Pack Expo/FPME Report: Rocking, rolling, RFID

The emphasis at this year's Pack Expo/Food Processing Machinery Expo was fourfold: RFID, operations, security and plastics. Suppliers had plenty to show and word was that many attendees were seriously shopping.

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By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief, and Heidi Parsons, Digital Managing Editor

This year's Pack Expo/Food Processing Machinery Expo (FPME) was a lively one, both in the Conference sessions and on the show floor. With four subject tracks -- RFID, operations, security and plastics -- each offering four to five sessions per day for three consecutive days, there was more than enough technical and practical knowledge to be assimilated.

Hormel's meaty message

Jeff Ettinger, president and COO, and Phil Minerich, director of R&D, product and process development and packaging for Hormel Foods Corp. kicked off the conference with an Eye-Opener Session on the company's "ingenuity imperative."

Ettinger noted that although Austin, Minn.-based Hormel has long been an industry leader in terms of innovation, company executives do not focus on racing to be the first to market with a new product or package. "You don't have success if you debut 'orphan' items," he said. He added that Hormel's innovations arise from four sources: recipe/flavor; package function; package appearance; and the emergence of special equipment.

Hormel's current investment priorities are food safety, new technology, R&D infrastructure and advertising and promotion, according to Ettinger. Regarding R&D infrastructure, he said Hormel recently expanded its Austin pilot plant and is building a new pilot plant for its Jennie-O/Turkey Store business.

Ettinger remarked that as they move to operationalize those priorities, Hormel executives ask three questions: 1) Is it a core competency? 2) Do we have the financial resources to compete in that segment? 3) What is the cost-benefit ratio for being first to market?

Minerich discussed six trends that have influenced Hormel's new product development over the last two decades. They are:

  • increased interest in packaging that is flexible and shelf-stable
  • a move from glass to plastic
  • the need to permeate the center of the store
  • growing demand for shipper-friendly systems
  • recognition that "the can won't die"
  • more attention to package graphics, given that they serve as the first communication interface with customers
Stagg chili's new Tetra Recart package is one of the many packaging innovations Hormel has rolled out recently.
Hormel has had solid success with many of its new products, such as its real bacon bits in a stand-up pouch for club stores and its easy-open Spam Singles. Executives also expressed high expectations for the new Tetra Recart package for Stagg and Hormel brands of chili. The Recart, which debuted in July, provides an attractive "billboard," is easy to open and reclose, and weighs 25 percent less than a can of comparable volume. In addition, given the current volatility of steel prices, "we can control our paper and foil costs better than we can control our steel costs right now," Minerich noted. A recent standout is Hormel's transparent-lidded tray package for Dinty Moore beef stew, which within six months of its debut experienced a surge of 30-40 percent in sales over the canned version of the same product.

If the latter two examples seem to contradict their assertion that the can won't die, that's because there's a fork in the trend, Ettinger and Minerich pointed out. On one hand, some consumers don't understand canned food and believe it is full of preservatives. Those people find the trays more appealing, despite a significant price differential. On the other hand, canned food offers several advantages in addition to its attractive price point: it's an American mainstay and an established technology; it has a long shelf life and dependable quality; it has no preservatives; and even the can is undergoing technological breakthroughs, such as easy-open ends and the new dot-top can from Silgan.

Pepsi holds the (turn)key

Timothy Olsem, director of engineering-hot fill supply chain at Pepsico Beverages and Foods, Chicago, explained in a technical session the company’s philosophy on packaging equipment procurement. The key words are “turnkey” and “replicatable.”

The company’s packaging lines today are regularly growing more sophisticated and complex. Paramount are quality and flexibility. The latter point mandates that equipment must be upgradeable, capable of running a variety of products and packages, and changed over “in minutes, not hours.”

Olsem said Pepsico realizes turnkey vendors can install lines “faster and more efficiently due to their extensive resources and subject matter expertise.” He also said Pepsico is looking to reduce the number of equipment vendors. Those with a good working relationship with the beverage company will get the lion’s share of the work.

“Once a project is completed, we are looking to repeat and enhance it,” he said. Successful installations will be replicated with any possible improvements at other Pepsico plants.

Out from under wraps

Numerous vendors debuted new products at Pack Expo/FPME.

Several vision systems for package inspection were introduced throughout the halls. The F270 from Omron Electronics LLC (www.omron.com), Schaumburg, Ill., integrates into a single unit two CPUs with up to four high-speed cameras, two independent triggers and dual real-time position compensation ASICs to capture images in 8-16ms in either field or frame mode. The two CPUs allow the system to inspect two targets simultaneously with no reduction in production speed.


From Cognex Corp. (www.cognex.com), Natick, Mass., comes the Checker 101, a simple-to-use and inexpensive ($1,500) sensor that can visually detect presence or absence. The system was designed to replace photoelectric sensors or similar devices in simple vision applications, such as ensuring the cap and the label on a bottle or all of the tablets in a blister pack. It can analyze more than 400 images each second.

Multivac (www.multivac.com), Kansas City, Mo., displayed the FormShrink system, a system that company officials claim is the first to allow custom thermoforming of film to odd shapes and varying sizes. Multivac’s R550 and R250 rollstock machines were re-engineered to work with a new film from Japanese supplier Krehalon, which shrinks up to 30 percent. Rather than using preformed pouches, products such as whole chickens, loins, cheese blocks and chub sausages can be placed in custom-shaped packages in the bottom web. After the top web is applied and sealed, a shrink tunnel fits the film to the precise shape.

DuPont Teijin Films (www.dupontteijinfilms.com), Hopewell, Va., showed new, high-barrier Mylar GL and GX polyester films, which have moisture barrier protection approaching that of aluminum foil but in clear films. They also are barriers to oxygen, odors and flavors.

The Taylor Products division (www.magnumsystems.com), Parsons, Kan., of Magnum Systems announced the Robotic Valve Bag Placer. The Fanuc robot is capable of placing bags on multiple machines, mounting in multiple positions and being customized to the application. In addition to the direct labor savings and improved personnel scheduling and utilization, it has a compact size, is dust and water resistant and requires minimal programming and maintenance.

Key Technology Inc. (www.keytechnology.com), Walla Walla, Wash., explained its G6 modular platform, which will form the foundation for the next generation of both Tegra and Optyx optical sorting machines. The advanced, modular vision engine, based on industry standards, provides a migration path as customers upgrade or technologies evolve. The sorters’ hardware will not be obsoleted.

 

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