Modular Conveyors speed labeling of clamshells for fresh produce | Automation.com

Modular Conveyors speed labeling of clamshells for fresh produce

Modular Conveyors speed labeling of clamshells for fresh produce
Conveyor change-over flexibility from Easy Conveyors helps ALM Express to label and renest 200 clamshells per minute enabling high-speed, high-volume fresh produce packaging.

By Patrick Roberts

Supermarket produce sections are displaying a growing array of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and salads packaged in clear plastic clamshell containers. From fruits like blueberries, tomatoes, strawberries and grapes, to vegetables such as mushrooms, Brussel sprouts and lettuce, to herbs including cilantro, lemon grass, parsley and basil, to salads of just about every type, clamshells are showing up everywhere in supermarket produce aisles. Clamshells have a flexibly-attached lid that opens and closes like a clam shell. The clear plastic packaging protects the produce and allows consumers to clearly see the contents.

Automated systems for packaging and labeling clamshell containers used for fresh produce are becoming faster and more efficient. Conventional packaging systems include a variety of automated equipment and associated conveyers which perform various packaging functions. The conveyers are used to transport produce and containers through automated work stations, such as metering the produce into the containers, or closing the containers after they have filled, or labeling the clamshells.

One new system used for labeling clamshells which are destined to be filled with strawberries, involves denesting the clamshells, applying top and bottom labels and UPC codes, counting the containers, and then renesting. It was developed by ALM Express, a company that designs and manufacturers clamshell handling equipment for the food and beverage industries. The system is a high-throughput set-up, capable of performing the above functions at a rate of 200 clamshells per minute. It can run all popular clamshell sizes and shapes – quarts, pints and half-pints.

Modular Infeed and Take-Away Conveyors Allow for Fast Change-Overs and Easy Cleaning
Critical to the system’s performance is its use of modular and highly-flexible infeed and take-away conveyors, which were designed and built by Easy Conveyors. The clamshells are guided through a ten-foot long infeed conveyor which supplies the labeler with a continuous flow of packaging from upstream nesting. In sequence, each clamshell container is released into the machine to be labeled by the printer. The conveyor is a modular design which allows it to be easily and quickly reconfigured to accommodate the different sizes and shapes of clamshells being run through the printer. The printer itself has a fast change-over capability, so ALM Express needed infeed and take-away conveyors which could match the flexibility of the printer.

“We have a very fast labeler for clamshells and a high necessity for change-overs, so we needed infeed and take-away conveyors that could adapt,” says Alberto Lostaunau, with ALM Express. “To us, that means the flexibility to reconfigure the conveyers on the floor as our workload shifts without a lot of difficulty. It has to be easy to do too, without the need for highly technical staff or taking a lot of time. And, these conveyors really fit that need.”

After the clamshells are labeled, they exit the printer on a ten-foot section of take-away conveyor which runs to a renesting area. Both conveyors provide a compact, low profile design which is very efficient on footprint, and food processing friendly. Its stainless steel design with plastic belting, smooth edges and modular components, make for easy disassemble and easy cleaning. But this is the way ALM Express specified the conveyor equipment from the start.

ALM Express Self-Designed Conveyors to Meet Its Needs
ALM Express selected the belt material, motor type and voltage, structural supports, guide rails and over a dozen other characteristics to build its own custom-designed infeed and take-away conveyors. It configured its project specifications directly on-line with Easy Conveyors’ on-line specifier, opting a wide range of sizes, materials, applications and styles from which to select. Easy Conveyors then provided an online 3D design representation of the project allowing ALM Express to modify the plans as needed. Once approved, the conveyors were put into production. ALM Express ended up with the exact conveyor characteristics and features it needed to perfectly augment its printing machines.

“It makes it very easy for a smaller company to customize and acquire sections of conveyor for their plant,” Lostaunau, says. “Many manufacturers don’t have the wherewithal to have conveying equipment specially designed and installed to fit their requirements. This system lets a company specify equipment to fit its applications, selecting the exact design features and components that it needs.”

“We selected low-friction modular plastic belting, for example,” continues Lostaunau. “It could have been open-mesh for the belts, or a number of other options, but we selected exactly what we wanted. Because we needed the conveyors to be used in food handling environments we “designed-in” components to meet those requirements.”

Benefit to Small Food Producers
Finding the right conveyors to fit a company’s needs is sometimes a difficult task for smaller food producers and food industry OEMs. Like ALM Express, many do not have the project size or budget to retain a conveyor manufacturer to custom design a system for them. And many conveyor systems that come with high-speed equipment are not necessarily perfectly adapted for the best use of that equipment.

“We are currently looking at integrating coding capabilities to our existing labeling systems as the demand for tracking produce increases rapidly,” Lostaunau explains. “I have no doubt that our existing Easy Conveyors will provide the flexibility needed to adapt all these additional coding and scanning components with very little or no effort.”

No matter how high-speed or high-volume the processing or packaging equipment may be, without comparable conveyors to infeed and take-away from the equipment the throughput will never realize full potential. For the first time, small food producers can design and acquire customized conveying equipment for their operations, and have access to the benefits just like the big producers.

About Easy Conveyors – Easy Conveyors USA is a division of Easy Conveyors b.v. in The Netherlands, which designs and manufactures a broad line of modular conveyor systems that allow a high factor of design flexibility. The company has combined its 16 years of experience building conveyors with a unique online custom specification, engineering and ordering capability.

Easy Conveyors’ supplies a broad range of conveyor systems, such as aluminum belt conveyors for general use, stainless steel belt conveyors for use in HACCP environments and in the chemical industry, and stainless steel mat top conveyors for the food and beverage industries. Its conveyors are designed in such a way that they can be produced efficiently, are trouble-free in use and easy to maintain.
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