?

Frain: At least 45% of our business is in the food industry, and a lot of that went belly up at first. Then we saw some changes; we sent eight or nine shrink bundlers out in the first few weeks, for overwrapping tray packs in order to maintain sanitization of the offerings. That drove a lot of orders, because there was no way to get new equipment to build up production capacity fast enough.

And, of course, there’s hand sanitizer. We’re on our 12th hand sanitizer line for people packaging everything from 100 gallons a minute to 16-ounce packs at 40 a minute. Every client is renting. You might get a good year out of it, but would you really want to commit to owning that equipment for only a year due to the unknown of the pandemic? We’ve also had a huge run of tanks due to COVID-19. Our focus on the rental model has allowed organizations speed to market, and financial flexibility at this vital time.

 

Has the pandemic changed who’s involved in an equipment decision?

Frain: Rental is our single best product, and the CEO’s and CFO’s of the world understand this concept. They understand managing risk and thinking about optimal cash flow options for the organization. People below that level do not always have the perspective of the overall organizations’ health. Their perspective is a project-based decision, vs. strategic organizational decision. They don’t believe or consider the stats about the huge rejection rate for new products. They just know they need to get a line running.

When the pandemic hit, CEOs and CFOs were literally coming in with their checks with them. They want variable expense as insurance against that 76% failure rate hanging over their heads all the time. If you do a lease, the money coming in pays the lease, but if the product fails in 12 months, normally on a lease, you’re paying for 24 or 36 months, and you’re still have to make payments on something that’s making absolutely no money.

 

And then they have to sell that machine on the used market. Will you buy it back at a good price?

Frain: Of course we will talk to customers about buying equipment. We have our finger on the pulse of the market, and we know what products are in demand. Keep in mind that we have two million square feet, and somewhere around 9,000 machines on-hand. We’ve bought many brand-new pieces of equipment that have never been used, and we are finding more and more demand in the rental market to turn the right pieces around…

 

Packaging Design

Wholly Guacamole Dips into Sustainable Packaging Gains

Wholly Guacamole Wholly Guac Pattern feature image

Literal circular thinking was an essential part of a broad-based packaging redesign across 17 stockkeeping units (skus) of America’s No.1 refrigerated guacamole brand, WHOLLY Guacamole. As part of a major structural and design redesign, the container changed from a square tray to a round bowl for better table presentation.

And with an eye on sustainable packaging improvements, the redesign includes notable material reductions.

The brand relied on Chase Design Group to develop a structural and graphic packaging redesign in order to better communicate to consumers about what sets the products apart from their competitors.

“Consumers are looking for the convenience of packaged guacamole that tastes just as good as homemade,” says Dave Carlino, senior art director. “To enhance the structural appeal and align with the brand personality, we replaced the square tray with a festive bowl that can easily go directly from fridge to table.”

“The new look brings appetite appeal and freshness to the forefront for consumers who want wholesome, delicious and convenient food with no compromises,” says Diana Pusiri, Wholly Guacamole’s senior brand manager.

Wholly GuacamoleWholly Guac 5 Flavors

The 17 redesigned skus comprise four 7.5-ounch bowls, three 15-ounce bowls, and ten 4-and 6-count single-serve mini boxes. Seven are considered new products, Pusiri discloses.

The new packaging was introduced across the country from November 2019 through March. It was the brand's first packaging change since a minor redesign in 2017, according to Pusiri.

The packaging was changed from the inside out.

Wholly GuacamoleWholly Guac Before/After

Inside, the now round bowl’s material and vendor remain unchanged as with the square tray, according to Pusiri. Molded with a #7 “other” plastic, neither bowl nor film lidding are recyclable.

While that’s an environmental wash, Pusiri shares with Packaging Digest the following gains in sustainability:

  • The reduction in paperboard is about 34% on the 7.5oz/8oz sizes and 40% on the 15oz/16oz sizes. 
  • The overall reduction in packaging material is 6% on the 7.5/8oz and 18% on the 15/16oz sizes. 

“The paperboard sleeve and polypropylene plastic lid are recyclable,” Pusiri points out.

With the redesign How2Recycle icons were added to clearly communicate standardized recycling instructions to consumers.

Outer elements and changes.

