Vertical cartoners cope with 24,000 lb of pouched candy per hour

A custom control system and a clever arrangement of sensors developed by Ferrara engineering control help Ferrara’s five cartoners keep up with pouched candy.

BAGGER, CARTONER. Pouches of fruit snacks move through a combination scale.
BAGGER, CARTONER. Pouches of fruit snacks move through a combination scale.

When Ferrara Pan Candy Co. and Farley’s & Sathers merged in June of 2012, management of the new company, Ferrara Candy Co., Inc., discovered that greater manufacturing efficiencies could be gained by reorganizing certain operations.

Among the plants involved, few were affected more heavily than the one in Bellwood, IL, just a few miles east of Ferrara headquarters in Oak Brook Terrace, IL. The Bellwood plant is where products like Black Forest Fruit Snacks are produced in prodigious quantities and packaged in single-serve pouches that then go into folding cartons. Also pouched and cartoned here are a variety of fruit snacks made on a contract manufacturing basis for other brand owners.

The packaging equipment that handles this massive product output occupies what was formerly warehouse space in the Bellwood plant, and it includes the following pieces of packaging equipment:

• 15 high-speed combination weigh scales from Multipond situated on a mezzanine above the baggers. Why Multipond? “Because each one of them has to be capable of making 320 weighments per minute,” says Project Manager/Packaging Engineer Wendell Davis. “When it comes to that kind of speed, Multipond has figured it out.”

• 15 vertical form/fill/seal twin-tube baggers—one for each Multipond on the mezzanine above—from GEA; each twin-tube bagger is equipped with two Safeline metal detectors and two thermal-transfer coders from Videojet

• an impressive arrangement of conveyors from Dorner that move pouched candy from baggers to any one of five Smalley storeveyors

• five combination scales—some from Yamato and some from Ishida—that receive pouched candy from the storeveyors and deliver it to cartoners below them

• five cartoners, the three newest of which are from PMI Cartoning Inc.

Mettler Toledo checkweighers to ensure that manually filled corrugated cases contain the correct number of cartons

• A variety of case tapers and case coders. “In the reorganization we inherited a variety of tapers and coders,” says Davis. “But we are in the process of standardizing on Wexxar/Bel case tapers and case coders from Markem Imaje.”

A ‘dual system’
“We view it as a dual system,” Davis continues. “Seven scale/bagger systems receive freshly made product from either Mogul 5 or Mogul 6 and produce about 2,240 pouches/min. Right beside them are the other eight scale/bagger systems, which receive product from Mogul 5 or 6 and package about 2,400 pouches/min.”

And what, pray tell, is a Mogul? It’s a highly specialized and complex starch molding system used in candy manufacturing. For the purposes of this story, the only important thing to know about Moguls 5 and 6 at Ferrara is that they churn out 12,000 pounds of finished gummies and other fruit snacks per hour and that they’re set up to feed directly into the primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging equipment whose job it is to package that candy.

“We usually run two shifts a day six days a week,” says Davis. “The Moguls are the part you don’t want to mess with. Once they’re running, you want to keep them running.”

With direct feed to packaging at such high volumes, multiple combination scales and baggers is the only way to go—thus the seven scale/baggers for one Mogul and eight for the other. On the day we visited Ferrara, we focused primarily on Mogul 6, which was producing Black Forest Fruit Snacks. Four GEA baggers discharge onto one takeaway conveyor and the other four discharge onto a parallel takeaway conveyor. Both these conveyors drop their pouches onto a single conveyor running at a right angle that takes pouches to a vibrator/feeder running at another right angle that feeds a bucket elevator. The elevator takes the pouches overhead to a complex and highly effective system of conveyors from Dorner that feed any one of five Smalley storeveyors.

As pouches ride upward on the bucket elevator, a proprietary vacuum system developed by Ferrara engineers removes any pouches that happen to be empty. “An empty pouch in a carton is a rarity, but it can occur when running at these speeds,” says Davis. “It’s not that they didn’t get the correct amount of product, because remember, the cartons are filled by weight. But if they get that empty pouch, they are not happy. That’s why we vacuum them out of the system before they reach the cartoners.”

Each of the five Smalley storeveyors feeds a dedicated combination scale that in turn feeds a dedicated cartoner below it. A proprietary network of sensors monitors the level of candy pouches in the storeveyors above the cartoners and feeds that real-time data to Ferrara’s control system. This is what enables the Dorner conveyors, with help from brush plows and other pouch-diverting mechanisms, to deliver pouches to whichever of the combination scales requires them.

“With low-count cartons, we use our system of Dorner conveyors to direct the flow of pouches to one cartoner that is capable of handling the bulk of the pouches and to a second cartoner that handles the excess,” says Davis. “On the other hand, when we’re doing an 18-count carton or higher, it becomes possible to send the pouches to a single high-speed PMI cartoner, because running at 150 cartons/min that machine can accept 2,700 pouches/min.

