Packaging Line Design: Balancing Speed vs. Flexibility

Whether packaging lines run fast and furious or take a slow and steady approach to the production race, a certain level of flexibility is required.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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Independent lab tests for coliform bacteria, salmonella and other food safety markers are conducted after bulk ingredient blending and post-finished goods packaging. Until the lab returns a negative result, nothing moves to packaging or to finished-goods inventory. “The system doesn’t let us take an SKU out of sequence and before it’s cleared,” says Malcolm. “We can’t even print a packing slip before a product is cleared.”

Batch sizes up to 1,600kg/3,520 lbs. are blended in Dure’s ribbon blenders and transported to one of four packaging rooms, where 20 different jobs are run on a typical day. The can room, where tins and plastic bottles are filled, was set up when the building was occupied. The stick-pack room was commissioned in 2015; X-ray inspection is required because of the metalized film needed for oxygen and UV protection for dairy-based ingredients.

Pouch filling capabilities were added this year, with 2 lb. pouches of whey protein the most frequent application. Plastic jugs are the most commonly used containers for that product, Malcolm allows, but he opted for pouches because of the minimal storage space required for unfilled packages, as compared to jugs.

Those three packaging rooms can be described as semi-automated: Checkweighing is done manually on a periodic basis, and end-of-line casepacking and palletizing are done by hand. Throughput limitations didn’t prevent the world’s largest food company from contracting with Dure to build a fourth packaging area, a dedicated clean room within the plant. Sealed conduit, no hollow tubing, positive air pressure with HEPA filtration and other features consistent with the client’s food safety standards were incorporated into the enclosed space.

When the client was seeking a manufacturing partner, other copackers quoted 18-month lead times, according to Tim Laberge, plant manager. Dure delivered on a promise to be up and running in 3½ months.

“We’re very nimble; we can turn on a dime,” says Malcolm with a hint of pride. “That’s very helpful for some customers,” regardless of size.

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