Bakers can improve
and product integrity by
Much packaging efficiency has been achieved in recent years through automation. Technology not only improves line speed, but impacts product quality by removing potential sources of contamination that may result from human contact. Automating the packaging process also offers likely savings by minimizing waste and reducing labor costs.
Automated packaging machines offer a variety of advantages to the baker, from product inspection to product flow and positioning. Robotic systems can accommodate various types of bakery applications, and are typically versatile enough to be integrated into existing production systems at minimal, if any cost to floor space. Robotic systems can be custom tailored to the baker's needs.
Although automated machinery provides several significant means of optimizing the production process, the packaging material itself can be designed for maximum efficiency. Careful attention to packaging size and guage, or thickness, helps streamline costs and minimize waste. Bakers also can capitalize on consumers' demand for improved sustainability by increasing awareness of the recyclability of many forms of packaging materials, particularly bags used in packaging bread.
Automation's just reward
Automated packaging equipment can accomplish numerous tasks that were once highly labor intensive, many of which resulted in repetitive motion injuries. These robotic machines effectively increase production because they operate faster and more efficiently than manual labor, notes Kevin Pearson, vice president, Arr-Tech Manufacturing Co., Yakima, Wash. In addition, product integrity is improved by eliminating potential contamination from human handling.
Production efficiency is enhanced by the precision inherent in a mechanized process. “By creating a repeatable and consistent process through the use of automation, the variables that might otherwise exist are eliminated,” says Joe Dyke, manager, packaging automation, Inline Plastics Corp., Shelton, Conn. “A constant rate of production can be established, planned for and counted on.”
After an automation system has been installed, overall production efficiency manifests itself beyond the packaging process as line operators are forced to correct deficiencies that become apparent upstream, Pearson notes. “This will result in a higher percentage of product going out to market and not to the scrap or rework bin,” he adds.
Robotic packaging machines are available for a wide range of applications, including package handling, denesting, ergonomic loading, automatic closure, labeling and box tapers and automatic palletizers, Dyke notes.
Automation systems reduce a labor-intensive packing process “by eliminating the need for manual sorting, counting, stacking and packaging,” Pearson says. “Arr-Tech's full line of automation includes a counter stacker that increases count accuracy and provides bag-ready stacks; an auto stack indexer that presents single stacks with maintained integrity, and an index timing conveyor that distributes stacks to the bagger in timed sequences. Working in conjunction with the bagger, an inline bag sealer seals and trims the product bags, and the package accumulation conveyor delivers packaged product to the MARQ Paq-N-Seal for case packing and sealing.”
JLS Automated Systems & Robotics, York, Pa., offers a series of robotic solutions from a single robot cell to dual cells to multiple cells. The single robot cell includes a single incoming product lane; tray and blister pack loading; collating/singulating; product orientation and alignment; and product inspection, while multiple robot cells provide a complete packaging solution. The advanced intelligent vision system is capable of picking only acceptable product and ignoring that which is unacceptable.
Equipment suppliers, such as Inline Plastics Corp., provide technical support from the onset, by including an initial on-site evaluation and follow-through with a return on investment analysis for proposed purchases, to the installation phase, training and ongoing support, Dyke notes. Thus, bakers can capitalize on the expertise of both packaging equipment and material suppliers when seeking improvements in efficiency and optimization of their production processes.
Marketing packaging efficiency
Bakers have the opportunity to follow Kellogg's example by increasing consumer awareness of ways packaging efficiency can be achieved. The Battle Creek, Mich.-based company uses its emphasis on packaging efficiency as a marketing tool by citing ways it has optimized packaging materials. Kellogg's makes the following claims on its Web site, www.kelloggcompany.com:
The first box of Kellogg's® Corn Flakes® came off the line in 1906 packaged in 100 percent recycled paperboard. Since that time, Kellogg's has used recycled board for most of its products.
Kellogg's has eliminated 4 million lb. of packaging by taking out the cardboard backing on its Special K® cereal bars.
More than 3 million lb. of plastic packaging was eliminated through liner reductions in 2006.
Optimizing packaging material
Manufacturers of packaging materials must concern themselves with optimization and efficiency every bit as much as producers of ingredients, equipment or finished baked foods, particularly as consumers become more environmentally aware and concerned about sustainability. Not only does the size and guage, or thickness of the package address sustainability, but also the amount of ink used, notes Scott Barth, president, Barth Packaging Inc., Coplay, Pa.
The package merchandises better when it is not too big for the product, Barth notes. “For a long time, bakers have done a great job of having a lean package. It fits like a glove,” Barth adds. “As a result, there are marginal gains to be made. Instead, the focus of the message has to be on increasing the awareness of the recyclability of the package.”
Bread bags are made from low density polyethylene (LDPE), which carries the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) resin identification code No. 4. The challenge in recycling these bags is finding the municipal streams to get the package into, Barth notes. However, some regions have programs, and some plastic grocery bag recycler programs allow the LDPE bread bag, so consumers should check with their local authorities first.
Ink usage also factors into sustainability. “We have saved over $50,000 on a particular line by optimizing package size and taking unnecessary ink off,” Barth says. “There's a better story to be told in today's market because bakery products offer greater health benefits. As packaging people, we want to help our bakers express that in a clear manner, which is a tricky task. You can end up with a pretty cluttered package with too many messages.”
To avoid an overly cluttered package, Barth suggests the two primary display panels, the gusset and the face, contain two main messages — the brand identification and the variety or flavor. Health attributes can be expressed in a close-up view, either as a storyboard on the package's bottom or as a banner on its face.
Barth Packaging has a banner where secondary messages can be displayed, such as the number of grams of whole grains per serving or whether the product contains fiber.
Bakers can work with packaging material suppliers on optimization by careful use of package size, guage and ink, and by helping to educate consumers on the recyclability of plastic material.