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Weighing keeps food packing costs in check

 

Peacock has nearly 20 of the checkweighers like the one above distributed among its three separate plants in Illinois. It can have 30 to 35 lines running at up to 150 packs/min per shift.

Peacock Eng., a contract packager that specializes in the packaging of shelf-stable, dry foods and several household and health and beauty products, works with heavy hitters such as Kraft, Quaker Oats, Land 'O Lakes and others. No stranger to packaging a variety of food products, Peacock began packaging food in the 1980s. But recently, the CP experienced a weight problem - a checkweighing problem with its packages, that is. And with accurate weighments being mandatory and expected by its food customers, which rely on Peacock to bring their products to market, the CP faced some challenges in meeting customer expectations while keeping a lid on escalating costs, says Peacock's Tom McCaffer, vp of operations.

In the contract packaging business where slim margins are the norm, out-of-line costs and expensive capital expenditures can make or break an operation. The packer had been renting checkweighers from a used equipment dealer, but this proved impractical. Then, Peacock discovered AS 1200C checkweighers from Loma Systems (www.loma.com), which solved its reliability problems and improved its weighing accuracy. The AS 1200C systems also reduced the labor of rework, and provided the ability to check every unit package for the correct number of items. "If product accuracy is off, we have to manually pull packages apart, which adds to our internal rework costs," McCaffer says. "By consistently meeting our food customers' parameters, we have the opportunity to gain additional business."

Peacock packs a variety of different types of products in an equally diverse set of primary and secondary containers, depending on whether the products are multipacked. The packaging comprises nacho snack kits and multiple fruit-snack pouches in paperboard cartons; paperboard tray-packs of cookie and cracker pouches; candies in paperboard folding cartons; small, multipacked cartons of motion sickness tablets; bite-sized, individually wrapped granola bars in pillow-bags; and much more. The filled packs can weigh anywhere from 10 g to more than 2 lb.

Peacock's three plants - two in Itasca and one in Geneva, IL - serve customers nationally. The plants assemble packages on up to 15 different production lines per plant, using equipment that includes conveyors from Hytrol (www.hytrol.com) cartoners from H.J. Langen (www.langeninc.com), SWF's Tisma Div. (www.swfcompanies.com), Kliklok-Woodman (www.kliklok.woodman.com) and Adco (www.adcomfg.com) and baggers from Matrix Packaging Machinery (www.matrixpm.com), Triangle (www.trianglepackage.com) and Kliklok-Woodman.

To reach its packaging accuracy goals, the company had to tackle its checkweighing issues head-on. And, while the rental systems provided a measure of accuracy, there were several hurdles to overcome, McCaffer says. Although originally, purchasing all-new checkweighers would have been cost-prohibitive and daunting, soon, he began looking into it.

"We were spending several thousand dollars a year on the rental leases for used equipment, which turned out to be more expensive in the long run," he says. "Historically, we liked used equipment because it usually was more cost-effective. Years ago, not every application needed a checkweigher. Now, however, checkweighing is critical to our business. Achieving accurate weighments also reflects on the abilities of the product filler, bagger or cartoner to meet the tight weight ranges some customers want. Some accuracy demands are plus or minus one gram, which can be difficult to achieve on many scales. And some of the candies we package are tricky because each individual candy might weigh a gram or two, but kids know how many should be in a box, so there can't be any less, but at the same time, there can't be any more in the box, either. So today, every line has to have at least one checkweigher in place after cartoning or bagging and before case packing."

Shopping the show

Peacock's rented checkweighers weren't as flexible or as reliable as it would've liked. A trip to the Pack Expo show in Chicago (www.pmmi.org) proved serendipitous for Peacock, McCaffer recalls. "We stopped by the Loma Systems booth because we already had a couple of their metal detectors, so we were interested in finding out what checkweighing options they could offer."

