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Thermoformed food packaging needs met by Brown in-line thermoforming technologies

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What type of packaging do you look for in a prepackaged meal? Are you satisfied with a white foam box that hides your meal or do you prefer a thermoformed container that showcases your meal in a colored base and clear top? Does your prepackaged meal container provide dining directly to the table or do you still have dishes to wash at the end of the day? Doesn’t packaging have an effect on your dining experience? Everyone desires a container that is designed to transport your meal; however an attractive container influences your purchase decision as well as enhancing your dining experience. A professional presentation not only showcases your meal, but emphasizes the brands we have all come to expect.

Custom produced/ “logoed” clamshell thermoformed food packaging challenges were recently tackled by purchasing Brown in-line thermoforming machines, helping Duni Corporation (Thomaston, Georgia) with greatly increased production rates, faster tooling changeovers and major improvements in thermoforming machine uptime, and high quality molding performance.

Duni Corporation offers thermoformed food-packaging solutions for the restaurant industry, as well as a number of retail markets, such as prepackaged convenience foods, carryout boxes, to-go boxes, etc. In addition, it supplies a range of paper products such as napkins and table covers, as well as beverage cups. Their Thomaston production facility, one of two North American divisions for this global-leading packing supplier, is a large producer of small to large volume custom carry-out food packaging products.

Randy Ballinger is maintenance manager and Colin Lee is a thermoforming engineer at the Thomaston facility.

“Here at Duni, our product line primarily consists of thermoformed clamshell packaging products,” says Ballinger. “We can offer the retail customer a clear lid and solid black base. We also can offer the option of our patented tear-away lid.”

“Because our containers are specified as a one piece unit,” Lee adds, “the customer doesn’t have to buy boxes with lids -- it all comes in one convenient package. I think it looks quite distinguished, never cheap. Plus, some of our packaging is microwarmable and can handle temperatures as high as 225 degrees F.”

“The crystal clear lid enhances display of the customer’s product,” Ballinger points out. “For example, some of our customers use our product to serve salads. The clear lid displays the salad very nicely, much better than a foam clamshell. Our box showcases the product, and that’s a big sales feature.”

“A lot of our production is what we call “logoed” products, which has the customer’s logo formed into the cover,” Ballinger explains. “We might run a hundred thousand units with the logo, then switch to a secondary run of perhaps fifty thousand units without the logo for a neutral product. In a job shop environment like ours, we need to be able to change tooling quickly. We are set up so that we can do a logo change on any of our thermoforming machines in a half hour or so (versus taking up to two hours to change out logos before). We can change a complete set of tooling in 4 hours or less.”

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Custom thermoformed clamshells are their specialty

“A lot of our competitors approach the market from the position,” Lee advises ‘this is what we make and this is the only thing you can buy.’ We approach it from a different perspective. We ask the customer, ‘what can we make for you?’ We custom design our products around the customer to enhance their product as a total food-packaging solution.”

“Product design starts with the customer,” Ballinger explains. “New tooling designs are tested in our facility to make sure they will be successful. Some of our tooling is quite complicated. For example, we produce a lot of different configurations with from one to four compartments, so tool changes are challenging.”

According to Ballinger, Duni operates several in-house extrusion lines to produce all of the roll stock used on their thermoforming machines. “What sets us apart in the industry,” Ballinger says, “is that we are able to do a triple-stream sheet; black in the center and clear on each side to form the clear lid. As far as I know, we are one of only few companies in the world that can merge the black and clear together in a seamless fashion. Both materials are polystyrene, but the black has a higher rubber content to make it more pliable.”

Major expansion integrates Brown Machine's thermoforming machines

About 18 months ago, Duni purchased two new thermoforming lines from Brown Machine LLC (Beaverton, MI). Each line includes a Brown roll-fed inline thermoforming machine with independent plug motion and a horizontal trim press with a Servo Flex feed system. Both pieces of equipment also incorporate a host of other various features including advanced quick-change capabilities and Brown’s user-friendly open architecture control system. Material is unwound from the roll stand and indexed via servo controlled material conveyance rails through the multiple stop, temperature-controlled oven, and then into a precision guided, servo actuated form station with servo controlled vacuum bleed / main vacuum, air eject and pressure capabilities. The formed web is then moved into a match metal horizontal trim press with linear guiding for a precise feed and trim process.

The Brown Model CS-5500SP thermoforming machines at Duni can handle molds up to 50-inches wide by 50” long and up to a 7” deep product. “Output on the two 50-Inch Browns is equal to four or five of our other thermoforming machines,” Ballinger observes, “depending on which jobs are running. But, while most of our older thermoforming machines are assigned primarily to short-run operations, we do all larger volume runs on the Brown machines.”

