Dessert Maker Sees a ‘Shrink': Motion Shrink Wrap Machines

As production was ramped up at dessert-maker Lakeview Farms, it became evident to management at the company’s Bristol, Wis., plant that shrink wrapping was shrinking profitability. L-bar shrink wrap machines were adding labor and excess material to the cost of the product, says Peter Fink, plant manager.

“We had a mix of five manual L-bar machines and one automatic, and the process took too many people, too much time, and too much film,” he adds.

After testing a number of alternatives, Fink was approached in early 2004 by Lantech’s area distributor, Harder Packaging (Madison, Wis.), about trying a beta version of the then-new SW-1000 intermittent motion shrink wrapping machine.

“Lantech needed a site that would run the machine hard, and we had the same footprint as the existing equipment, along with the side seal,” says Bryan Scott, Harder’s sales manager. “We installed that first machine in an hour.”

A total of three such machines have since replaced the L-bar machines. Downtime, except for roll changes, has all but been eliminated. In addition, three employees have been reassigned from packaging, while reduced film consumption, alone, will offset the cost premium over L-bar machines. More important, the machines are just plain reliable, putting out more than 500,000 multipacks in just a few weeks of early 2005 “with hardly a hiccup,” according to Fink.

Founded in Delphos, Ohio, in 1988, Lakeview Farms has since tripled the size of its headquarters plant to 90,000 square feet and purchased other plants in Bristol and Paramount, Calif. Increasing the size of those operations, too.

The product line includes refrigerated desserts, dips and cheesecake, sold under primary brands of Lakeview Farms, Winky, Luisa’s, Margarita Desserts and Real Desserts. These are marketed by Wal-Mart, Kroger, Albertson’s, Publix and other industry leaders. The company also provides private labeling.

The Bristol plant is an efficient, flow-through design that was originally built under the direction of Kraft Foods. The primary product is ready-to-eat desserts puddings and gelatins. Much of the output goes into Winky brand Fun Packs and Pudding Pals consisting of 12, 4-oz single-serve cups that are multi-packed in a low-rise corrugated tray and shrink-wrapped.

Cooked product is pumped to four cross-filling machines that fill and seal the cups. Downstream, a pick-and-place machine inverts the cups and places them into the tray, before releasing the tray for shrink wrapping. Four shrink-wrapped trays are manually cased for shipping.

With the plant running 24 hours, six days a week, management focused on bringing more efficiency to the shrink wrapping operation.

“We had been using shrink packaging for about five years and simply outgrew the technology we started with, which was mostly manual L-bar machines,” Fink says. “Our growth was gradual, so we compensated with time and labor to maintain output with the packaging equipment we had. We endured a lot of downtime for changing the seal wires 4 to 5 times a day, and we had a lot of rewrap, too, as a result of bad seals. We can’t allow poorly wrapped product to leave the plant, because if a multipack comes apart in the store, we’ll hear about it from our customer.”

Management also wanted to address film consumption. For speed, the 13” L x 8” W x 4” H packs were fed with the 13” dimension as length, so trimming off the side seal was excessive when using 18-inch, center-folded film. The manual machines also facilitated film waste by allowing the operator to determine the bag length by how much film was pulled through for each pack, and hurried operators were not worried about using “just enough” film. And whether manual or automatic, the L-bar machines sometimes crushed product in their jaws.

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