Loma showed Peacock the AS 1200C checkweighers, which were designed to cost-effectively address weight-control applications. Incorporating features of systems that can be twice as expensive, the AS 1200C checkweigher was a direct hit for Peacock. Acting as an end-of-the-line "policeman," the compact system is constructed of 304 stainless steel and can weigh products at a top production line speed of 260 ft/min with accuracies of +/- 1/2 g on the products Peacock packages. The system has a target weight range from 12 to 1,200 g, memory storage for up to 100 product specifications and RS output for linking with a host computer.

"The biggest difference between the Loma checkweigher and what we were looking to replace was easily understood by the people on the [production] floor as well as the integrators and the mechanics," McCaffer adds."It's easy to use and program. Quality [Control] loves it because it can lock in the parameters from job to job. And Loma's located nearby, so parts and service are also very easy to get. What also made it attractive is that we were able to finance the units."

Peacock currently has purchased nearly 20 of the checkweighers distributed among its three plants. In addition to the AS 1200C units, Peacock also has standard-weight and lightweight versions of the AS checkweigher to handle products with fill-weight parameters that fall outside of the AS 1200C's range. The CP has also installed additional metal detection systems and an x-ray system from Loma on its lines.

One or more per line

Accuracy in weighments is especially critical with Peacock's movement into more clubstore applications, McCaffer says. "No longer is it acceptable to just have a checkweigher on a line. It has to be reliable, a system that can ensure that all forty baked goods in a package are in the package, instead of just thirty-nine," he says. With 30 to 35 production lines operating per shift at speeds of 100 to 150 packs/min, a visual weight check isn't enough, he continues. "We had to put checkweighers on every line. Sometimes, two on a line—one upstream and one downstream."

The lines are more efficient, McCaffer points out, because no one has to stop to adjust, reset or fix a problem with the checkweighers or spend so much time changing parameters. "We save time and labor because we don't have to stand around and wait while someone is inputting weights and correcting problems if the weight [parameters] aren't set correctly. We now have a simple and codified procedure, where Quality gives us a weight range and a midpoint, and we can program that into the system, along with product identifiers. So the next time we have a production run of that product, we're all set to checkweigh."

The machine reduces giveaway and underweights and maintains a range of production statistics to monitor and improve efficiency, McCaffer says. "We don't have specific accuracy figures, but the drop in giveaway has been dramatic."

At the start of a production run, operators simply key product information into the checkweigher's keypad control and the system is ready to operate. After the products are pouched, cartoned, bagged or tray-packed, the package passes over the checkweigher scale. If it meets target weight, it moves on to be case-packed and palletized. If not, an air blast pushes the rejected pack off into a bin for manual weighing and inspection, which McCaffer says doesn't happen very often.

If starting with a new, unfamiliar product running for the first time, Peacock weighs the product, the individual components and the packaging material to check variances on a static scale and get reference points and then dynamically (in-line, in-motion) programs the AS 1200C system for the particular package's tare weight to give the checkweigher a reference point, a minimum weight and an overweight measurement.

No news is good news

Peacock has seen an ROI on the systems within a few months to a year, depending on the line, McCaffer tells PD. Peacock has much to crow about because customers don't. "Our complaint level for missing items has gone way down," he says. "Customers track complaint levels very carefully. They'll let us know if we aren't hitting the numbers."

More information is available:

Checkweighers, metal detectors:Loma Systems, 630/588-0900. www.loma.com.

Conveyors:Hytrol Conveyor Co., 870/935-3700. www.hytrol.com.

Cartoners:Langen Packaging, Inc., 905/670-7200. www.langeninc.com.

Tisma cartoners:SWF Companies, 559/638-8484. www.swfcompanies.com.

Cartoners, baggers:Kliklok-Woodman USA, 770/981-5200. www.kliklok.woodman.com.

Cartoners:Adco Mfg., 559/875-5563. www.adcomfg.com.

Baggers:Triangle Package Machinery, 800/621-4170. www.trianglepackage.com.

Baggers:Matrix Packaging Machinery, Inc., 262/268-8300. www.matrixpm.com.

Pack Expo trade show:Packaging Machinery Mfrs. Institute, 703/243-8555. www.pmmi.org.

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