On the outer package, the triangular die-cut window was removed to allow more space for the logo, color blocking and consistent placement of a guac-filled bowl image.

“To highlight the cornerstone ingredient in all Wholly products—the avocado—we updated the logo by replacing the letter 'O' with an illustration of half an avocado with a pit serving as the center of the letter and added a contemporary typeface,” explains Carlino.

Light rays behind the logo were enhanced to draw more attention to the logo. For additional flavor appeal, the small “how to use this product” icons were replaced with appetizing guacamole and ingredient photography.

“In order to communicate other product benefits, we called out No Preservatives Added, Hand Scooped Hass Avocados, and Gluten Free, notes Pusiri.

Wholly GuacamoleWholly Guac with bowl

The previous packaging had a recipe for Guacamole Chicken Sliders. “In order to promote multiple usage occasions, we updated it with different illustrations:  Avocado Toast, Replace Mayo, and Guac Dogs,” says Pusiri. “We also updated the illustrations on the back of the minis to be consistent with the bowls, and we also added in language that brought out our fun brand personality.”

The playful new flavor names are Keep it Classic, Make it Spicy, and Enjoy it Chunky. 

The results have been impressive.

Citing IRI data for the 18 weeks ending March 1, “we’re seeing double-digit, base-unit velocity lifts versus last year’s tray,” says Pusiri.

The brand hopes that growth remains sustainable, too.

Packaging Design

Conagra Changes Swiss Miss Packaging to Eco-Friendly Design

Image courtesy of Conagra Brands Screen Shot 2020-09-15 at 2.42.29 PM.png

American food company Conagra Brands and plastic packaging solutions firm Berry Global are rolling out a new, eco-friendly package design for the Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa product line that will lower the carbon footprint of each container by 15%.

 

The carbon reductions are achieved through the recyclable packaging’s tapered cube design, which was developed in partnership with Berry Global’s Blue Clover Studios, the companies announced in a joint press release Tuesday, September 15, 2020. The packaging will initially be used with 38-oz size containers of Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix.

“This redesign is an important step forward on our sustainable packaging journey,” Katya Hantel, senior director of sustainable development for Conagra, said in a statement. “We will adopt the recyclable cube over the next several years, supporting Conagra’s target to make 100% of its plastic packaging renewable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.”

Conagra’s new design lowers the carbon footprint of the package by 98 mt/yr because of lower energy needs for manufacturing and transporting the containers. The company said it will reduce the amount of diesel fuel needed to transport the packages by more than 1,000 gallons annually.

“If your company is committed to sustainability, this package is a giant leap forward for many reasons,” Dave Weaver, vice president, product management for Berry Global, said in the release.

How an Automated Jug Line Can Increase Cost Efficiency

Image courtesy of Premier Tech Depal_Still_PREMIERTECH.jpg

Plastic jugs are a common container for granular products, such as fertilizers, cat litter, or ice melter. Recycled, recyclable, and easy to handle, they are containers of great value to the consumer, often facilitating the use of the product itself. However, they are not the easiest type of container to manage on a production line due to their shape, bottleneck, and opening.

 

We believe attention to detail leads to success. It is the reason we are devoting an entire article to this precise topic. At some point in the manufacturing process, no matter what product you handle, it is going to come down to this: Are you being cost-effective? The decision to move forward with automation and robotics should be driven by a desire to boost production rates, improve efficiency, and ultimately, be more profitable.

Here is why you should start thinking about automating your complete line of jug handling for granular product and trust us, we have put it to the test.

 

1. Automated Depalletizing and End-of-Line Palletizing

Gone is the time when you had to manually depalletize your empty jugs from the pallets. It is not that your personnel is not a right fit for the job; it is simply that production needs will eventually surpass existing capabilities. You can certainly make use of mechanical equipment to assist your workforce. However, providing for maintenance on such equipment is often problematic and not always an economical option.

An automated and robotic first stage of production can be a game changer. Depending on the speed of your line, one robot can easily handle all the items, from the top sheet to the tie sheet and the empty pallet. It also offers the possibility of depalletizing to another pallet or directly on a conveyor, ready for the next step. Tremendously versatile, your robot can be programmed to handle various sizes of jugs simultaneously, reducing downtime.

