NOTE: Food Processing & Packaging wasn’t the only area of interest at PACK EXPO. Click the links that follow to read more about innovations in: Machinery | Sustainable Packaging | Robotics | Pharma | Controls
Notable at PACK EXPO International was a brand new application (1) of Claranor’s pulsed-light decontamination, a technique used to decontaminate surfaces by killing microorganisms using short pulses of light in an intense broad spectrum that’s rich in UV-C light. This Claranor technology, in use since around 2005, brings Extended Shelf Life (ESL) to food, beverage, pharma, and cosmetics packaging.
The application debuting at PACK EXPO falls into the dairy category. Think polypropylene cups of yogurt, for example. These are usually sealed by way of a pick-and-place approach in which pre-cut lids are pulled from magazine feeds and heat-sealed to filled containers. Recently, however, a Danish firm called PrimoReels came up with a machine that replaces pre-cut lids in favor of roll-fed lids fed from perforated reels. Because as many as 40,000 lids come on a single roll, this approach greatly reduces the need for operators to refill magazines with fresh lids. PrimoReels also says the cost of the lidding can be reduced by 30%. That’s because the cut-and-stacked lids need to be in the 50-micron range in order to be sufficiently machinable in the pick-and-place equipment, while the roll-fed lids can typically be in the 36-micron range and some metallized polyester lids can be as thin as 23 microns. PrimoReels, it’s worth noting, is also the converter and supplier of the perforated roll-fed lidding.
Until PACK EXPO, the PrimoReels machine relied on UV light for decontamination. But the system demonstrated at PACK EXPO was the first to use Claranor’s pulsed light instead, which yields a more thorough decontamination. “This is especially true on microorganisms like molds, which are a constant quality challenge where yogurt products are concerned,” says Christophe Riedel, Claranor CEO.
On the system demonstrated at PACK EXPO, cups were being lidded eight across. The Claranor pulsed-light unit was positioned at floor level on the side near the roll-fed lid unwind cabinet. This arrangement occupies minimal space. In fact, just one Claranor pulsed light unit performs the decontamination task . The system brings eight lids into the unwind cabinet, the lids pause briefly so that the pulsed light can do its thing on the cup-contact side of the lids, and then those eight lids proceed into the part of the machine where two things happen:
• Specialized tooling—not a blade but more like a hammer—strikes the perforated reel in just the right way to cleanly separate each lid from the roll.
• Vacuum cups pick all eight lids and rotate down 180 deg to place them on the cups waiting below; a spot seal tacks the lids to the cup so the lids stay properly positioned until the cups reach the heat sealing station. Important to note here is the role played by a patented mechanism similar to a feed screw that causes the placement devices to separate left and right just the right distance so that each lid lands squarely on its designated cup.
Operating speeds are in the range of 45 cycles/min when cups are being sealed 10 across. Riedel says that no commercial applications of the Claranor/PrimoReels solution are in place yet. But he believes it’s only a matter of time. “We saw a good fit between PrimoReels and our pulsed-light decontamination,” says Riedel. “For one thing, pulsed light does not involve heat the way some alternative decontamination methods like hydrogen peroxide do. That’s another reason why it’s possible to use a very thin plastic material for your lidding.” Polypropylene, polyester, or metallized polyester can all be supplied by PrimoReels.
PrimoReels is now licensing suppliers in the U.S. to make it easier for brand owners to purchase roll-fed lidding materials from multiple local sources. Also worth noting is that the new decontamination system can be retrofit onto existing fill/seal lines.
Watch a video of the Claranor/PrimoReel solution.
Also on display at PACK EXPO was Claranor’s range of decontamination systems for metal lids and cans. “This is a growing area of interest for all beverage producers because it lets them arrive at an ultra-clean solution without the use of post-fill thermal treatment that might have a negative impact on flavor notes,” says Riedel. He adds that craft beer and kombucha are two categories that are especially suitable for such technology.
More cup filling
Well deserving of its tagline, “a new generation of cup filling machine,” the Versatech from Synerlink, a BW Packaging company, is a modular, ultra-flexible machine (2) that can fill cups from 40 to 150 mm at 12,000 cups/hr, with changeover from one format to another, including different shapes, materials, diameters, and heights, taking just 20 min from last to first container.
One key to the flexibility of the system is its modular design, which allows functions to be added, switched, or removed easily and quickly—from half a day to two days, according to Fabien Jégo, design leader and product marketing leader at Synerlink S.A. Each module is plug-and-play via a centralized cabling network. Through this network, each module automatically integrates with the rest of the system, both pneumatic and electric. The indexed position of the modules allows for simple placement and calibration, with a positioning accuracy of 0.1 mm.
Another feature that facilitates this flexibility is the machine’s ability to automatically load and unload slats, which Jégo says allows the customer to perform a slats change “in record time.” It also allows for fast and easy cleaning of the slats, with no tools required. Another advantage of the system’s fast return system is that fewer slats are required.
According to Jégo, the Versatech was engineered to address the top six issues currently facing users of cup filling machines. One is late-stage customization by brand owners. With the Versatech, “a project manager can place an order without having full specifications,” he explains. “The modular design allows final packaging design integration and functions modifications until the last minute.”
