Rapid growth presents both a unique opportunity and a substantial challenge for food manufacturers. This often requires that companies make significant changes to their production lines without missing a beat, as stalled output can represent significant lost earnings. By investing in the right equipment and streamlining throughput, companies can radically improve efficiency, reduce the amount of time spent fixing problems, and meet new demand as soon as it arises.
Pace Processing (Pace) is an example of such a company. For the past almost 20 years, this commercial bakery located in British Columbia, Canada has experienced consistent growth. Since 2014, it has seen double-digit growth rates every year, producing a range of frozen foods for the North American retail and foodservice industries. These include cakes, baked goods, pizzas, pizza toppings, gluten-free toppings, and other baked goods. The company maintains six production plants with close to 97,000 square feet of space.
“We have grown substantially,” said Jason Darrah, vice president of operations at Pace Processing. “We have done a good job offering a variety of products, from focaccia bread to pepperoni cheese sticks to a cake line and gluten-free facilities. With this increased growth, we recognized the need to automate."
Automation comes with its own set of challenges, however. Inadequate machinery tends to require more maintenance and troubleshooting, leading to a significant amount of human labor and downtime. These factors can offset profit margins. Systems properly designed for the application result in quicker production output, fewer malfunctions and more uptime, yielding improved profits.
"Our need was for case erecting, case sealing and tray forming machines that would allow our process lines to operate efficiently," added Darrah. "In 2014, we were running several other case packers, but because of our growth they were no longer able to handle the output on our lines, and considerable machine servicing was required to keep them operational. It was then that we began looking for better automation options."
Semi-automatic case taper
One of those options was a semi-automatic case taper from Wexxar Bel—a leading manufacturer of machines for automated corrugated container packaging applications. Pace acquired a BEL 150 Semi-Automatic Pressure-Sensitive Case Taper for use on one of its end-of-line packing operations. The case sealer can seal a wide range of case sizes at speeds up to 30 cases per minute with quick size changeovers.
"A team from Wexxar Bel came over and looked at what we were doing for our packaging lines," continued Darrah. "They measured our rooms, evaluated our output, and gave us several different options. Our first step was to implement the case sealer, which provided an economical and effective way to minimize manual labor."
As Pace continued to expand, it added the BEL 150 to all of its processing lines at each of its six manufacturing facilities. The company then continued to look at further automating its case forming and erecting processes.
Automating case forming, erecting and packing
In Pace's high-throughput lines, the company began looking at replacing some of its older case former/packers with more reliable equipment. Again, the company turned to Wexxar Bel for options. Pace settled on the BEL 505 Semi-Automatic Case-Former and Pack Station for two of its facilities.
The Bel case former and pack station can handle and form a wide range of case sizes and various case types, with a versatile design that allows a high degree of customization. More importantly, this setup makes product changeovers easy, quick, and flexible. Tool-less case size changes are simple and quick, with change points accessible from both operational sides of the machine.
"We installed these systems in 2018," explained Darrah. "The case former and pack station allows us to produce and pack about eight full cases a minute. These are in place at our high-throughput pizza topping plants. In one of these plants we have line changes four or five times a day, so the machine has to be very fast on changeovers, which can be accomplished in under five minutes."
In these plants, Pace pairs up both the case sealer, and case former and pack station, allowing one operator to form, pack and seal corrugated cases in a single operation. On one of its lines, Pace has also paired a BEL 505 with a BEL 252 Fully-Automatic Case Sealer for extra automation in one of its lines
In addition to the end-of-line case packing and sealing processes, Pace desired to upgrade its automation for tray forming to support its sheet cake production line. The paper-based trays, which are 12" x 16" x 2.5", are put onto baking sheets, cake batter is deposited into the trays, then into ovens for baking.
Once baked, the sheet cake may be cut into different shapes and sizes depending on the customers' requirements or it may be shipped as-is, as a bulk item, in which case the tray acts as the support for the cake when it is moved downstream through the packaging line.
"To automate this tray forming process, we selected the IPAK TF200 Fully-Automatic Tray Former, again from Wexxar Bel," said Darrah. "We looked at other systems, but the TF200 was definitely more robust for our needs and has a high level of flexibility. We can interchange the mandrel on the machine to achieve different depths or tray sizes should we desire in the future. We were also attracted to the fact that size changes can be performed in less than 10 minutes."
The IPAK TF200 is capable of forming a wide range of tray sizes, including regular slotted trays in various configurations. This includes a full range of four-corner glued trays, one- and two-piece telescoping trays, and variations of triangulated-corner and self-locking trays. The tray former permits diagnostics and advanced programming capabilities to be set up in multiple configurations to suit the needs of the user.
"The machine will continuously operate at speeds of up to 40 trays per minute," added Darrah. "But currently we are running it at 50 to 55 percent of the machine’s capability at 22 trays per minute."
Automation is a continuing process
Pace has grown from four employees to more than 360. The need to automate is a continuing process to keep up with the demand for the company's frozen baked goods.
"Having the automated machinery is just part of the solution," added Darrah. "We wanted our machines to be user-friendly, so that they are easy to operate. And that is what we have achieved. Ensuring that the machine operators are trained sufficiently to run the equipment with precision and safety, and with proper maintenance is an integral part of ensuring the company's production lines run optimally."
About Wexxar Bel
At Wexxar Bel, corrugated container packaging applications are limited only by the imagination. Wexxar case formers and case sealers have been installed in nearly 40 countries and consistently bring customers the lowest cost of ownership and the highest standards of safety. Wexxar also offers the Bel line of corrugated box sealers, tapers, and packing systems as well as the IPAK line of tray and bliss formers, stackers, and sealers systems.
As part of the ProMach End of Line business line, Wexxar helps its packaging customers protect and grow the reputation and trust of their consumers. ProMach is performance, and the proof is in every package. Learn more about Wexxar Bel at www.Wexxar.com.
ProMach is a family of best-in-class packaging solution brands serving manufacturers of all sizes and geographies in the food, beverage, pharmaceutical, personal care, and household and industrial goods industries. ProMach brands operate across the entire packaging spectrum: filling and capping, flexibles, pharma, product handling, labeling and coding, and end of line.
ProMach also provides Performance Services, including integrated solutions, design/build, engineering services, and productivity software to optimize packaging line design and deliver maximum uptime.
ProMach designs, manufactures, integrate, and supports the most sophisticated and advanced packaging solutions in the global marketplace. Its diverse customer base, from Fortune 500 companies to smaller, privately held businesses worldwide, depends on reliable, flexible, technologically advanced equipment and integrated solutions. ProMach is headquartered near Cincinnati, Ohio, with manufacturing facilities and offices throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Europe, United Arab Emirates, and China. For more information about ProMach, visit www.ProMachBuilt.com