Ounces of savings, pounds of profit

Overweight means “out of shape” on production lines, too, but checkweighers can help you tone your lines.

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By Mike Pehanich, Plant Operations Editor

You’ve cut what seems like tons of fat from plant operations. But they’ve asked for more. Where to look?

One area to check is the production line itself. Incorporating the latest generation of checkweighers into your production lines can convert those ounces, grams and milligrams into pounds of newfound profit on the bottom line.

Checkweigher application spans a wide range of products, from snacks to cheese, powders to liquids. The equipment also can handle the whole gamut of packaging, from bags, cans, bottles, overwraps and trays to tubes, cartons and flexible packages, or even unwrapped product.

Precise measurement and distribution of ingredients as well as the final product can have big impact on your plant operations. That’s why checkweighers are carrying heavy responsibility on today’s production lines to deliver consistently accurate measurements that give both consumer and processor alike a fair shake.

“Checkweighers really do two things,” says Pat Helm, managing partner of The Manufacturing Systems Group Inc. and adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati’s school of applied science. “First, they help meet the government’s minimum weight requirements. Second, they optimize adherence to weight goals, using feedback to the filling system to keep weights close to target so the processor isn’t giving away product.”

The checkweigher’s link with computerized information and control systems amplifies its worth, enabling real-time readings of package filling, documentation of entire runs and automatic line adjustments based on fill trending data.

“It ties into the SCADA system, your pyramid of controls," says Helm. “You can feed information directly into the QC lab. But if you misapply it, you’re done. It can shut the line down. So reliability must be high. You want a checkweigher’s efficiency in excess of 99.9 percent.”

The latest generation of checkweighers also integrates easily with other automated inspection devices. These integrated systems form centers for on-line, real-time quality control/quality assurance by monitoring package or carton closure, missing caps, bar code labels and the presence of metal or other contaminants.

The most immediate benefit a checkweigher provides is assurance of 100 percent compliance with fill standards. A checkweigher, by its very design and function, checks the weight of every product on the line. Since its first appearance in the processing plant, checkweighers have become critical quality assurance tools, ascertaining and sorting overfills and underfills and virtually guaranteeing satisfaction of net contents requirements.

But you’ll find profit potential behind the advancing popularity of today’s checkweighers. Fractions of ounces of waste and product giveaway add up quickly. Use the multiplier of a long production run, and the processor may soon be looking at tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings over time.

A matter of measure

A checkweigher is a device that weighs items as they pass through test or production lines, and it classifies and sorts, delivers or rejects measured items according to the degree of accurate product measure. A checkweigher segregates product – usually packaged product – by weight.

Though units may vary with use and design, a typical checkweigher is comprised of an infeed section, scale, discharge area and typically a rejector or line divider. The advantage of an in-motion checkweigher is its ability to determine weights and component presence accurately at production speeds.

The value of a checkweigher to any given processor depends on need and function.

Fresh cheese processor Arthur Schuman Inc. added an Alpha PW12 checkweigher to its plant in Fairfield, N.J., several years ago. “It was a new line, a new application,” recalls Vincent Angiolillo, vice president of operations. “We wanted to improve profitability – and make sure that the customer gets what he’s paying for.”

Another advantage was the tracking data the checkweigher enabled the company to produce. “It helps keep our costs down,” says Angiolillo.

“They expect us to produce the correct quantity every time,” says Tom McCaffer, vice president of operations for Peacock Engineering, a contract food manufacturer with plants in Geneva and Itasca, Ill. The company co-packs for a number of food giants, including Kraft, Quaker Oats and Land O’ Lakes. It has incorporated Loma’s AS 1200 C checkweighers into its operations. In addition to running at line speeds up to 260 feet per minute with accuracy up to 0.5 grams, the unit’s memory can hold up to 100 separate product specifications and links with other plant devices – of tremendous benefit when packing multiple products for multiple food marketers.

While accuracy is the primary concern of a cheese processor running 60 to 120 packages per minute, speed may be just as important to big players such as Frito-Lay, whose line speeds may run several times that rate. The larger the production run, the higher the cost of waste and giveaway.

“The checkweigher market has been dominated by domestically made equipment,” says Gary Wilson, president of Loma International (www.loma.com), based in Carol Stream, Ill. “Historically, requirements in the U.S. market have tended toward hearty, robust, rugged equipment capable of running at relatively fast speeds for three shifts a day. The driving force in the Asian market, on the other hand, has been accuracy. They don’t run their equipment as fast in Asia, but customers there have demanded greater accuracy.”

An expanding mandate to squeeze greater profit from operations has put a higher premium on accuracy in the North American market in recent years. Today, processors simply can’t afford overfill.

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