The second is a need for packaging versatility, as it allows a brand to respond to rapidly changing markets without having to wait for long lead-time machine redesigns. Jégo says the potential, in terms of the range of cup sizes, shapes, and materials, that the Versatech can handle is infinite. “We can process any cup within the mechanical range of the machine [40 to 150 mm in dia and 160 mm high], from standard stackable to non-stackable cups in plastic, cardboard, and glass,” he says. “Moreover, if a new generation of cup arrives on the market, the modularity of the Versatech will allow us to develop new functions and to implement them on the machines already in production.”
The cup filler has also been designed to adapt to a customer’s changing requirements, negating the need for packagers to purchase additional equipment as their business grows. Says Jégo, “We can imagine that a yogurt producer who starts his business might equip himself with a basic machine, and later on, when his market has evolved, he might add capacities to his machine, such as decontamination of the cups with pulsed light, a second dosing device for a fruit coulis [fruit puree] at the bottom of the cup, or a snap-on lid.”
And, on the subject of flexibility, the fourth issue the Versatech addresses is the ability to handle mixed batches, especially for customers such as co-packers who are running smaller-volume jobs. “It has never been so easy to fulfill mixed orders for a production manager,” says Jégo, who cites the machine’s 20-minute changeover capability.
The cup filler also tackles issues around labor, such as ease of use and ergonomics. “It is very important for a site manager to limit the turnover of his operators and to keep the experienced people,” says Jégo. “Our machine is designed to be extremely convenient to operate. The loading of consumables, such as cups, lids, and toppers, is done at chest height.” In addition, loading can be done while the machine is running. High visibility throughout the entire production process ensures the correct functioning of the machine and adjustments to the slats’ changeovers, transparency, weight, and size, reducing the risk of operator error.
The machine also meets a need for efficient maintenance. The Versatech uses clean, chainless servo technology to move the cups, which eliminates the need for grease used for lubrication and for readjustment of the chain over time. Maintenance operations are also aided by the machine’s easy disassembly and reassembly technology.
Synerlink particularly recommends the Versatech for applications that include dairy products, desserts, baby food, and fruits and vegetables.
An innovative semi-automatic stretch/seal application for food trays (3) made its debut at PACK EXPO International at the Point Five Packaging booth. “The idea is to address the problem of moisture buildup that you commonly see in film-wrapped trays of poultry or meat,” says Point Five president Greg Levy. “Too often this moisture leaks out of the pack and onto the consumer’s refrigerator shelf or kitchen counter, creating a most unwelcome mess. We’re using the same basic stretch film material but we seal it to the tray flange rather than wrapping it fully around the tray and heat sealing it on the bottom.”
With this approach the moisture has no opportunity to leak out. Plus it yields a film cost savings because the film only extends to the tray perimeter rather than wrapping around the sides and down to the tray bottom.
Watch a PACK EXPO video of this technology in action.
Another PACK EXPO International exhibitor that was focused on meat packaging was Formost Fuji. But in this case it was ground meat being flow-wrapped without the foam tray so commonly found in U.S. supermarkets. The FW3710B Box-motion, wet-duty stainless steel wrapper (4) can handle ground meat portions up to 40 lb in an 8-in-wide format at speeds to 120/min plus.
The most notable advantage of the new packaging system is the elimination of the non-recyclable polystyrene foam tray traditionally used for this type of product. “That’s the obvious benefit,” says Lee Benton, South Central sales manager for Formost Fuji. “Another advantage would be related to shipping of the product. It currently takes three trucks to ship product packaged with foam trays for every one trailer truck of ground meat product without the tray.”
Removing the tray also eliminates the need for packagers to purchase, ship, store, and handle the trays. “Customers aren’t getting three or four truckloads a day of trays, so they’re able to reduce the footprint in their warehouse because they need less storage space,” Brenton remarks. “They can also reduce the amount of labor they have, which is a huge challenge for everyone right now. Just having someone move trays around the plant all day is kind of a waste when you don’t have to do it. You can then use those people somewhere else in the plant.”
Another benefit of the new process is that it eliminates a number of machines currently used in the tray-packing process. “End users can take out three machines from their current line because they no longer need a tray denester, a tray wrapper, and then an overwrapper to wrap three or four finished packs in a master pack,” Benton explains.
He adds that with the current tray-wrapped packs, the shelf life for the ground meat product is typically around 24 days, if the package stays within the master pack. Once it’s removed from the master pack for display at retail, the shelf life is just four to five days. Packages produced using the Formost Fuji system offer a 24-day shelf life with 18 to 20 in. of mercury on the seal test, Benton shares.
The system uses a polyethylene film with an anti-fog coating that can be preprinted with branding information. Benton says that Formost Fuji is currently working with a major ground meat producer in Nebraska to test-market the packs in a regional grocery retailer.
Plan IT Packaging Systems is the exclusive partner and the North American arm of Tecno Pack for the Italian machinery maker’s flow wrappers, vf/f/s machines, and semi-automatic feeding systems. At PACK EXPO International, Plan IT introduced the Tecno Pack Pack 520, a servo-driven horizonal pillow-pack wrapper (5), suitable for food and non-food products, both for single-dose and multiple packages.
According to Plan IT Packaging national account manager Jonathan Evangelista, the Pack 520 offers a number of standard features of which Plan IT is very proud. Among them is its adjustable former, which can be adjusted to run different packaging materials, including heat-sealable, cold-sealable, and polyethylene films, among others, as well as different product shapes and sizes. “So, if you have multiple SKUS—you want to run small cookies, large cookies, bagels, sandwiches, or anything in-between—the machine can be adjusted to handle all of those requirements on one machine,” he says.
