Improving Productivity with Limited Automation

Brown and Haley improves productivity 10 percent while keeping manual packing with machines found at Pack Expo.

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Despite rapid growth of its popular confection Almond Roca, Brown and Haley, Tacoma, Wash., continues to rely on manual packing for its range of buttercrunch toffees.

David Armstrong, vice president at Brown and Haley, recognized the company needed to introduce more automation into its packaging operations to more efficiently meet consumer demand.

"Our manual packaging operations could not keep pace with our growth and productivity needs," explains Armstrong. "It was essential that we invest in new technology that offered more automation."

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A visit to Pack Expo Las Vegas in 2005 led to the purchase of a new hand packing system and bagging equipment that helped increase productivity by 10 percent. "We've been attending Pack Expo for several years, so I knew it would be the ideal place to find what we were looking for," says Armstrong.

"We package five different Roca buttercrunch toffee flavors plus two sugar-free versions in stand-up bags, hanging bags, boxes, canisters and oval tins, so we need a lot of flexibility," he continues. "We explored fully automated solutions, but discovered they were prohibitively expensive due to the number of shifts we run. And they were impractical based on the variety of sizes we pack."

Brown & Haley needed seven people per shift to pack Almond Roca. A new case erector/hand pack station reduced manpower to two.
Brown and Haley needed seven people per shift to pack Almond Roca. A new case erector/hand pack station reduced manpower to two.

With more than 1,200 exhibitors at the previous Pack Expo Las Vegas, Armstrong and the Brown and Haley buying team were able to discuss their production issues with many packaging experts.

After evaluating various systems and information obtained at the show, Armstrong decided to purchase an Ergopack Handpack System from Combi Packaging Systems (www.combi.com), Canton, Ohio. The system combines a case erector, hand pack station and sealer into a compact and cost-effective workcell, freeing operators from erecting and sealing cases by hand.

Available in one-, two- or three-operator configurations for flexibility, the system erects and indexes a case to the operator, who fills the case. He then activates a finger sensor and the case indexes to a top and bottom taper. The operator never has to touch the case.

The Ergopack features a variable speed product infeed conveyor and a unique case indexing conveyor, which retains control of the unsealed case through the pack process.

The system also offers ergonomic benefits. Its patented hands-free indexing system positions cases and product for optimal operator comfort, minimizing repetitive wrist and arm motions.

Installation of the Ergopack system required little alteration to Brown and Haley's setup in its Tacoma plant. However, some customization of the machine also was needed to fit it within the limited space in the four-story building.

"Combi was able to design the conveyors to achieve 90-degree turns out of the bagger and found ways to reduce the overall footprint of the system," says Armstrong. "It was truly an engineering feat. But once installation was complete, we only needed power and air and we were up and running."

Before the new machine, the company needed seven people per shift for its packing process. Now, staff requirements have been reduced to two -- one mechanic and one operator -- allowing other staff to be utilized for more strategic tasks.

The Ergopack also has proven to be easy to maintain and operate. For example, mechanics are not needed for the changeover process - operators can make the necessary adjustments themselves.
Integration of the Ergopack has been so successful for Brown and Haley that Armstrong purchased two additional systems. When combined with the purchase of a Mercury bagger from Matrix Packaging Machinery (www.matrixpm.com), Saukville, Wis., also found at Pack Expo Las Vegas, the company has improved productivity by 12 percent.

Armstrong will return to Pack Expo Las Vegas this October with colleagues from the company's engineering and packaging departments to search for wrapping and automated cartoning equipment to further enhance productivity.

"Our company continues to expand, so finding materials and equipment that can make bringing products to market more efficient and can grow along with us is essential. And year after year, Pack Expo has been the place for us to find that type of technology," says Armstrong.

This year, Pack Expo Las Vegas will be Oct. 15-17 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The show will be co-located with Process Expo, the Converting and Package Printing Expo and the International Bottled Water Assn. Convention and Tabletop Trade Show.


For more information about Pack Expo Las Vegas 2007, visit www.packexpo.com or call the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute at 703-243-8555.

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