One Plastic Hopper Bin Replaces 7-8 Boxes

March 12, 2007
Reusable hopper bins prove a cost-effective crouton handling solution for Sugar Foods Corp.

Serving the foodservice market requires continual process and product improvement. Sugar Foods Corp. (, New York, a leading supplier of sugar substitutes, turbinado natural sugar, powdered non-dairy creamer, almonds and croutons, is committed to ongoing business improvement as well as environmental responsibility.

One reusable plastic bin replaces seven or eight corrugated boxes with liners, which often had to be discarded after use. In addition to less waste, the bin's carrier is designed to be moved around the plant on a forklift.

Mark Thomson, vice president of operations, and Keith Knearem, plant operations manager, targeted environmentally friendly solutions to improve crouton manufacturing at the company's Commerce, Calif., facility. The plant's operations team focused on the use of lined, corrugated boxes there were used to handle, store and dispense croutons within their facility.

After croutons were cut, baked and seasoned, they were conveyed and discharged into small, corrugated boxes with plastic liners that held approximately 4.5 cu. ft. of croutons. Managing the box handling system was labor intensive, requiring box assembly, lining and placement below a discharge conveyor for filling. "We were spending entirely too much time assembling and handling the boxes," says Knearem. "It was a waste of labor."

After filling, the boxes were stacked on a pallet, which was moved to an area where the croutons cooled. The croutons then were transferred to the packaging room, where an operator would load one box at a time on a mechanical lift that would dump the croutons into the filling hopper. Once the process was complete, workers would remove and often dispose of liners and boxes that were deemed unusable. "The packaging waste not only was unnecessary and inefficient but increased disposal costs," added Thomson.

Besides the labor and waste, the box handling system had safety issues. Workers were exposed to potential lifting injuries by handling the boxes individually, and it was difficult to keep the boxes stacked on the pallet during transportation through the plant.

Knearem and his team decided to investigate a reusable bulk handling system that would solve the efficiency, waste and safety issues. It was determined that a larger, portable hopper bin that was built to last a long time would be the optimum solution. Hopper bins are commonly available in sizes up to 100 cu. ft. and designed with an integrated hopper and discharge outlet to facilitate complete dispensing of dry materials.

Hopper bins are reusable and designed to be easily handled and stacked with a forklift, which provided Sugar Foods with an opportunity to save space and time associated with the smaller disposable boxes. "A portable hopper bin enables us to load up to eight boxes into one unit that can be easily and safely transported, stacked and discharged. That addresses our key operational issues with the boxes," says Knearem.

Once the Sugar Foods team decided on a hopper bin system, they needed to determine what type of system would best meet their requirements. While typical hopper bin design calls for metal construction (stainless steel, mild steel, aluminum), Sugar Foods learned of the merits of an all- plastic hopper bin.

"Plastic bins can provide a much higher useful-life-to-cost ratio than metal bins and offer many other performance advantages when designed correctly," says Dale Ohlrich, dry handling product manager for Snyder Industries ( Lincoln, Neb. "I would put one of our plastic bins against any metal bin in a durability contest. The impact strength, chemical resistance, and design features are superior to any metal bin I have ever seen."

Today's plastic hopper bins can be constructed with a thick wall (often a half-inch), which provides an impact strength that can pass a drop dart test of 400 ft. lbs. at -40°F. The process commonly used to make them is rotational molding, which forms a seamless one-piece part in whatever wall thickness the application requires. "The plastic hopper bin doesn't have any weld seams, like a metal bin, which provides a smoother surface for better flow characteristics and sanitation," Knearem says. "And the plastic material surface is gentler on our croutons, which are fragile."

While plastic bins have thicker walls, they are lighter weight than metal, which results in reduced handling and transportation cost. They're typically constructed of a translucent wall, which enables operators to view material use levels without an expensive level sensor, which may be required with a metal bin. Some newer plastic bin designs also have a plastic pallet or base, which provides all the same benefits plus corrosion resistance, which eliminates the sandblasting and/or painting maintenance cost associated with mild steel components.

"When you account for all the advantages of the plastic hopper bin, and consider the cost difference versus stainless steel, the decision to go with plastic was a relatively easy one," Knearem sums. "Our payback on this investment will be less than one year."

For more information, call Snyder Industries at 402-467-5221 or see