How to Minimize Manual Food Production Handling

When your packaging system is interrupted upstream processes can take a huge hit. Without the proper systems in place to act as a buffer, your product yield and line efficiency are especially susceptible.

If packaging equipment fails, the food in the process of being packaged could turn into waste if the process system is not adequately buffered from the packaging system.  Packaging interruptions often require manual intervention, which will decrease yield and quality while costing time and money. However, by designing in systems that will buffer process systems from packaging, we can plan for inevitable interruptions and minimize the impacts.

Here are some solutions to minimize manual intervention into food packaging systems:

1. Create a buffer between production and packaging.

The challenge is to create a buffer between the continuous process and packaging. Adding an accumulation process is one common solution. Then, if packaging is interrupted, accumulation equipment provides an alternate repository. The stored product can be reintroduced to the line once packaging resumes.

Proven technologies can accumulate a variety of product types. Vertical accumulators work for trays. Buffer accumulation tables and conveyors are great for bottles. However, soft and flexible products are more difficult to buffer and accumulate than rigid products.

An automated solution would need to buffer these products at high speed and re-feed them to the packaging line at a predictable, manageable rate. Working with Finesse Manufacturing Solutions, we successfully innovated a solution.

2. Automate the re-feeding process.

Prior to 2002, few effective solutions existed to adequately handle odd-shaped, flexible packages, like juice packs and fruit bars. In response to this challenge, we helped develop FlowTech™ Re-feeder as a flexible, affordable automated system that has the ability to accumulate, orient, singulate, inspect and re-feed these hard-to-handle products. Re-feeder technology allows you to accumulate pouches in a variety of sizes, including drink pouches, packs of candy, single-size condiments, tea bags and small bags of product. It also handles more rigid products, such as granola bars. Accumulated product is fed one at time on constant pitch to downstream equipment without manual intervention.

3. Leverage the automated re-feeding process to improve  packaging line efficiency and functionality.

Using automation technology that spaces, positions, counts and inserts product appropriately enables processes such as:

  • Product counting
  • Bulk feed processing from a dumper
  • Buffering product in a hopper
  • Orienting pouches in directional flow
  • USDA sanitary requirements for packing fresh or frozen meats
  • Multi-lane feed for multi-product packing

As an integral part of the production process, accumulation and re-feeding product can be completely automated with technology. The results enable operations to maintain required efficiency and minimize manual handling of product, which helps achieve better yield and consistent quality.