Evangelista adds that the former is adjusted based on ruler adjustments, not pinhole adjustments. The problem with pinhole adjustments, he explains, is that from one pinhole to another, there is no middle ground, “and so you’re still stuck with having to choose one side or the other.” Ruler adjustments are much more precise, he says.
Another unique feature of the Pack 520 is its use of a pneumatic film reel for the film roll that holds the roll in place to avoid any tracking, as film rolls are finished and new ones are added. “The traditional way a lot of our competitors do it is through a torque screw that just tightens,” Evangelista says. “But over time, that torque screw gets over-torqued, and now you have a little bit of play. Unfortunately that causes tracking and bad packaging. So we avoid that by including as standard a pneumatic film reel to hold things in place.”
The Pack 520 is equipped with four servo motors: one on the infeed, one on the bottom seals, one on the end seals, and one on the exit conveyor. “Servo motors are enclosed, they’re brushless, they require little to no maintenance, there’s no need to oil or grease any cams, and so they enable long-term use of the machine,” Evangelista says.
The flow wrapper can handle product dimensions from 20 to 200 mm wide, 1 to 100 mm high, and 50 to 600 mm long and can reach speeds to 120 bags/min. However, says Evangelista, the machine can be retrofitted to operate at speeds from 150 to 200 bags/min.
Watch a video of the Plan IT system.
Robotic pick and place
Demonstrated at the Orics booth in the South Hall was the D-Series delta-style robotic pick-and-place tray loading system (6) for pieces of protein products like chicken or steak.
Randomly spaced items to be picked are conveyed beside an automated tray denester that relies on servo motors to adjust width and length when a new tray size needs to be introduced. A Cognex vision system captures the location and orientation of each item on the conveyor belt and shares that data with the system’s controller. The controller then communicates with the robot so that it can go precisely where it needs to in order to make a clean pick from the conveyor belt and place the item in a tray.
The delta-style robot, designed and built by Orics, is all stainless steel and thus suitable for washdown. The product grippers are made of food-grade silicon by Soft Robot Tech. “It’s a gripper that works with a special control system from STXI Motion that regulates vacuum and pressure,” says Orics president Ori Cohen. “When you pressurize those gripper fingers, they close like the fingers of a hand. When you release the pressure, they open.”
The softMC compact size controller, developed by Servotronix with an Ethernet/IP interface developed by STXI Motion, features a powerful algorithm that can control numerous axes simultaneously and achieve the desired kinematic motion of the robot. Compared to other manufacturers’ controllers that support 3-8 axes, the softMC controller can control up to 32 axes.
The Orics D-series robot is equipped with STXI Motion motors, drives, and harmonic drive reducers with zero backlash. Engineered to allow full control of acceleration, deceleration, and velocity with high-speed performance, the Orics D-series robot is suitable for pick and place applications where high-accuracy product placement is crucial. The system also has a self-teach programmable mode. This unique system will memorize positions of pick and place and will repeat them with minimal motor motions. The system can also receive a signal from a video camera and position its actuators, vacuum suctions, or grippers for random pick and place. And an orientation position system enables the robot to orient the transferred objects as they are randomly placed in the production or assembly line.
Cohen describes one application where the robot is just what the doctor ordered. “We put in a short goods pasta line within the last few months for ready meals. If the protein component is small—like diced chicken—it can be weighed and deposited mixed in with the pasta by the combination scale that is part of the system. But for chicken cutlets, for example, which are fairly large and randomly shaped, right now the customer places them by hand. This is where our robot system will come into play.”
Watch a video of the Orics system.
Wrapper handles bars at 250/min
SACMI Packaging & Chocolate premiered its new HTB chocolate bar wrapping machine (7) at PACK EXPO International. According to the company, this first-ever advanced electronic machine “revolutionizes wrapping technology.” With the HTB, time, pressure, and temperature are completely controlled in the sealing area, forming part of the continuously adaptive flow of the machine, which can utilize traditional and eco-friendly materials.
The HTB offers wrapping speeds to 250 bars/min and is able to control each individual operation, providing flexibility and accuracy to match the specifications of both the product’s physical requirements and the packaging material’s characteristics. This is done in a much smaller footprint than mechanical equipment performing relatively the same tasks. Says Mark Lozano, vice president North American operations, the result is a solution that’s easy to maintain and install within existing production lines.
At the show, SACMI ran double-wrapped bars on the HTB, with a sealed aluminum wrapper sleeved within a pre-cut chipboard cover. According to Lozano, SACMI has responded to the sustainability challenge by working alongside manufacturers of environmentally friendly wrapping materials, including paper-based compostable and bioplastic materials to ensure its machines can run sustainable alternatives.
The news at Serac’s PACK EXPO International booth was that BluStream (8), an electron beam decontamination technology that has been in development for some 15 years, now has a commercial installation that went into operation in the Summer of 2021. The user of the technology is Sources Alma, a producer of bottled water as well as juice and tea drinks that is located in Saint-Yorre in Central France. The firm is using BluStream to decontaminate caps in the place of paracetic acid used previously on an aseptic filling line for beverages in PET bottles.
“With Drinktec last September and now PACK EXPO, we are formally introducing BluStream to the marketplace,” said Nicolas Ricard, Managing Director at Serac. “We had a lot of interest in it at PACK EXPO, so we expect to have a U.S. customer soon.”
