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Weighing in with panache

Working efficiently in a hostile environment almost round the clock can be a packaging machine's most formidable challenge. Yet that's the bottom line at Eastern Fisheries in New Bedford, MA. As the nation's leading supplier of scallops, which account for 99.4 percent of its processing business, Eastern is reaching for its first 50-million-lb year following annual gains in the 12-million-lb area, general manager Joe Furtado tells PD during a November visit. And, it's doing it with panache.

A pivoting, vibrator-mounted handling pan distributes the scallops sequentially to three weigh hoppers.

"This is basically a very hands-on industry, from hauling in the catch through obtaining the meat, grading by size, quality and color, and then packaging," he notes. "Experience shows there are limits to what packaging equipment can do in our plant."

The scallops, a high-value seafood that Eastern nets with its 11-boat fleet, supplemented by catches from the waters of the Pacific Rim, Canada, South and Central America and Russia, ship to institutional and retail markets internationally. "Because of this, we've learned just how much we have advanced toward a global marketplace," Furtado observes.

Getting there, though, means navigating some rough seas. With the catch undergoing off-line coating and individual quick freezing during its journey to the packaging line, his reference to hands-on handling suddenly becomes vividly real.

Drawn-out process
In the chilly, wet and caustic environment of the plant–one of two that Eastern operates in New Bedford–Furtado recalls the manual scooping of frozen scallops into 5-lb bags and cartons. "It was a slow, drawn-out process," he remembers, with output capped at about 1,200 lb/hr.

An experience with an automated weighing/bagging line was disastrous, he says. "Things kept going wrong. It couldn't take the long hours and washdowns." Because of an equipment installation preceding PD's trip by about 60 days, sailing is a lot smoother now in the Eastern plant.

Exact quantities of the frozen product, top, to an accuracy of 1/2-piece, load into a 5-lb transparent PE bag. The PLC-guided weigher, above, working more than a 20-hr day, easily handles the average 15/min output rate. A band sealer, below, is manually activated, with a powered conveyor moving bags to packoff.

Along with working days exceeding 20 hours, the new netweighing machine, Ohlson Packaging's Series 3-M-2 PIV, is boosting output to 2,900 lb/hr without breathing hard. And it does this with a 1/2-piece accuracy and no underweights. It replaces up to four people at the loading operation, Furtado says. "But most of all, it's the reliability that I appreciate," he notes.

The new weighing machine is premised on simplicity. As groups of the scallops are fed manually onto a segmented, powered incline conveyor, they flow into a vibrator-mounted handling pan, open at both ends. This and subsequent movements are moderated by a Control Technology programmable logic controller.

Pivoting in a small arc, the control pan moves the scallops sequentially to three weigh hoppers mounted to highly accurate loadcells. Each cell communicates with the PLC, and when the ideal weight is made, the scallops are released down a chute where a line worker waits with a bag taken from line-side stock.

As the bag is filled, it is passed off to the next station. Here, it is supported through the band sealer, a Zippy bagger from Weighpack Systems. This manually operated machine, working at about 15/min, sets the line's pace.

It is used for two 5-lb bags. One, filled during PD's observation, is a plain, transparent 31/2-mil polyethylene with six die-cut holes for ventilation, for private-label shipping. The second, flexo-printed in three colors with Eastern's distinctive logotype, features size/count and nation-of-origin checkoff boxes. Both are supplied by Skip's Marine.

The other 5-lb container is a six-corner-glued folding carton made of .020 SBS with an inside lamination of 1/2-mil LLDPE. It's produced by Fidelity Paper and Waypack in a tuck-top, automatic-bottom configuration and is printed via offset in four process colors plus a special PMS blue.

Filled 30-lb corrugated shippers are taped and loaded by hand onto pallets.

Feeding off the new weigher are also 10- and 30-lb bulk boxes for institutional sales. The corrugated shippers are primarily wax-dipped RSC structures, made with 250# B flute that are also acquired through Skip's Marine.

For the 5-lb bags, however, the shippers are a standard 30-lb capacity. After each is loaded, it is fed manually into an Eastern-built tape applicator for taping in the machine direction. Palletization is also manual. "We're in no hurry to automate these jobs," Eastern production manager Peter Medeiros tells PD, "since the products and their packages have to be and look as good as they can on the way to their destinations."

Meanwhile, back at Ohlson, another automatic weigher is being built for Eastern, according its sales/marketing director, Tobi Schultze, for fresh scallops–an even greater challenge.

In New Bedford, Joe Furtado says Eastern is bracing for anticipated larger increases in demand during the new year. "But now," he says, "we're ready for them."

More information is available:

Weigher: Ohlson Packaging, 508/946-9994. Circle No. 249.

PLC: Control Technology Corp., 800/282-5008. Circle No. 250.

Bagger: Weighpack Paxiom Systems, 514/422-0808. Circle No. 251.

Bags/shippers: Skip's Marine, 508/993-9446. Circle No. 252.

Carton: Fidelity Paper, 973/599-0222. Circle No. 253.

Carton: Waypack, 800/895-9222. Circle No. 254.

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