The switch from manual to automatic systems often requires packaging redesigns. But if you don’t have the luxury of being able to change, you need to call Cama, the secondary packaging experts!
Many convenience foods are no longer seen as a lazy shortcut to a simple meal. New varieties, flavours and formats – coupled to difficult shopping conditions during the pandemic – have created a level of demand that is eclipsing other food and beverage formats. Instant noodles are part of this revolution. Historically a staple element of local cuisines and students across the globe, instant noodles are now gaining ground as a regular shopping basket item in a huge number of new countries. Some markets are well established, such as Japan and China, but India and Malaysia are also growing and even overtaking China. And in these traditional and emerging markets customers are spoilt for choice when it comes to flavours and varieties; some formats even constitute a full meal on their own. This explosion in demand in the newer markets has not been lost on the noodle manufacturers, who are now looking to introduce additional economies of scale as their noodle operations ramp up to cater for this elevated local demand. In many cases, these economies are realised through the use of greater automation and digitalisation within the manufacturing and packaging processes.
Higher quality & repeatability
By removing irregularities and inefficiencies and replacing them with higher quality and repeatability, manufacturers are seeing greater yield and throughput, ultimately boosting output and the bottom line. Alessio Borgo, Global Key Account Manager at Cama Group explains: “In many cases, automation is used to replace what are often highly manual processes. Once output starts to rise, the argument for automation strengthens as the extra flexibility and the savings per product are easier to justify. It also means that companies can relocate their employees to areas where they have more of an impact.” A case in point would be a recent project Cama undertook in South-eastern Europe, where a leading global food and snack manufacturer was looking to automate its end-of-line secondary packaging operations for instant noodles.
“This Installation represented a first for this plant,” Borgo explains. “It was the first step to move from manual case packing to a fully automatic case packing process. In fact, not only was it the first one for this plant, but it was the first one for the company, in the European market for this specific type of products. As a result, the interest and expectations in seeing how the Cama solution would match plant and production requirements was really high… at all levels of the company.” The new solution was to replace an eight-operator-per-shift rotation that was erecting, filling and closing RSC boxes, containing flow wrapped noodle packs. The pressures of the extra output the company was producing had been compounded by the staffing issues it faced during the pandemic. It was the perfect time to automate! “When you switch from manual operation to automatic operation, it is often the case that the boxes need to be adapted in terms of their dimensions,” Borgo elaborates. “But in this instance, one of the key project goals was to keep the box dimensions identical in order to maintain the current costs of materials and transportation. This was a real challenge, as there was no extra space available inside the box to absorb any inflexibility.
“With these size constraints in mind, we had to approach the challenge on two fronts,” he continues. “In the first instance we worked together with the customer to identify the product variables that would have an impact on the packaging arrays, and then we developed a cutting-edge solution with high adaptability, which would absorb and equalise the different configuration of products and properly fit them inside the box. In fact, our attention to detail at the case-packaging stage had a ripple effect on further downstream process improvements.” Cama’s solution is a Breakthrough Generation (BTG) monoblock system that is capable of receiving products from three flow-wrappers simultaneously, at a rate of 900 parts per minute. Each arrival lane is managed independently in a dedicated loader unit where a multi race tracker system groups the products and composes the desired packaging configurations. The product groupings are then transferred to the next station for side loading into cases. “The complexity of managing three different in-feeds in one single machine require a highly technological solution,” Borgo explains. “All units are interconnected, but at the same time are independent, so that the customer can maximise production volumes and reduce downtime.”
Industry 4.0 capabilities
The monobloc’s modular, scalable and hygienically designed frameworks houses contemporary automation solutions – including advanced rotary and linear servo technology to deliver the all-important flexibility and adaptability required by modern packaging operations. Its digital platform also supports full Industry 4.0 capabilities, including AR, VR and virtual testing, training, operation maintenance and even spares. From an operator perspective, the design exhibits maximum accessibility, allowing a single operator to manage the entire line. “As a global leader, the customer was also extremely targeted on sustainability,” Borg0 adds. “Our solutions provide great improvements under several aspects, and for this particular project we faced three different challenges. The first was to reduce the use of plastics, which we achieved using hotmelt closure instead of tape. The second was to optimise the box dimensions, this we achieved by developing a solution that required no further case modifications. Finally, not only was our solution able to exploit recycled-board packaging, but it did so at a higher rate than the previously manual process. All these features play an important role in reducing the environmental impact!
“This application is the seventh such system we have deployed for instant-noodle packaging,” Borgo concludes, “and is the latest in a series of different machines we have delivered to this customer for multiple products and applications across its many global sites. This domain experience and customer confidence plays a huge role in our industry acceptance and form a couple of the many reasons we are seeing approaches from customers and industries all over the planet. In fact we are seeing many of the world’s leading brands standardise on our innovative and highly agile approach to secondary packaging.”