Serac describes its electron beam technology this way: “BluStream is a low-energy e-beam treatment that can be administered at room temperature. It’s capable of ensuring a 6-log bacteriological reduction in 1 second without any chemicals. This module is intended for use on bottling lines of non-refrigerated and ESL 90-day beverages. E-beam is a physical dry treatment. To sterilize the surface, e-beam dispenses a beam of electrons over the surface of the product. The electrons quickly destroy the microorganisms by breaking their DNA chains.”
Electron beam decontamination is not new. It’s common enough in the printing industry, and in the packaging space Tetra Pak is among those using it to decontaminate their carton board packaging. The innovation here is that to decontaminate a cap—and soon, says Serac, the inside of a blown bottle—you have to have a highly specialized emitter to get the electron beams inside the cap or bottle.
As an alternative to paracetic acid or hydrogen peroxide, both used widely today in aseptic and ESL packaging, electron beam technology is attractive to beverage bottlers because it lets them get away from chemicals. It also eliminates the need for considerable amounts of water to rinse the chemicals. The other benefit to the customer is the simplicity of use. You push a button and begin decontaminating caps immediately for aseptic applications.
On the Sources Alma line where BluStream is in operation, paracetic acid is still used to decontaminate the PET bottles. Finding an alternative to chemical decontamination for caps was a key driver behind the firm’s interest in BluStream. “Serac was the only solution we could find,” says Romain Leclercq, carbonated & soft drinks division manager at Sources Alma. “It’s a real innovation in the beverage market. On the chemical preparation side, there used to be a lot of effort involved checking the concentration of paracetic acid, and of checking the temperature, too. Now for cap decontamination we just switch on the BluStream machine and it’s ready immediately. For operators it’s greater comfort at the work station and fewer tasks to perform.”
According to Serac, electron beam treatment only depends on three critical parameters: voltage, current intensity, and exposure time. By comparison, hydrogen peroxide sterilization depends on at least six: output, ambient temperature, temperature and time for hot air, and concentration and time for hydrogen peroxide.
“We also save on space,” says Leclercq. “And we now use a conventional cap hopper as opposed to several wet hoppers. Plus the BluStream module is positioned above the capping machine. So it didn’t occupy additional floor space. We’ve been very satisfied in terms of performance and decontamination efficiency.”
Leclercq notes that where caps are concerned, the current goal is to substitute BluStream decontamination for paracetic acid throughout the company’s operations. When asked about cost, he says that with the cost of electricity fluctuating so wildly at present, it’s difficult to make an accurate comparison. “Maybe we can do so once we’ve recovered standard prices for energy,” he adds.
Nicolas Ricard, Managing Director of Serac-USA, says that Serac now plans to install a BluStream module for decontamination of bottles at a customer facility in Europe. As with the system for caps, it will once again be a rotary system. And it will be suitable for either PET or HDPE bottles.
Watch a video of the technology.
Dry steam sanitizing
The new GVC -18000 (9) from Goodway Technologies is designed for most manual deep cleaning and sanitizing applications in food production plants. According to the company, the low 5% moisture content lends itself to cleaning around sensitive electrical components and in dry, clean areas.
At 290°F, the dry steam melts away fats and sugars, and kills bacteria and other microorganisms on contact. The system’s multiple cleaning tools are suitable for flat surfaces as well as the cracks and crevices that are often ideal for the growth of bacteria and mold. The CVC-18000 has a heating power of 18kW and steam production of 50 lb/hr.
In Lakeside Center, Unifiller Systems demonstrated its new +Series Depositors (10), digitally controlled pneumatic depositors designed to deposit batters and other products with more ease and precision. The system brings into reach technology that often only large-scale customers have access to.
Launched in September, the +Series Depositors combine pneumatic machines with smart control. Using a smartphone or tablet connected via Bluetooth, users can control speed, volume, splash reduction, pre-charge, and deposit pressure profiling for the most accurate deposits.
The new depositors connect to Unifiller’s cloud-based Total Care App, which provides real-time data analytics. Hundreds of recipes can be stored in the Total Care App’s cloud. Any machine settings and recipe adjustments can be digitally controlled through the app.
“This is the first time we are offering a smart-controlled depositor with built-in Bluetooth features,” comments Sonia Bal, director of global marketing for Unifiller. “It’s a very low-cost program. Usually, this kind of technology is reserved for more complex systems owned by large-scale customers. However, we’ve been able to develop it for our standard machines, as small as the Compact depositor, which means that even operators at a retail level can afford this innovation.”
Compared to previous depositors, the +Series can handle more complex applications, in part because of its connection to the Total Care App. “The +Series combined with the Total Care App allows for recipe storage, so complex recipes (deposit speeds and volumes) can be fine-tuned one time and stored for easy recipe recall in the future,” Bal explains.
The +Series Depositors are built for ease of use and cleaning. No special training is required to operate the machines, and detailed explanations and video instructions are provided for advanced functions. All electrical components are enclosed in a washdown case that will withstand tough, industrial washdown conditions, meeting IP69 standards.
This kind of connected technology is already in demand for large-volume producers, Bal notes. “We wanted to extend the same innovation to even our simplest machines. Customers have responded very well and are keen to try it out. We have already completed successful field testing,” she says. “What’s great about the Total Care App is that not only does it work with the +Series Depositors, but with a simple add-on, it can actually turn previously owned manually adjusted pneumatic depositors into smart-controlled depositors.”
Another kind of food depositing technology was on display at the PACK EXPO booth of Hoosier Feeder Co. The Indiana company unveiled a unique product placing system (11) for various food products like chicken breasts or hamburger patties. It relies on a centrifugal feeder that orients products into a single file. At that point the product drops into a collator that drops individual products into a tray or, as was demonstrated at PACK EXPO, onto a hamburger bun.