You can decide to depalletize your jugs one by one, row by row, or layer by layer. However, ask yourself the question: Are you being cost-efficient? Nowadays, it is possible to depalletize from your exterior rows going inward placing your jugs directly on to one or more conveyors. They can then go straight to the next process, saving you time and effort. With a robotic depalletizing system, you will maximize your operations, and consequently, your ROI and profit.

As in the case with a depalletization system, a robotic palletizer at the end of your production line will help you be more productive and cost-efficient. It can handle one or more units at a time according to pallet configuration and offers quick change-over between sizes. You can also program the robot to change its end-of-arm tooling with the press of a button on your HMI. Quite seriously, how nice is that?

 

2. Labeling or Sleeving

You have worked far too hard on branding your product for it to arrive on store shelves with a torn label or a crooked sleeve. An automated inspection system after the labeling or sleeving step is a must-have for you to portray the desired brand image to your customers and to keep your marketing team happy.

A good vision system can accomplish many tasks that simplify the inspection process: label inspection, print verification, error identification in packaging, seal integrity inspection, bar code validation, punch hole presence, and many more errors can be detected by a vision system.

In the case of a jug line, the system will examine every jug leaving this stage of production to make sure each jug meets your specific requirements. It can also check if the cap or lid is in position or the jugs are aligned properly so that it will not shut down the process further down the line. Catching a flaw early in the process will help you save product and remain cost-efficient.

 

3. Filling with Granular Product

Automation and robotics can do many great things, but if your granular product is not cooperating, it will not help with cost-efficiency. Everybody loves a good free-flowing granular product, but it is not always as easy as it seems, especially when you must fill a container with a small opening at high-speed. A new technology capable of doing so was recently developed to alleviate the jamming issue when bagging a granular product.

The first question that needed to be addressed was: How do you fill a plastic jug with a small opening with heterogenous granular product at high-speed without it jamming? Berveloo’s law was applied and tests with various products needed to be run. A way had to be found to obtain a filling jet small enough to pass through the neck of the container but fast enough to meet the speeds requested by the customer. It was crucial that this spray of product be consistent and repeatable to avoid any potential blockage at the neck of the jug. It was also crucial to consider the evacuation of air from the container during filling in order to avoid clogging and to minimize the emission of dust. With a test bench, Premier Tech was able to develop-test-validate a filling method that met these criteria. Testing has taken place at Premier Tech and at a customer production facility to confirm results. The applications team was able to calculate the flow rate and the shape of the product flow according to system parameters, in order to optimize design.

Image courtesy of Premier TechGraph2__PREMIERTECH.jpg

Image courtesy of Premier TechGraph1_PREMIERTECH.jpg



The second question was: How to quickly fill the jug to the brim and ensure that the product spreads evenly inside? Premier Tech had to quickly optimize the distribution and densification of the granular product in the container so the jug did not overflow during filling. The conventional densification methods used for other types of products commonly handled (compost, mulch, powder, etc.) have not proved to be effective with an incompressible granular type product because of the dilatancy phenomenon which is characteristic of granular products. The various tests helped develop a new method to quickly and efficiently optimize the distribution of product in the container during filling.

Image courtesy of Premier Techjugfiller_PREMIERTECH.jpg

This new technology is scalable to the needs of your production. A peak of 100 jugs per minute has been reached during testing, and the equipment can easily run 72 jugs per minute during continuous operation.

Image courtesy of Premier TechJug_Filler_Still_PREMIERTECH.jpg

Filled jugs exiting the filling station. The size of the equipment is adapted to your production needs.

Jugs are most commonly filled by volume. However, it is possible to fill the granules in to your plastic jugs by weight, just like any powdery products. This method of weighing your granules greatly increases the precision of the filling and decreases the loss of product. No matter the density of your product, each jug will have the same amount of product, a considerable gain for your customers.

 

4. Case Packing

Robotic case packing equipment gives you control over your jugs at all times. Extremely reliable and flexible, this equipment offers the possibility of reducing labor costs and increasing productivity. The robotic case packer can handle various products of numerous sizes and packaging types. With the right case packer, changeovers can be an excellent starting point to increase productivity. With equipment that allows you to store packing patterns (recipes) within its settings, changeovers will be completed faster and with less effort. Keep in mind that the minutes spent readjusting the settings of your case packing machine are not dedicated to packing the product.

