Nothing motivates a packager like demand for its product. With recent introductions of Ice non-carbonated flavored spring waters, in a custom 24-oz biaxially oriented polyethylene terephthalate bottle, Talking Rain Beverage Co. is tremendously motivated.
"It's one of the best responses we've had to a product introduction," vice president Doug MacLean tells PD of the product series that started to reach store shelves last September (see PD, Sept. '96, p. 82). And it's the reason the marketer, in seemingly record time, is moving in-house with bottling for what initially had been done externally.
Though the bottle's configuration and labeling seem to challenge conventional packaging procedures, Talking Rain is running a packaging line in its Preston, Wash., plant combining some of the newest technology with older equipment to reach a 300-bottle-per-min plateau, which MacLean reports is "very satisfactory for our present needs." And by achieving a certain level of independence in terms of production scheduling since completion of the packaging line in Oct. '96, the marketer is getting a better grip on the Grip Bottle's shipments, which at launch time included the U.S., Canada and Europe, with other international targets to come.
The reason in-house bottling is a challenge is the sports bottle's custom configuration. Slim wasted for easy gripping and for traveling in a bike rack - relating it to an introductory promotion - the bottle is extrusion blow molded by Containers Northwest. A pair of Sidel SBO 10/10 machines accept performs from its Husky injection molding equipment. The 41-g performs are made of Eastman Chemical's 9921W resin.
Containers Northwest (now known as CNC Containers Corp.) continues to supply the bottles. But now Talking Rain is applying the labels as an in-line function of the new bottling line. The company purchased the same TRINE labeling equipment from CMS Gilbreth used by Containers Northwest when it was labeling the bottles. Since then, TRINE Labeling Systems and CMS Gilbreth Packaging Systems have become separate subsidiaries of the same parent company. While TRINE manufactures roll-fed labeling equipment, CMS Gilbreth supplies roll-fed labels, tamper-resistant bands and full-body, shrink-sleeve labels as well as shrink banding and labeling equipment.
The label is converted by Salem Label of a 2.2-mil white oriented polypropylene film, Mobil's Label Lyte, which is 4-color flexo-printed on a Mark Andy press and overlaminated with a clear ½-mil PP film from AET. Because the adhesive is applied to the label at point of application, a machine able to meet tight register requirements at line speeds was needed. "When we saw it operate at Containers Northwest with our PET bottles," MacLean recalls, "we realized right away it was what we needed as we were setting up our own bottling line."
One of the main benefits of the new label applicator is found in its name: the TRINE Quick Change 4500. With the line filling spring water plus six fruit flavors into the bottles, changeover for the full wraparound label of less than 30 minutes becomes a significant factor in reducing downtime.
Bottles are delivered to the Preston plant on a just-in-time basis. "So," says MacLean, "we have designed the bottling line for a high level of efficiency to get the packages through to the warehouse" - a space of some 50,000 sq ft - "with as little fuss and bother as possible. And with some flexibility. The line was designed initially with the grip bottle in mind, but it now also handles one- and two-liter sizes for other brands, using some equipment we already had in plant."
Efficiency starts at the top of the line with a veteran Simplimatic Model 40-20 overhead depalletizer receiving forklifted pallet loads of bottles. This machine has one combiner that feeds into a Simplimatic lowerator descending from the overhead position for floor-level conveyance.
Moving through a high-speed water rinser originally purchased in 1993 and upgraded in '94, Bevco's Model 510, the bottles are thoroughly clean as they enter the filling room. Totally enclosed, this room has net positive air pressure to prevent possible contamination, MacLean notes.
Immediately, the bottles enter an existing filler, Crown Cork & Seal's rotary 50-head UB 50/12 and, following filling, phase under the 8-head closure applicator, a Model 212-8 from Alcoa. Currently the equipment applies a white threaded 28-mm PP closure with a breakaway tamper-evident ring made by Alcoa Closure Systems. Shortly, Talking Rain will also top some of the bottles with a sports cap, using different chucks, of course, to handle the closure profile.
A short distance downstream, the bottles leave the filling room to encounter at the next station a non-contact ink-jet printer. This is one of two new printers from Videojet acquired at the same time as the label applicator. The second coder is located at casing. On the closure's tamper-evident ring, in a space just under ¼-in. W, a 7-character numeric real-time date code is applied at line speeds by Videojet's Excel Series 100 ink-jet printer.
The bottles next convey single-file into the TRINE labeler, whose modular design and quick-release change parts MacLean cites for changeovers in well under 30 minutes. The parts are secured by clamps, and label changes are made without touching the cutter assembly. Changeovers only require and adjustment of moving the guiderails.
At the system's center is an electronic registration system (ERS) working in tandem with a proprietary programmable logic controller designed to interface universally, automatically compensating for accurate registration. In the ERS, a Sick Option electric eye locates the label's eye mark to regulate web speed, part of the machines patent-pending system. Coordinating change parts with last month, "we've converted 100 percent to a tray for the same quantity," MacLean says.
However, instead of moving the case erector - R.A. Pearson's R202, which works in conjunction with an Elliot 76-9TSO case sealer - off line, Talking Rain simply extends the line by installing three additional pieces of equipment. The first is a W.E. Plemons tray former, the EP480307, which automatically forms and glues the corrugated trays. He notes that the case erector is still in use for 2-L bottles of other products.
In a smaller space than was available on the cases, a product identification code is now printed on a tray surface by Videojet's Maxum II ink-jet printer as they emerge from the forming matching. Just downstream, the company has installed a bundler, a Great Lakes Model 16527 Band-O-Matic, to wrap the trays with a Huntsman 3-mil PE-blend film before they enter and HVP3/387 heat tunnel from Great Lakes.
Shrink-wrapped trays convey up to a palletizer, the von Gal P-7500 machine settings is the function of a series of alignment gauges mounted at various points to complete the labeler's self-diagnostic capabilities.
Another important feature of the labeler is that, in place of turret, there's a vacuum drum that secures the rollstock, holding it in place until it reaches the bottle. A new starwheel design that reduces vibration and container abrasion also places a reverse spin on the bottle; the label is attached via a Fuller hot-melt adhesive. Cutoff is done by a rotating knife against a stationary anvil.
Finding a place
Introduced in 1995, the TRINE labeler "is finding a place in plants that run multiple product size lines," PD learns from a TRINE spokesperson. "The labeler is capable of labeling up to 350 containers a minute and has a small footprint.
Moving downstream, the bottles are collated for casing in a Model 100 drop packer from Hartness. Initially, groupings of 24 grip bottles were placed by the machine into a corrugated case. Within the from Western Atlas, recently sold as part of its materials handling systems division to HK Systems. The palletizer works off an Allen-Bradley SLC 503 programmable controller, unitizing and palletizing 55 trays per min. Another older machine, a Mima 21LP stretchwrapper, wraps the palletload with a 80-ga LDPE film from Western Packaging.
MacLean cites "a certain flexibility in the packaging line that will help us get into additional sources of distribution." This translates into adjustments in the drop packer and tray former to handle groups of 18 bottles for sale to warehouses and clubstores.
Symbolically, at the foot of the line, "to make certain the product gets to market in excellent condition," he comments, "a few extra spins of the stretchwrapper are added for good measure, assuring the cleanliness and security of the load."
After all, that's what it's all about.
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