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Tf/f/s doubles sausage output

Workers load ropes of smoked sausage two-across into the package cavities of the tf/f/s machine. Prior to loading, the cavities are filled with a clear PE-based forming film web.

Savoie's Sausage & Foods, an Opelousas, LA, processor/packer of meats, sausages and prepared entrées, wanted to extend its popular local brand to a larger market base. For Savoie's, this meant a move beyond what it defines as "simple pouch packaging" to fully automatic vacuum packing of products in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Thanks to an M860 horizontal thermoform/fill/seal system from Multivac that replaces two semi-automatic pouching machines, the company has been able to double capacity and increase refrigerated shelf life from eight to 10 weeks, and expand distribution from Louisiana to at least three additional states, as well as to larger portions of Texas and to restaurants.

The machine has also allowed Savoie's to lower its energy consumption compared with the former pouching system, which required cool-down time.

"Our brand name and unique Cajun flavor have long been recognized locally, but Multivac's rollstock system helped us expand into bigger and more lucrative markets," states Eula Savoie, owner and president of Savoie's Sausage & Foods. "Supermarkets and foodservice retailers that had never seen our unique product lines before now see great opportunities for sales. They envision great potential to market our sausage-based meals to consumers. Response to the products and new packaging has been positive. So the packaging system is allowing us to compete in bigger markets."

Not only did Savoie's want to drive up sales in supermarket chains, but it also wanted to increase interest in its products with restaurants, an emerging percentage of its clientele. One customer owns a pair of Chicago-based restaurants specializing in Louisiana-style cuisine.

Being familiar with Multivac equipment, Savoie's called on the equipment supplier for the M860 machine, which would be required to accommodate a wide range of meat and sausage products. These include link and rope sausage in 1- to 4-lb quantities, sliced, pickled pork links, seasoned whole turkey roast, mixed, smoked and hickory-smoked sausage, boudin and even head cheese blocks in several quantities. Machine speeds vary by product variety, but they average about 14 cycles/min or 2,500 lb/hr, says plant manager Gerald Bouillon. "That's almost double what we ran previously," he points out. And the M860 reduces material waste in the process, he adds. "We don't have specific figures on the exact savings, but now that everything is done automatically, we notice less packaging waste."

The machine replaces two others: a semi-automatic chamber machine and an earlier Multivac machine, as well as a "much larger crew," Bouillon adds. "The M860 requires far less labor to run in less time. One of our previous chamber machines ran eight cycles a minute; the other ran nine cycles a minute on a two-pound package."

As the non-forming top web unwinds, it's date-coded and labeled before being covered and sealed to the bottom.

Like all Multivac machines, the tf/f/s system at Savoie's was customized to meet its requirements for many package configurations, ensuring that the packages would be optimized for packaging, shipping, stocking, selling, and ultimately, for convenient use by consumers. "We wanted a machine that could pack every product we make," Bouillon tells PD. "They assessed all of our products, and they made it work."

The equipment was installed and tested during a weekend, and completed in less than three hours. Production resumed ahead of schedule," says Eula Savoie. "Operations personnel adapted quickly to the machine controls."

Clearly durable structures
The system produces vacuum-packs using two rollstocks from Cryovac: a food-grade film featuring polypropylene and a Surlyn sealant forming web that's either 5 or 7 mils thick, depending on specific package draw depth (which ranges from 11/4 to 7 in.). This web is formed at temperatures of 120 deg C. Bouillon says the food-grade, non-forming web is a clear 2.6-mil nylon/Surlyn sealant coex film that's sealed to the forming web, also at 120 deg C.

The film rolls measure 422 mm wide. Bouillon says he believes the package structure to be durable, transparent and flexible, and it maintains the necessary residual oxygen and moisture levels needed to protect the meats while allowing for a clear view of the products. After they're loaded onto the vacuum system and a production run begins, the rolls unwind, and the webs index through a heating and forming station to a 4-ft product-loading area where prepared product is placed in divided container cavities. The packs are then vacuumized just prior to sealing to battle bacteria and spoilage.

The packages are produced as top and bottom webs of rollstock unwind at the machine's infeed. The base web is transported into and positively driven through the machine by individual grippers that hold the film flat and taught. Able to accept web widths from 10.2 to 24.4 in., and film gauges up to 30 mils, the M860's gripper chain allows for a wide tolerance in web widths and thicker films, eliminating problems such as film splitting. The grippers index the webs through to the discharge end and open smoothly to release the edge trim.

As the bottom film web progresses onto the forming-die box to a set of pockets or cavities positioned two- to six-up, a positive-forming process activates in which the semi-rigid film is heated, making it pliable, and is pulled by a vacuum and formed into the cavities. Air is blown onto the film as it is heated, stretching it into the cavities and distributing it evenly into the corners and edges. Heating temperature is controlled to achieve optimum forming conditions.

The shaped forming web inside the cavities indexes to the loading area between the forming and sealing stations, where the sausage products meanwhile are hand-cut or rolled and are weighed before being placed by operators into the package cavities. Next, the top web unwinds and is date-stamped by a Bell-Mark coder mounted in-line. The packs are also labeled with up to three pressure-sensitive labels by an in-line Etikettiertechnik GmbH labeler from Germany, mounted on the machine and provided by Multivac. As the webs advance, the meats are then covered with the top film web, which is then sealed to the bottom web in the sealing station. Just prior to sealing, however, a vacuum is pulled, which evacuates the air surrounding the product. The air is drawn away by a pump, which creates a vacuum, and the hot sealing platen seals the top and bottom webs hermetically, shrinking around the contours of each product.

The hot sealing platen employs custom sealing and forming dies and custom sealing pressure diaphragms made to suit each package size. The sealed web is soon separated into individual packages as the web is cut across the machine direction. As the edges are still held by the grippers, rotary knives then cut off the film in the longitudinal direction. The trim is still held by the grippers and is then displaced into a trim canister.

Individual packages leave the machine and are case-packed and palletized by hand. The cases are sealed with help from a Little David tape sealer from Loveshaw. The loads are then shipped by Savoie's own trucks or trailers or are routed to several regional distributors.

Increased shelf life?
The company runs the tf/f/s machine one 8-hr shift a day, Bouillon says.

Currently, Savoie's has three sets of interchangeable die changeparts, so it can change the machine over quickly in order to create "many" different pack sizes and shapes. That gives the plant production flexibility and provides more marketing appeal, Bouillon says: "We can produce one large bulk package or add inserts and make several smaller packs."

Current output of sausage products alone is an estimated 50,000 lb per week, according to Bouillon. The finished packs are sold under the Savoie's Real Cajun! tradename.

More information is available:

Tf/f/s system: Multivac, Inc., 800/733-3372. Circle No. 201.

Packaging films: Cryovac Div., Sealed Air Corp., 800/648-9093. Circle No. 202.

Date coder: Bell-Mark, 973/882-0202. Circle No. 203.

Labeler: MR Etikettiertechnik GmbH & Co. KG, 05224-931-0. Circle No. 204.

Tape sealer: Loveshaw Corp., an ITW co., 800/581-7119. Circle No. 205.

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