Furthermore, investing in equipment that protects your product will have a positive impact on your ROI. A product is not profitable if it does not meet the requirements of the industry. Case packers equipped with state-of-the-art vision systems can now identify packaging defaults and reject unfit product If a product is flagged, it will be placed in a separate pile and can be disposed of as required. This prevents you from shipping poor product and limits returns to suppliers.

Image courtesy of Premier TechCase_Packer_PREMIERTECH.jpg

With easy size changeover, you can case pack various sizes of jugs with one equipment.



Conclusion

Automating jug line for granular product can and is being done. It is, perhaps, tempting to want to limit the automation process to only one or two pieces of equipment on your jug line, but you should consider automating the entire jug line. If your team is not able to maintain the production rhythm because automated equipment is too fast for them, all your efforts to optimize the line will be for naught. 

 

Jean-Robert Boudreau is engineering director, and Sylvain Bonneville is mechanical design manager, Premier Tech Systems and Automation. For more information, call 866-571-7354 or visit www.ptsystemsautomation.com.

 

Article courtesy of Packaging Digest's sister publication Powder & Bulk Solids

Using the Pandemic Economy to Finance the Factory of the Future

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Manufacturers have been forced to adapt during COVID-19. Under the pressures of the pandemic, factory owners reevaluated their businesses and moved in the direction of greater efficiency. They’ve been making strategic bets on building the factory of the future, adding new technology while stimulus dollars are plentiful and interest rates are low. The overall goal is improved efficiency.

 

Given that, how do you build the factory of the future: one that features modern inspection equipment, machines with better cycle times, and simplified scheduling and planning through automation? To answer this question, we spoke with Greg McHale, founder and CTO of Datanomix, a company that helps factories improve their performance.

First, manufacturers have to acknowledge that their current systems are out of date. “Anyone who runs a factory knows when they come in, they have no idea whether production is going to be good or bad that day,” McHale tells Design News, a sister publication of Packaging Digest. “They have benchmarks from say 2004, and they think they’re doing well, but there is plenty of surprise when they find out their processes can be done more quickly.”

 

If You Have to Change Anyway, Get More Efficient

COVID-19 came along and forced manufacturers to change their processes. For one, they had to thin out the labor line. “As we’ve moved through the pandemic and managers try to run their factories in constrained ways, it’s time to shed inefficiencies,” says McHale. “It’s hard enough when things are normal. But with the need to create space between employees, they had to look at what levers they had to make things more efficient? The most obvious levers are automation tools.”

One popular automation tool is the robot. Another, IoT. “You’re seeing a ton on new robots doing inspection, counting parts, and offering hands-free technologies. You’re seeing managers get better insight into where IoT might play. Every technology is a lever that is waiting for folks to pull,” says McHale. “Another key point is you don’t go from paper to virtual reality goggles in a day. You take incremental improvements and string them together to get a better factory.”

 

The Transforming Power of Economic Calamity

McHale notes that the trying periods of 2001 and 2008 have prepared factory owners for the new era of manufacturing in 2020. The Dot Com Bust in 2001 and the Great Recession in 2008 shook manufacturers to their core. “In the first trying period of 2001, we heard the same theme of difficulties in factories that we’re hearing now,” says McHale. “I lived through 2001, but a lot of my friends didn’t. You had the Dot Com Bust, and I can’t believe we survived that.”

Next to come was the Great Recession. “In 2008 it was the same story: Armageddon with a credit freeze. The economic stimulus helped people made it through,” says McHale. “People who survived those downturns look back and say, ‘I wish I had invested in a few more machines and technology. I could have grown more significantly.’”

The pandemic brings manufacturers to the same challenge. Improved efficiencies have become a mandate. “Now is the time to be more aggressive about technology. Companies are going to faster machines. As many as 50% of manufacturers are planning an expansion using the capital they have in real estate and pouring it into the business,” says McHale. “2020 is scary, but it’s matched with unprecedented levels of stimulus. You can freeze when scary things happen, or you can get aggressive.”