Watch a video of this product placing system.
Inspection tech on display
Debuting at PACK EXPO International from TDI Packsys was their XR-6080SH X-Ray Inspection System (12). The detection technology built into the XR-6080SH can find 3-mm thickness of bone, which is especially useful for chicken and poultry, since those bones can be hollow and difficult to detect.
“Our customers were asking for something that could get a little more micron, especially for packaged meat,” says Israel Mateos, director of quality & integration at TDI Packsys. “We can also find 0.3-mm metals, like stainless steel, ferrous, and non-ferrous, which is unheard of across the industry. We can do that with great accuracy.”
Mateos adds that while the detection technology in the XR Series is ideal for chicken and poultry, it also works for other meats too. “If this system does well on difficult-to-detect, hollow chicken bones, it can do great on beef and pork bones that are denser and bigger.”
Technology driven by Artificial Intelligence continues to establish itself as a fixture in our world of increasingly smart factories, and Contact 4.0 from Fortress Technology is a great example. On display at PACK EXPO International, this smart data-capture solution is aimed at food manufacturers operating multiple metal detectors and weighing machines across multiple facilities.
Using web-based architecture, Contact 4.0 captures valuable production data across an entire suite of networked Fortress inspection machines. It can remotely monitor the performance of equipment, track events, and document all potential product safety risks. In other words, it turns massive data streams into tightly monitored and thus highly useful operational insight.
What’s more, for the first time it lets food processors connect multiple front-end inspection machines to back-end reporting software in real time. It’s live, it’s streamlined, and it’s centralized. So rather than reacting to various production scenarios, customers can export dashboards and reports in the format that is most closely aligned with their common reporting standards. This enhances traceability and gives operational staff the info needed to address time-critical events. And for those already operating Fortress machines, you’ll be happy to know that Contact 4.0 can be installed on all Fortress digital Stealth, Interceptor, and Interceptor DF metal detectors as well as on the Raptor Checkweigher, Raptor XL Caseweigher, and the Raptor combination checkweigher/metal detector.
Speaking of Raptor checkweighing, it made its official debut for Fortress at PACK EXPO, as previously the firm did not have a checkweigher in its product portfolio. On display at the Fortress booth was a combination metal detector and checkweigher (13). Individual reject mechanisms, one for packs that are detected to have metal and one for packs that are detected to be the incorrect weight, are part of the combo system. The operator can control the entire combo system from a single HMI.
Watch a video of the combo system.
Featured at the PACK EXPO booth of Schenck Process, the Global Hygienic Airlock (GHA), a USDA Dairy accepted dismountable airlock, is suited to applications where dry raw or finished products are being handled in the process and where inspection or system clean-out is required (14). At PACK EXPO International 2022, Schenck Process was displaying not only the GHA itself, but new features it has since made available on the airlock.
The Rotor Assist Device (RAD), for example, was recently made available to help disassemble the valve housing for cleaning. “These 12-, 14-, 16-, 18-inch valves can get quite heavy,” comments Jon Goecker, industry manager for Schenck Process, who demonstrated the unit at the company’s booth in Lakeside Center.
With the RAD, the valve rotor slides out easily on rails, enabling the rotor to be cleaned without workers having to lift the heavy equipment. Then it slides into the housing again easily.
Goecker also showed off the Valve Interference Detection (VID), which keeps the airlock from being damaged and protects product from contamination caused by friction between the valve rotor and the housing. “Without this, there could be metal shavings in the process,” Goecker explains. “That’s why we have metal detectors and sifters in the process,” but of course better to keep the shavings out in the first place.
The VID system electrically isolates the moving rotor from the valve housing and drive system so that a closed circuit would indicate resistance between the rotor and housing. Any interference that’s detected would show up on the human-machine interface (HMI).
Advanced pick and place for cookies and such
Following the ongoing trend towards automated material handling solutions, Syntegon Packaging Technology debuted at PACK EXPO International its new, Intelligent Direct Handling (IDH) pick-and-place system (15) designed for the flat (pile) or on-edge (slug) handling of cookies, crackers, biscuits, and similar products. The advanced pick-and-place concept uses linear motor technology—Beckhoff’s XTS system to be more specific—and the smooth movements of the linear motors ensure gentle handling of the fragile products.
“Product is fed into the IDH system from an oven or cooling towers, either random or in rows, with a tray denester positioned in parallel with the infeed,” Daniel Bossel, product manager at Syntegon, told PW at the show. “But the heart of the IDH is in the pick-and-place movers.”
Based on the XTS linear servo platform, these movers are instructed by a vision system as to the location of each layer of products. They then adjust themselves, in parallel with the product flow, to the placement of random biscuits as they are fed into the system. At the show, a row of 26 movers, arranged at an intersection with the infeed product flow, used vacuum end-of-arm tooling to gently pick up the biscuits, rearrange themselves from random to directly in-line, and carry them at a transverse 90-deg angle into waiting trays that had just been denested in parallel to the product infeed.
“The linear motor means that we have low acceleration and low vacuum,” Bossel says. “This makes for very gentle handling of the biscuits. Also, the machine’s footprint is very small, and we can do a lot of different pack styles.”
The machine moves at around 30 cycles/min, and with 26 independent movers, that means 800 biscuits/min. These speeds with extra gentle, low-acceleration movement are meant to complement more traditional delta robot pick-and-place offerings that may be faster, but given differing acceleration and deceleration ranges, may also be less gentle.