“The Dorner conveyors add the flexibility we need to direct this sizeable flow of pouches—2,240/min from one Mogul and another 2,400/min from the other Mogul—to whichever of the five cartoners we want to feed,” says Davis. “Dorner makes the best conveyors ever. And I get parts, service, anything I need in 24 hours or less. And then there’s the reliability they bring. Look at these conveyors. Two years of sticky, oily, sugary products and I haven’t had to change out a single belt. We know from experience that the same cannot be said about all conveyors that are available out there.”

'Cross feeding’
One other bit of clever conveyor connecting accomplished at Ferrara is what Davis calls “cross feeding.” It’s most useful when the variety in production is what’s known as CIS or “Center in Shell.” This is a piece of candy that has a liquid component in the center. Inevitably some of this liquid escapes over time and gums up the combination scales. If the production run that’s scheduled is a long one, it would be inefficient to halt everything while the scales are wiped down. Thanks to the flexibility provided by the conveyor system, this isn’t necessary. Instead, the flow of CIS candy is diverted from the eight scale/bagger systems that need to be cleaned to the other seven scale/bagger systems until maintenance can clean up the eight in need of wipe down.

One feature on the PMI cartoners comes in especially handy when low-count cartons are being filled. “On the six- and 10-count cartons you’re looking at a pretty small opening,” says Davis. “So when you’re trying to drop product in there at high rates of speed, you can run into problems with bridging. But the PMI cartoner has tooling that opens up the top to address that issue. It cuts out all kinds of waste and re-work.”

It was Cartoner #3 that was putting pouches of Black Forest Fruit Snacks into 10-count cartons on the day we visited the Ferrara plant. A model VL2-12 continuous-motion vertical cartoner, it uses a rotary carton feed to automatically pick flat, side-seamed carton blanks from an 8-ft magazine. Each carton is picked by vacuum cups and formed into a carton pocket fixture. These carton pocket fixtures are carried on a double-strand chain track that holds cartons securely to ensure a square carton during filling and sealing. The carton fixture chain is protected from debris by its unique design and does not need lubrication. The carton pocket fixtures are designed for use of quick-change pockets interchangeable for size changeover. Also notable are the graduated carton-folding plows, which work well for a wide range of carton sizes without change part plows. For cartons with narrow openings—the 5-, 6-, and 10-count cartons—a custom-designed cam-operated carton pocket is used.

For bottom sealing, minor dust flaps are folded closed with a rotating tucker blade, while major flaps are folded closed with static plows. Meanwhile, above the cartoning system, an Ishida combination scale measures the product charge by weight to fill each carton. The cartoner signals the Ishida to dump product. The full complement of product for each carton is discharged from the weigher in a single charge.

A prominent feature of the cartoner is the reciprocating servo-driven transfer spout assembly. It’s this assembly into which pouches are accepted from the Ishida scale. It minimizes the amount of time required to transfer pouches from the scale into the continuous-motion spouts that deliver pouches into the cartons. Pouches are discharged when the position of the reciprocating transfer spout unit is synchronized with that of the continuous-motion spouts beneath them. As soon as pouches have dropped from the reciprocating transfer spouts, these transfer spouts return to mate with the Ishida discharge station so that a new cycle can begin. At the same time, the continuous-motion spouts funnel pouches into the cartons as they move through on their double-strand chain track.

Controls package
The cartoner’s control system, a ControlLogix PLC from Rockwell, ensures that if a carton pocket does not hold a carton, there will be no product dump as that pocket moves beneath the continuous-motion spouts. Similarly, if a continuous-motion spout does not hold a charge of pouches, no carton will be erected for that carton pocket. But as long as product is confirmed as present in the continuous-motion spout and a carton is confirmed as present in its carton pocket, pouches are allowed to transfer into a carton once the positions of the carton and continuous-motion spout are matched. Vibration is used to settle the pouches in the carton at the fill stations. If no carton is detected in the carton pocket, pouches are held in the continuous-motion spout and the Ishida dump is prevented from dumping more pouches into that continuous-motion spout during the next cycle.

For top sealing, the top dust flaps are folded closed with a rotating tucker blade and static plows fold the major flaps closed. A single line of hot melt adhesive is applied by the Nordson ProBlue hot melt glue system that also applies glue for the bottom flaps.

Finished cartons emerge from the VL2-12 vertical cartoner on a flat-belt discharge conveyor. Any carton with an open flap is detected and rejected. Next is ink-jet coding by a Markem Imaje Model 9232 system that marks each carton with date and production code. Also, a Mettler Toledo checkweigher ensures cartons have the correct number of pouches. All that remains is manual case packing and case taping on the Wexxar/Bel unit.

Now that the high-volume pouching and cartoning operation is hitting on all cylinders, Davis says that automated case packing is being explored. He also notes that yet another cartoner from PMI is on the way, a hybrid system that will accept either pouched candy from a combination scale or hard candy like Ferrara’s famous Lemonheads that is not pouched and is dropped into cartons by a volumetric scale. “PMI will have to stretch the frame to give us target zones for both the volumetric dump and the combination scale dump,” says Davis. But he’s confident enough in PMI’s engineering know-how to expect few issues once the new machine arrives. Past history suggests his confidence is not misplaced. “Our fourth PMI vertical cartoner just began running in July, and it’s running very smoothly,” he says.

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