 

Buying Technology Comes at a Lower Risk

New technology doesn’t require the leap it did in the past. Advanced manufacturing technology is less expensive, and plug-and-play options have improved significantly. “Buying a piece of machinery in 2008 was different than in 2020. Now there’s an expectation of connectivity. People can plug into data collection and data analysis systems,” says McHale. “The components of electronics allow companies to offer more and more capable machines. The technology needed to drive production is affordable now.”

Plus, money is cheap during this economic downturn. “You can couple inexpensive technology with a low-interest rate capital market,” says McHale. “There days manufacturers know with certainty what their costs are going to be and how the technology is going to get integrated. That means fewer variables and less risk than in earlier recessions.”

 

Bringing Manufacturing Home

Manufacturers are also using the pandemic to revamp their supply chains, looking for nearby reliable suppliers. “The repatriation of manufacturing is taking hold during the pandemic. COVID-19 has brought about a new perspective on the supply chain,” says McHale. “Offshoring has helped us, but there’s part of the supply chain that we send offshore at a risk. There’s a big push to make sure 5G tech components are built here. Some of our infrastructure that needs to stay in the US.”

The reduced cost that came from offshoring is beginning to become less of a factor in decisions about where to source supplies. “Companies are beginning to see that if you can produce goods 30% or 40 % more efficiently, that neutralizes the low labor costs overseas,” says McHale. “Quality is also a dimension in deciding where the goods are produced. If a nearby factory can produce exactly to your requirements, that’s big. When it comes to the precise, decent volume used in a finished end product, the cost isn’t as important as the quality.”

 

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cybersecurity. For 10 years, he was the owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

 

New Technique for Multi-Material 3D Printing

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A multi-layer, single material print sample from a new technique invented by researchers at Columbia University that uses selective laser sintering to print objects with multiple materials at the same time.

Researchers have developed a new technique to allow a laser-based 3D printing process that previously could only print with one material now use several at the same time.

 

A team of engineers at Columbia University in New York modified the selective laser sintering (SLS) process by inverting the laser so that it points upwards, they said. This change allowed for multi-materials printing using the process.

SLS is a process that prints parts out of micron-scale material powders using a laser; the laser heats the particles to the point where they fuse together to form a solid mass.

Additive manufacturing has become a low-cost and efficient way to print objects and parts, and has made major progress for industrial, commercial, and medical use in the last 10 years. 3D printing using one material is pretty straightforward; however, as most printed parts typically use more than one material, researchers have been trying to create methods to use multiple materials efficiently and effectively.

SLS is similar to other processes in that so far, printing has worked well when using powder made from one material. However, it’s been challenging to use different powders because of the need to selectively place different fine powders down together in an individual print bed, says John Whitehead, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering at Columbia who collaborated on the research.

“These powders can potentially become mixed at the boundaries both in layer and layer-to-layer, making separating the unfused material out again very challenging. Imagine trying to layer salt on top of pepper and then separating them out again,” he tells Packaging Digest's sister publication Design News.

 

Material Separation

Another issue with using multiple materials with SLS printing is that different materials act differently when heated—either by the laser or through the ambient heating that is common in these print beds—depending on their thermal/mechanical properties and the temperatures that they are exposed to, Whitehead told us. “This can make the overall print more unpredictable,” he says.

To solve the problem, Whitehead and his colleagues separated the print bed from one single chamber into multiple separate glass print trays to “greatly” reduce material mixing, keeping the materials separate and allowing each print tray to be processed under different conditions, he says.

The process works like this: researchers coat a piece of glass with a very thin layer of material powder, and press a print platform on top. They then direct a laser up through the bottom of the glass, which fuses a selected region of the powder to the platform.

“The platform is raised up, and the glass can be recoated with a fresh powder layer, repeating the process over and over fusing new layers to the previous ones generates a solid part,” Whitehead told Design News. “Using multiple pieces of glass coated with different powders, we can move the print platform around, or rotate the glasses under it, fusing different materials in the same printed part.”

The team published a paper on their work in the journal Additive Manufacturing.

Researchers demonstrated that their process works by generating a 50-layer thick, 2.18-millimeter sample out of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) powder with an average layer height of 43.6 microns and a multi-material nylon and TPU print with an average layer height of 71 microns.

