Evolving markets require proven solutions in order to gain greater economies. Noodles may be basic, but their packaging demands certainly are not
Convenience foods are an international phenomenon, with new variants and markets appearing all the time. Many are based on short-term fads, but there are some that have stood the test of time – for decades indeed – including the humble instant noodle. Forming a staple meal and/or snack across countless regions and multiple demographics, they are just so easy to make, and with so many flavours and spice packets, you could probably eat a different variety every day of the year. The latest pandemic has also proved how important tasty, easy-to-make comfort food has been for populations everywhere, with some figures pointing to a doubling of consumption. “There is a massive array of market maturities all over the globe,” explains Alessandro Rocca, Sales Engineering Director at Cama Group. “Some markets are well established, such as Japan and China, but we are seeing rising demand in India and Malaysia too, both of which are overtaking China in terms of volume. Major growth is anticipated in Africa and the Philippines too.
Greater economies require automation
“Although diverse geographically,” he continues, “all of these markets have something in common; and that is the need to introduce further economies by exploiting automation in their packaging regimens. The mature markets are already well served, but the growing markets – especially now companies have secured a foothold – are starting this modernisation journey, hunting for greater efficiencies. “For some multinationals, it is a natural progression,” Rocca adds, “comprising a ‘technological cut-and-paste’ of operations from an established region to a growing region. We are fortunate to be on the supplier lists of many of these larger companies in their established markets, so are, as a result, trusted by them to learn from these current installations and repeat our successes elsewhere! We have a mentality and personality that makes us attractive to smaller companies too, so we are seeing a noodle-driven expansion in quite few different regions.”
Rising demand drives need for investment
In a recent project, Cama was tasked with developing a new secondary packaging solution for one of the worlds largest food and confectionary suppliers, at a brand-new greenfield site in India. The customer, seeing a 30% increase in noodle demand even before the pandemic, was eager to start exploiting the capabilities and flexibilities that automation would deliver and called upon Cama to bring its expertise to the project. “This was a big project,” Rocca explains. “The market in India started livening up in 2018 and, based on our experiences with the customer – for whom we installed the first noodle line 15 years ago in another country – we were asked to develop a solution for its new site. Part of the reasoning from both sides being that we could bring all of our experiences and technological evolution over the past 15 years and deploy them in this new site. “There are two approaches to this type of application,” Rocca elaborates. “The question is do you side load, or do you top load? Our solution specified sideloading for a number of reasons, but primarily because in this application you gain better control of the product, especially considering the throughput levels. The customer had also experienced mis-packing problems from a competitor’s top-loading machine at another group plant, so was not eager to face the same issues.” Cama’s solution comprised two of its Breakthrough Generation (BTG) IN Series case packers, each of which would be fed by three high speed in-feed lines. The important figures being an infeed of 990 packs per minute and an output of 11 RSC cases per minute.
Maximum capabilities in minimum space
“Not everyone can package cleanly and successfully at this rate,” Rocca enthuses. “Space was a key consideration too. We had to combine multiple loaders feeding one machine quite a limited bit of real estate. With such a prodigious in feed rate – being handled by the machine’s triple independent loaders – we also had to design in a buffer to prevent microstops. Typical buffers would be built for 20 to 30 seconds, this one had to be 60 seconds!”
In operation, each infeed supplies products at the rate of 330 per feed. The product packages are turned on their edge and enter a racetrack, which creates the first batch configuration. These then feed into a stacking device, which assembles the product stacks. Once the packaging configuration completed all products are transferred into mono-axis conveyor, which takes production from each in feed (with a slot for each) and, once full, advances them to the case packer, where a pusher pushes the noodle collations into the pre-assembled carton. The cartons are sealed using glue, tape or both before being checked for integrity and passed to the outfeed.
“We developed a special pusher system to push the noodle packs into the cases,” Rocca explains. “Insertion of 96 packs or more has to be handled very carefully, otherwise the product losses that afflict top loaders can occur. The key to truly lexible noodle packaging is the ability to package both single and multipacks (up to 6) in the same case, with very little intervention. As a rule of thumb, multi in-feed machines do not normally like product variation, but our IN Series solution can actually handle anything from 40 to 100 packs in same case style. We have also developed a way to very quickly adjust the loaders, keeping a complete changeover down to just 32 minutes, which, in anybody’s books is a very quick time, especially for a machine with three in feeds AND a case packer!”
Cama’s Breakthrough Generation (BTG) concept is setting the standard in secondary packaging. Machines deliver modular, scalable frameworks that offer easy entry and access, coupled to a hygienic machine design. Within this framework, contemporary automation solutions, including advanced rotary and linear servo technology, is tightly coupled to in-house-developed robotics, to deliver the all-important flexibility and adaptability required by modern packaging operations.
“Automation and Industry 4.0 capabilities were another important facet to this project,” Rocca explains. “Our customer is front runner in the deployment of connected manufacturing solutions and, it could be argued, its size and global reach means it also dictates the direction that many other companies follow.
“In this instance,” he concludes, “Augmented Reality capabilities were part of the wish list, something that has really been bought to the fore over the last few months, with social distancing and travel restrictions bringing almost all correspondences online. Our deployment of contemporary automation solutions means that these Industry 4.0 capabilities are in easier reach for customers and we have seen really positive real life results recently, where they have proved vital for FATs, training, maintenance and operation, all delivered and performed virtually!”