At the booth, the IDH was also integrated with a Syntegon Pack 202 horizontal flow wrapper, with low back-pressure infeed, to form a turn-key system for packaging biscuits or cookies into trays that were then overwrapped with printed film. The company adds that this full system could use more readily recycled monomaterial films for the overwrap, or paperboard trays instead of plastic trays, to add to a brand’s desired sustainability profile.
Weighing and conveying
Making its PACK EXPO International Debut was the Yamato Gravimetric Flex Weigher (GFW), which the company says was designed with flexibility in mind (16). This bulk weigher features four weigh-heads to support target weights that range between 5 and 20 kg. According to the company, the Yamato GFW-1104CC scale offers high speed with supreme accuracy. At 5 kg, for example, this scale can operate at up to 60 weighments per minute, at an accuracy of ±5 g. Use this system to weigh a variety of bulk dry, free-flowing grains, granules, and powders into bags, boxes, gaylords, and totes of all sizes. Automation like the GFW handles higher target weights, and complements the Yamato’s high-speed, high-accuracy combination scales, that tend to be more suited to lower weights with greater precision.
Watch video of the Yamato technology.
In a dramatically different application, weight-wise at least, weighing and filling leafy greens can be a challenge to automate, and labor is getting harder to find. To address this, Yamato demonstrated how to remove manual labor from packaging lines and fill and tamp salad with its Yamato Automatic Diving Funnel (ADF). Featuring a rugged, low-maintenance design, this in-line tray filler (17) seamlessly places and tamps leafy greens into trays, bowls, and other rigid containers. The hygienic design keeps product safe from contamination, and ratio filling minimizes product damage. Increase production capacity while drastically reducing labor costs with the Yamato ADF.
Watch video of the weigher in action.
The new patented hygienic SSV-XP Drum Motor (18) from VDG (Van der Graaf), making its debut at PACK EXPO International, is designed with an exchangeable profiled sleeve that enables different belt profiles to be used without changing the drum motor. The profiled sleeve slides off the drum motor and is easily removed and replaced with another profiled sleeve to match the modular belt required on the conveyor. With the SSV-XP design, if the belt on the conveyor is required to be changed to a different belt profile, then only the sleeve needs to be changed over and not the entire drum motor.
“From a design perspective, the main point is sanitation,” Alex Kanaris of Van der Graaf told Packaging World at the show. “The traditional way of driving conveyor belts [sprockets on a square drive shaft] is not sanitary. A traditional belt drive has many crevices and spaces that trap food byproducts and harbor bacteria, and it takes twice as long to clean using a significant amount of water. The drum motor with the continuous profile sleeve eliminates these harborage areas and is faster and easier to clean, saving time and water.”
The hygienic SSV-XP Drum Motor is available in a range of diameter sizes, belt speeds, horsepower, and profiled sleeves for a variety of conveyor belt manufacturers to suit various belt conveyor applications.
The SSV-XP also has a slide-on/slide-off continuous profiled sleeve over the drum motor that attaches simply with six screws, provides the flexibility to adapt to various types of conveyor belts without removing the drum motor, and exceeds sanitary standards.
HPP now and in the future
Several high-pressure processing (HPP) trends were presented at PACK EXPO International’s Processing Zone Innovation Stage, where Dr. Austin Lowder, food science manager at JBT Avure, discussed the current state of HPP and what the industry can expect in the future.
HPP extends the shelf life of fresh, refrigerated products like salsa, guacamole, juice, and more, by applying carefully calibrated pressure to a product inside its package, which destroys bacteria and pathogens that can cause foodborne illness. HPP can add between 90 to 120 extra days of refrigerated shelf life depending on the product, without destroying the texture, flavor, or color.
Lowder noted that bulk HPP processing for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages will continue to trend upward in coming years, as well as HPP for raw pet food, which is a fast-growing category. “I think pet food probably has the highest growth potential, especially because using HPP taps into an already existing market among pet owners. Many of them use traditional pet food processing, such as kibble, thermal processing, and high heat, and many people now want to move to more raw, less-processed diets. Probably the most effective way to do that, while maintaining a safe product for the animals and their owners is with HPP,” says Lowder.
Watch a video at to see more of Lowder’s HPP trends forecast from PACK EXPO International’s Processing Zone.
Mepaco showcased its ThermaBlend batch cookers (19), which provide up to 50% more heat transfer area than hemispherical kettles and other conventional jacket cookers. ThermaBlend cookers deliver quick, homogenous blending while minimizing shear with effective agitator designs, and also minimize burn-on while optimizing heat transfer with a durable, bi-directional scraper system.
“For a stew product or a chili, companies want every one of those vegetables, beans, or pieces of meat to be intact, so that it looks just like you might make in your home kitchen, but on a much larger scale. We have a steam jacket, much like you do in your kitchen where you have a pot sitting on top of a heating element, and you’re heating that pot indirectly,” says Tom Hoffman, director of sales at Mepaco.
Hoffman adds that the ThermaBlend batch cookers come with direct steam injection as well as a steam jacket for the full range of steam and cooking options. ThermaBlend also has CIP capability, and the option to batch chill as well.
“You can bring a product up to 180 degrees, cook it, and hold it through an intervention step if necessary. Then, you can actually bring it down to whatever temperature you want all the way down to 40 degrees in a relatively quick period of time.”