The process also could be used with other thermoplastics, such as PLA and PA12, and potentially with metals as well, Whitehead says. In fact, the team’s next step is to test how it works with printing metal components, he says.

For commercial applications, researchers envision using the process to fabricate “complex components out of multiple high-strength materials, with a wide array of different mechanical, electrical and thermal properties,” Whitehead adds, such as those required in the aerospace, medical, and robotics fields.

 

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time, she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

New Products

New Dust Collector Optimized for Fiber Lasers

Image courtesy of RoboVent Dust_Collector_ROBOVENT.png

Fiber laser cutting machines put unprecedented cutting power and speed in the hands of fabrication shops and manufacturers. But faster cutting speeds create new challenges for laser cutting dust control. That’s why RoboVent developed the Senturion dust collector specifically for fiber laser cutting.

 

Senturion is a powerful dust collector that has been optimized for the volume and type of dust produced by fiber laser cutting. Fiber lasers produce large volumes of very fine particulates moving at high velocities within the laser enclosure. This dust can become deeply embedded in the filter media, making it difficult to pulse off and causing premature filter loading. If filters become clogged or the dust collector simply cannot keep up with the volume of particulate produced, dust builds up in the laser enclosure. Over time, excess dust can damage costly laser cutting equipment and lead to product quality issues or safety concerns.

“Senturion was designed with the end user in mind, to better protect people and equipment from fumes generated from fiber lasers,” says Rick Kreczmer, president of RoboVent. “Fiber lasers create higher loads very fine particulate, which creates challenges for the fume collection industry. Senturion has been designed to handle the high cutting speeds and rapid filter loading inherent to fiber lasers, so they deliver better performance for end users and our manufacturing partners.”

Senturion addresses the challenges of fiber laser cutting dust collection with several adaptations: a powerful and efficient motor-blower combination to ensure adequate airflow for laser cutting  applications; a lower air-to-cloth ratio (more filter media per CFM of air) to handle large volumes of dust; an advanced pulsing system to prevent dust from becoming embedded in the filter media; Pleatlock filters, which have better pleats and more filter media to capture more dust with less loading.

RoboVent, Sterling Heights, MI 888-298-4215 ww.robovent.com

Flexible Packaging

Pouch with Built-in Agitator Shakes Up Supplements Market

Go Mix Go Mix 7NRG Group

Contract packager Go Mix feels it’s time for health-minded consumers to put away messy powdered drink containers, the clunky blender, and keep the shaker bottle in the cupboard.

They’ve invented an easier way for consumers to prepare their preferred healthy beverage that’s portable, eliminates the need for chemical preservatives, and is far more convenient.

The company’s clever, packaging-driven solution offers pouch packaging with a built-in agitator. All consumers have to do is add water to the pouch containing a custom-formulated protein powder, add water, shake, and enjoy. The packaging is patented in China and is patent-pending in the US.

Packaging Digest offers the following highlights based on custom input from Go Mix  co-founders Joe Hansley and Paul Sorbo.

Their experience provided the inspiration.

As a former college and professional athlete, Hansley, who saw a need in the market for a more convenient way to transport and consume nutritional supplements on the go, is a packaging engineer with expertise in enhancing the consumer experience. Sorbo, a strong advocate in preventative medicine and brain health along with a passion for helping others achieve optimal health, owned and operated nutrition stores. 

The company’s first commercial product was delivered in April 2019.

Go MixGo Mix Pouch Agitator Illustration

Key benefits of the packaging and formulation.

The weight and carbon footprint of the liquid-free product packaging is reduced versus a traditional plastic bottle.

Preservatives are eliminated with the patented approach because water is added at the time of use. Go Mix points out that when protein is in a liquid suspension, it degrades over time, which is why preservatives are added to drinkable formulas to prevent that from happening. “These are not necessarily healthy for the body,” they add.

The founders claim that the dry-mix concept permits the packaging of products that otherwise are impractical. For example, a pouched version of TSA-friendly “greens” for drinkable consumption are now possible.

Pouches are available in three single-serve sizes.

The custom-designed pouches are available in sizes of 10, 12, and 16 ounces, all with a similar shape. Go Mix says that these sizes enabled brands to further reimagine formulation possibilities by providing flexibility in serving size.