When Duni decided to expand its production operation two years ago, both men sat down with management and put together a set of specifications on what was needed. When they contacted a few of the leading machine builders, they discovered some unique and important features were offered that they didn’t know were available. Eventually they finalized the overall scope of the work they wanted to perform and narrowed their search down to thermoforming machine builders who could meet their requirements in terms of cost, value, quality, service, and reputation/longevity of the company.

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Two unique perspectives on machine purchasing…both equally important

Next, they both visited various machine manufactures to determine who could best meet their objectives. They looked at different features of the companies and obtained quotes for various different machines. “Randy looked for things on the maintenance side of it,” Lee explains. “I looked for things on the process side. We quickly were able to come to a consensus of which machines we wanted to buy. We decided to purchase two new thermoforming lines from Brown Machine.”

“From my stand point,” Ballinger says, “after looking at different machine makers, I really felt like I was supported best by Brown. I have to look at service capability, because when a machine is down, everyone looks to my department. All they want to know is, ‘when is the machine going to be back into production?’ Given my history, that is why I wanted to put my reputation on the Brown machines. I have to look at the longevity of the company. Who is going to be here in 10 years when I need a part? Who is going to have that part on the shelf?”

“What I like about Brown’s service department,” Ballinger continues, “is that it has so many dimensions. If I need a retrofit kit, I call the service manager and he connects me with a guy who works specifically with retrofit kits. If I have a process problem, direct and specialized help is available. We have modems in the machine controls so that service personnel can dial in, look at a machine, and see what it is doing--as if they were standing in my facility. “Brown technicians have helped us either by coming to our facility or over the phone.” Those kinds of features and that kind of service certainly have gone a long way to enable us to bring these machines up to where they perform the way they do today.” As a maintenance manager I have always said, “ The vendors you chose to do business with are a direct reflection of your job performance."

Ballinger also was sold on the features on the T-350L Trim Presses from Brown. The stationary platen is designed for quick change of trim dies using a separate mounting plate that allows the die assembly to be removed from the exit end of the trim press. In addition, the machine also has the capability of side loading the tooling. The Servo Flex Feed from Brown Machine provides extreme accuracy and virtually infinite product placement flexibility. The servo designed pusher system allows maximum acceleration, deceleration and length of travel providing precise repeatability of product placement. All parameters are easily changed at the operator interface.

“We do as many as 40 changeovers in a week across the eleven thermoformers,” Ballinger says. “Any feature that will save time is going to help make us more efficient. This has been a big issue in the plastics industry. Everyone knows we have seen huge resin price increases and we can’t pass them all on to the customer. Instead, we have to look for ways to become more efficient so we can absorb these costs to maintain our prices and remain competitive in the market. Some of the features on the new Brown machines have allowed us to do that.”

He adds, “One key example is when we go, for example, from a one component to a three component product. There is a lot of difference in the material heating requirements. Because we specified a flexible oven with multiple zones and advanced oven controls, we can save recipes for each product, we don’t waste time trouble shooting to get that line up and running first. Having those heat properties stored is important to us…especially when considering the amount of jobs and changeovers we perform here.”

Buying all the bells and whistles

“One of the biggest benefits I see, going down the road, with the Brown equipment,” Lee says, “is the third-motion feature we put on the machines when we ordered them. In the past we’ve had machinery that only allowed us to do shallow depth products. With the third motion, we can handle deeper products-- up to 7-inches deep. It allows us to get better material distribution down the sidewall of the product, which helps tremendously towards quality.”

“The reason we got all the bells and whistles on these machines,” Ballinger explains, “is because that is what is dictated by the market’s future demands. Quick change on tooling is no longer a feature, it is a standard. Pin-chain rails on the form station that are automated for faster changeovers are now standard. The market expects us to be efficient on both logo and complete tool changeovers. We made a major investment in timesaving features because we knew it will pay us back each time we do a changeover. That is why purchasing the Brown Machines with their host of features has proven to be a good investment for our future.”

On Brown Machine…

As a global leader of thermoforming technologies since 1952, Brown Machine LLC engineers and builds a complete standard line of continuous and cut-sheet thermoforming equipment and related tooling/peripheral equipment. Specialty thermoforming systems suited to a wide range of markets (including automotive, recreational, packaging, appliance and various other industrial segments) can be custom built to exact customer specifications. Brown Machine fully supports the thermoforming industry (Brown machine owners and competitive models, as well) with a full complement of 24/7/365 on-call service and parts support.


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