Debuting at PACK EXPO International was Preco’s new AcuBreathe Nano technology for flexible MAP packaging, which nano-perforates in a range of 25-65 microns. That makes it especially suitable for vegetables, salad pouches, and some applications in the medical market, where the nano perforation can relieve pressure inside the package during changes in altitude, preventing the package from opening prematurely.
“The ability to get down to the 25 to 65 micron hole size range wasn’t possible until we just developed this,” says Kurt Hatella, EVP of laser equipment sales, Preco. “This has been a request in the market for 10 to 15 years. We just never had the technology to be able to do it until now.”
Laser micro-perforating is a process of generating a series of small through-holes for MAP. Perforations can also be used to help achieve controlled airflow and moisture release in various packaging products such as extending shelf life for fresh produce and burst protection for changing air pressure. Perforations also offer the capability of easier filling because air escapes quickly during filling while the product remains contained and compressed for improved stacking.
New dicer for meats, veggies
The new Urschel M VersaPro Dicer (MVP) rolled out at PACK EXPO International with a slate of cutting-edge features for creating dices, strips, and shreds from meats and vegetables (20). The MVP is the fourth generation in Urschel’s M-series, with 33% increased feeding capacity compared to Urschel’s M6 due to wider, 12” infeed and takeaway belts, and increased horsepower.
The MVP features stainless-steel construction throughout, with an IP69K certified electrical enclosure and double-sealed door for extra protection during washdowns, while the cutting spindles have a sanitary design and are cantilevered for quick changes. Speaking of cutting, the width is determined by a gang of circular knives followed by a series of cross-cutting knives that determine the length. The machine has the option of 5 in. diameter knives for 1 in. thick product, or 6 in. diameter knives for product thickness of 11⁄2 in.
“In addition, on the machine we have an optional HMI that gives you the ability to set cut sizes along with recipes for the different products you have,” says Tim O’Brien, sales director at Urschel Laboratories. The optional Allen Bradley HMI touchscreen also contains the entire user manual for ease of operation and maintenance.
Watch a video of the machine in action at pwgo.to/7819.
Pneumatic conveyor pioneers VAC-U-MAX put their expertise on display at PACK EXPO International, showcasing several of the company’s bulk material handling systems for dry foods and other dry products.
VAC-U-MAX’s pneumatic conveyors (21) feature all stainless-steel and sanitary design, with easy disassembly for cleaning, including the filter, which is washable. Because some of the machines are positioned high in a processing facility, VAC-U-MAX developed a solution to lower the machine rather than risk injury to a worker climbing a ladder to clean it.
“We’ve come up with what we call a column lift. You put the machine on a pedestal, you raise it up by hand, and you can crank it over to get it over the process,” says Vince Macaluso, regional sales manager for VAC-U-MAX. “Now you can clean it. You just pivot the machine over and lower it down to the ground, where it’s at floor height and you’re ready to clean it out.”
Watch Macaluso demonstrate VAC-U-MAX’s pneumatic conveyors.
Pumps, mixers, sorters
Fristam Pumps USA debuted its next generation colloid mixer (22) at PACK EXPO International, featuring real-time gap adjustments and hands-off clean-in-place (CIP). This new colloid mill features on-the-fly gap changes with an external gap adjustment lever, which can widen or shorten the gap to produce more or less shear without moving the inlet or outlet ports, or pausing the operation.
The new mixer’s variable gap allows the user to dial in the particle size needed for shelf-stable emulsions, resulting in more consistent particle sizes with a tight distribution. Some applications for this mixer include mayonnaise, dressings, dips, oil and fat emulsions, condiments, dairy solids, and more.
“We have a blender, but blenders only go so far,” says Jim McCoy, sales manager, Americas, Fristam Pumps. “We were getting a lot of requests saying, ‘Hey, I need you to move down the particle size range.’ So this is the result of that, and we can meet their exact, precise requirements for particle size. Plus, this mixer fits in with our whole portfolio of products.”
The Fristam FCM also features CIP without disassembly, designed for hands-off use that allows you to adjust the gap to the maximum setting and CIP through the mill without removing any parts. The mixer has a max shear rate of 143,000 1/s, can handle sub-micron particle size, has a max inlet pressure of 250 psi, a max product flow rate of 50 GPM, a max CIP flow rate of 100 GPM, is bi-directional, and has a 50 HP motor size.
Axiflow Technologies debuted its bulk drum unloader (23) at PACK EXPO International. This new tool for removing fluids and soft solids up to 3⁄4 in. from plastic, metal, and fiber drums of 16, 20, 30, 55, and 75 gallons features a speedy 50+ gallons per minute (GPM) unloading, with discharge pressures up to 375 PSI. This CIP-ready bulk drum unloader can handle product viscosities over 500,000 centipoise, and it can be fitted with custom plates for different sized drums, as well as mix kettles and pots. The plates are also removable for pumping out totes and tanks.
Graco unveiled its updated electric pump (24) for food processing, boasting energy savings up to 80% more than traditional pneumatic air diaphragm pumps. According to Jeffrey Shaffer, senior product manager and North American sales manager hygienic equipment at Graco, the company has been making electric pumps for about six years, but Graco recently developed patented technology that eliminates the need for a gearbox inside a pump, reducing the footprint and significantly increasing its energy savings.