“We do this to ensure the packaging functions as desired with the requested liquid mixing volume,” they say.

The multilayer pouch film is made of PET/ polyamide (nylon) and claim it is recyclable.

The company declines to identify suppliers, but adds “we have been able to create multiple different partnerships to create a supply chain that can efficiently provide our exclusive packaging to the market. We have incredible partnerships with oversea suppliers.”

The company is in the process of bring the entire operation stateside.

“At that time we will have access to particular film that is already 60% recycled,” adds Go Mix, “and eventually to fully biodegradable packaging.”

Go MixGo Mix options graphic

Plastic agitator is like the mixing ball used with blender bottles.

After water is added and the contents are shaken, the design works exceptionally well to break up clumps of powder in order to provide a smooth flowing product.

The mixing ball is just a bit larger in diameter than a quarter, which is considerably larger than the diameter of the spout. It was designed to be placed inside of the pouch during the manufacturing process and remain inside during consumption.

The agitator is made of the same type of plastic as the pouch.

Government application example: Me Biosciences.

Go Mix says that customer Me Biosciences is all about delivering customized nutrition to soldiers in a convenient method. The packaging provides a lightweight solution to provide them with customized nutrition based on consumers circumstances that maximize their use of light-weighted liquids or meals. The idea of this is to be able to provide them the proper nutrition without the preservatives, in a lightweight solution to help them in a number of different circumstances from deployment to reduced storage and shipping on locations including naval ships.

  • First run of product was delivered in January of 2020.
  • Partnered with Go Mix to create products that cater to the specific needs of their consumers through a number of workout supplements in the Go Mix packaging.
  • Products provide individuals a customized formula to conveniently fit their specific nutritional needs.
  • Received Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding from the US Air Force to implement this precision nutrition within the special forces.
  • Go Mix will supply the military a simple and convenient solution on-base and in the field to maximize performance and efficiency of the soldiers.

Brand owner application example: Built By Strength.

  • Partnership was initiated in a first run of product delivered in June 2020.
  • Brand is official protein sponsor of USA wrestling.
  • Focused on the sports nutrition market and providing athletes with high quality pre- and post-workout products.
  • Produced a whey protein isolate and pre-workout supplement utilizing Go Mix packaging.
  • Partnered with Go Mix to bring the product into the locker rooms of professional and collegiate sports teams such as NFL, NBA, MLB, and NCAA, etc., to help provide athletes with a convenient solution for a pre- and post-workout. It’s a way for teams to travel light due to the waterless, portable nature of Go Mix.

“We’re seeing interest in the products as staples in gyms and health clubs as a different option to traditional ready-to-drink beverages that eliminates the need for refrigeration and preservatives within the product,” say the founders.

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Poised for other opportunities.

Other brands in the patented pouch include Natural Recovery Greens, a new venture that involves greens and wellness formulas in a ready-to-drink delivery system that Go Mix reports will be coming soon to market.

Launching this fall is VYBE, which plans to disrupt the energy drink market with a healthier solution that improves cognitive function and reduces negative blue light effects. Go Mix anticipates the product could become a video gamer’s go-to beverage choice.

Reasons behind the company’s rapid growth.

  1. According to the founders, providing a unique product with a unique delivery method allows customer companies to differentiate their product line visually and functionally. Presenting an on-the-go convenient option with certain powders was not previously practical for some brands due to Minimum Order Quantities (MOQs) or functionality that now Go Mix can supply them.
  2. Brands can reimagine certain formula options for a single-serve, convenience-based product. Unique ingredients within formulations such as CBD allows brands to create completely new concepts that are beneficial for consumers and fit seamlessly into their lifestyles.

Entire protein supplements market is experiencing healthy growth.

With a 2019 value estimated at $17.6 billion that’s expanding at a clip of 8.0% yearly, the global protein supplements market size is driven by an increase in health and fitness centers and consumer health consciousness. It doesn’t hurt that popularity is increasing among millennials along with the development of innovative protein-based supplements in different forms, according to Grand View Research’s report published February 2020. Forms can be considered synonymous with packaging, which in this market include powders in canisters and bags along with bottled, ready-to-drink dairy and nondairy refrigerated and shelf-stable products.