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Dessert Maker Sees a 'Shrink'
Shrink-wrappers cut profit shrinkage for Lakeview Farms, saving on packaging material, rework, downtime and labor
by Ray Kemble
As production was ramped up at dessert-maker Lakeview Farms, it became evident to management at the company’s Bristol, Wis., plant that shrink wrapping was shrinking profitability. L-bar shrink wrap machines were adding labor and excess material to the cost of the product, says Peter Fink, plant manager.
“We had a mix of five manual L-bar machines and one automatic, and the process took too many people, too much time, and too much film,” he adds.
After testing a number of alternatives, Fink was approached in early 2004 by Lantech’s area distributor, Harder Packaging (Madison, Wis.), about trying a beta version of the then-new SW-1000 intermittent motion shrink wrapping machine.
“Lantech needed a site that would run the machine hard, and we had the same footprint as the existing equipment, along with the side seal,” says Bryan Scott, Harder’s sales manager. “We installed that first machine in an hour.”
A total of three such machines have since replaced the L-bar machines. Downtime, except for roll changes, has all but been eliminated. In addition, three employees have been reassigned from packaging, while reduced film consumption, alone, will offset the cost premium over L-bar machines. More important, the machines are just plain reliable, putting out more than 500,000 multipacks in just a few weeks of early 2005 “with hardly a hiccup,” according to Fink.
Founded in Delphos, Ohio, in 1988, Lakeview Farms has since tripled the size of its headquarters plant to 90,000 square feet and purchased other plants in Bristol and Paramount, Calif. Increasing the size of those operations, too.
The product line includes refrigerated desserts, dips and cheesecake, sold under primary brands of Lakeview Farms, Winky, Luisa’s, Margarita Desserts and Real Desserts. These are marketed by Wal-Mart, Kroger, Albertson’s, Publix and other industry leaders. The company also provides private labeling.
The Bristol plant is an efficient, flow-through design that was originally built under the direction of Kraft Foods. The primary product is ready-to-eat desserts puddings and gelatins. Much of the output goes into Winky brand Fun Packs and Pudding Pals consisting of 12, 4-oz single-serve cups that are multi-packed in a low-rise corrugated tray and shrink-wrapped.
Cooked product is pumped to four cross-filling machines that fill and seal the cups. Downstream, a pick-and-place machine inverts the cups and places them into the tray, before releasing the tray for shrink wrapping. Four shrink-wrapped trays are manually cased for shipping.
With the plant running 24 hours, six days a week, management focused on bringing more efficiency to the shrink wrapping operation.
“We had been using shrink packaging for about five years and simply outgrew the technology we started with, which was mostly manual L-bar machines,” Fink says. “Our growth was gradual, so we compensated with time and labor to maintain output with the packaging equipment we had. We endured a lot of downtime for changing the seal wires 4 to 5 times a day, and we had a lot of rewrap, too, as a result of bad seals. We can’t allow poorly wrapped product to leave the plant, because if a multipack comes apart in the store, we’ll hear about it from our customer.”
Management also wanted to address film consumption. For speed, the 13” L x 8” W x 4” H packs were fed with the 13” dimension as length, so trimming off the side seal was excessive when using 18-inch, center-folded film. The manual machines also facilitated film waste by allowing the operator to determine the bag length by how much film was pulled through for each pack, and hurried operators were not worried about using “just enough” film. And whether manual or automatic, the L-bar machines sometimes crushed product in their jaws.
“We looked at other automatic L-bar machines and none of them would run for more than a couple of hours without a problem, or if they did run, the quality of the wrap was not to our standards,” Fink explains. “Based on positive experience with Lantech’s stretch wrapping machinery, we agreed to shake down their new SW-1000 shrink wrapping machine. They knew we’d put a lot of cycles on it in a short time, and this enabled us to suggest a number of improvements that were adopted as well.”
With its continuous rotary side-seal and reciprocating end-seal jaws, the SW-1000 provides a blend of technology found in a high-speed machine, but at the low end of cost, according to Fink. The SW-1000 is suited for polyolefin, PVC and LDPE films. With a maximum rate of 40 packs/min., the machine accepts min/max product sizes of 3” L x 1” W x 0.125” H to infinite length x 15” W x 8” H.
The wrapping machines utilize Lantech’s Ever-Clean rotary side-seal system in conjunction with an innovative electronic film drive. The rotary side-seal mounts a sharpened cutting wheel and a heated fusing wheel adjacent to each other on the same axis. The unique system allows setting of the true seal temperature, not an arbitrary voltage. Because the sealing wheel does not have to cut the film, the temperature can be set for the minimum needed to fuse, or laminate, the seam, instead of melting the film to a liquid state, which causes film build-up on the sealing surfaces. The heated wheel maintains light pressure against a special rubber back-up wheel.
“The side seal system has proved very reliable and easy to set up for our work force,” Fink says. “Film doesn’t stick to the sealing surfaces, so it has eliminated the need for routine cleaning.”
Variable frequency drives on the machine provide electronically controlled film collapse and product spacing – all settable through the machine’s control. The trim winder for the side seal is tension controlled. It only pulls on the trim when it senses “slack.” There is no clutch to adjust to compensate for the changing diameter of the trim spool. Thus, a very narrow edge trim can be used without it tearing and causing machine stops. And removing trim from the take-up spool is easier too, because the material cannot be over tightened on the spool.
Bag length is set in the machine’s control. Fink says this alone saves at least two inches of film per bag. And with the packs under better control by the machine, they can now be fed with the 8” dimension as length, so trim at the side seal is reduced by several inches.
The password protected control prevents unauthorized personnel from changing the machine’s settings, which is a nice feature, according to Fink.
“If you put a knob on a machine, you can be sure someone, who’s not supposed to, is going to turn it,” he adds.
Lantech’s control offers three levels of password protection to allow supervisors to control exactly who has access to what features. Running 60-ga., 18-inch, center-folded Bemis Clysar film, Lakeview Farms currently puts about 10,000 to 15,000 cycles per day on each of its three Lantech shrink-wrap machines.
“We’re producing more, with three fewer operators on the line, less material and virtually no rewrap,” Fink said. “We received the third machine just as we started producing a large order in early January. We just rolled the machine in, set it up, and within 20 minutes it was running...and we’ve never looked back.”
Ray Kemble of Kemble & Rude Communications, Inc. (Cincinnati, Ohio) can be reached at 513-871-4042 or firstname.lastname@example.org.