“We have the motor and drive package right in the middle of the pump, but there’s no gearbox now, which reverses package size and cost to the user,” explains Shaffer. “A big benefit with electric is it reduces your energy costs as far as efficiencies by up to 80%. So while a pneumatic pump might cost you $2000 a year to operate, this might cost you $200 a year. So big savings, and it also qualifies for energy incentives from our company.”
Shaffer adds that the new version of Graco’s electric pumps work seamlessly with facility control systems that can monitor the pump’s usage around the clock, which facilitates predictive maintenance, saving time and labor.
Lubriplate debuted several new products at PACK EXPO International, including refillable bulk loading grease guns and grease transfer pumps for 35-lb grease pails and 120-lb kegs (25). Lubriplate’s hand pump provides grease gun loading direct from the bulk containers, and the kegs have an option to use an automatic pump for tasks that require more volume.
Also new from Lubriplate at the show was their Lubriplate Synthetic Food Grade Drilling & Tapping Fluid, which is a full synthetic fluid designed specifically for drilling and tapping. This product is NSF H1 registered, making it ideal for food processors, food package manufacturers, and the pharmaceutical industry.
One more debut from Lubriplae is its SYN-FG SDO food grade synthetic sugar dissolving oil, ideal for beverage manufacturers or those working with sugars and syrups. SYN-FG SDO is NSF H1 registered and is specifically designed to remove sugar deposits and to lubricate machine components exposed to sugar contamination, thus reducing and preventing future sugar buildup. All of Lubriplate’s spray cans now feature the company’s patented Secure Straw dual-spray nozzle with a permanently attached straw.
Unibloc rolled out its multi-size line of QuickStrip FoodFirst pumps (26), which now range from the QS FF 300 to the QS FF 677, featuring 1.0-in. to 6.0-in. outlet sizes and flow rates from 28 gal/min to 500 gal/min, depending on the model size. All QS FF pumps feature Unibloc’s patented CIP features with tool-free disassembly.
“The largest version of our FoodFirst pumps was originally made for meat and poultry. But over time we realized there’s more than just those markets that can use this technology, so we expanded across the product line with different sizes, and our customers love it,” says Mark Boyd, VP of sales, Unibloc.
Also new at PACK EXPO International from Unibloc was the company’s Flotronic Air Operated Double Diaphragm One-Nut Pump. The stainless steel pump’s unique design allows for disassembly and cleaning in a fraction of the time it takes to do the same with a standard pump—from an hour or more down to just minutes—significantly reducing downtime.
“It’s the only air-operated double diaphragm pump in the world where you can use CIP rig,” explains Leighton Jones, director of sales at Unibloc. “We added a reinforced backing plate, and that supports the diaphragm when you put in the CIP pressure. It’s so unique that most engineers don’t even know it can be done. So one of the big things is to educate engineers so they can spec this double diaphragm pump on a CIP application.”
Elsewhere in the world of pump manufacturing, Alfa Laval has been making several advances over the past year or so that work, in particular, to ease maintenance concerns from a number of vantage points. Last year, Alfa Laval introduced its DuraCirc positive displacement pump (27), a departure from the typical circumferential piston pump (CPP), delivering on durability, reliability, efficiency, and hygienic performance. Rather than compromise on trade-offs, manufacturers across the dairy, food, beverage, confectionery, and personal care industries can get it all.
“We spent years figuring out how to get into the U.S. market. We were looking at all our customers’ sore points,” says Russell Jones, commercial manager for pumps at Alfa Laval. “This tackles about five common problems.”
One improvement is the elimination of contact between the pump’s rotor and casing. Traditional CPPs have constant contact between the rotor and plate, Jones notes. Alfa Laval guarantees no contact until at least 360 psi, he adds, helping to increase durability and pump life while also reducing the chance of media contamination.
The pump is certified to meet 3-A Sanitary Standards, but goes beyond those standards to ensure cleanliness. The fully CIPable design is standard. “After the CIP cycle, it’s not only clean, but there’s no residue,” Jones says. That’s true even with viscous products, which can have challenging particulates, he adds. Also meeting EHEDG guidelines, the DuraCirc pump assures process integrity and product quality. For a crevice-free design with no dead zones, all product-wetted elastomers are made of FDA-conforming materials and profiled and defined compression as standard; this reduces contamination risks and cuts both cleaning time and costs. The all-stainless steel construction is also suitable for hygienic washdown.
Maintenance is also reduced through an FDA-conforming oil lubricant that has an extended service interval—about 3,000 hours vs. 750 hours for a typical competitor. Front-loading self-setting mechanical seals are easy to get to, making them quick and easy to change without the need to remove the pump from the system.
“We don’t like to make incremental improvements,” Jones says. “We like to make leaps.”
More recently, Alfa Laval has introduced a subscription-based digital monitoring system for pumps and other rotating equipment such as agitators and mixers in hygienic processing industries. CM Connect enables operators to access data from a remote location. It provides operators the information they need to make informed maintenance decisions—such as actual runtime, trend analysis, and time to the next service. Advanced vibration analysis enables early detection of any deviation from pre-set equipment threshold values.
Acting as a gateway communicating via Bluetooth, CM Connect can link up to 10 Alfa Laval CM wireless vibration monitors and transmit the data to the cloud over a 4G cellular network for review and analysis on a dashboard.
“People in our industry don’t know what condition monitoring is. In oil and gas, they’re all over it,” Jones comments. “But it’s always too complicated and too expensive for our industry.”
Alfa Laval aimed to change that equation with CM Connect, making it simple for operators to use. “If they see a red light, they just quiz it with their phone,” Jones explains, also noting a low price point.