Harpak-ULMA partners with cheese companies for smart, connected packaging solutions

By Alyssa Mitchell

Photo courtesy of Harpak-ULMA
AUTOMATED PACKAGING SOLUTIONS — Harpak-ULMA offers five different packaging systems: thermoforming, tray sealing, horizontal flow pack, vertical flow pack and shrink wrap. The company also offers fully automated lines and is the North American distributor of G. Mondini tray sealers, ULMA primary packaging equipment, RAMA secondary packaging machinery and DIGI weigh/price/labeling equipment.

TAUNTON, Mass. — Harpak-ULMA, the North American arm of ULMA packaging, offers a variety of cheese packaging solutions while also working to stay on the cutting edge of new automation and IoT technologies.

Harpak-ULMA partners with companies as a single-source supplier of complete product-to-pallet packaging solutions. For cheese packaging, these solutions range from product handling and row distribution to automation to cartoning, casepacking and final placement on a pallet.

• Cheese packaging solutions

Harpak-ULMA offers five different packaging systems: thermoforming, tray sealing, horizontal flow pack (HFFS), vertical flow pack (VFFS) and shrink wrap. The company also offers fully automated lines, and is the North American distributor of G. Mondini tray sealers, ULMA primary packaging equipment, RAMA secondary packaging machinery and DIGI weigh/price/labeling equipment.

Harpak-ULMA approaches business with a vision and strategy to deliver smart connected packaging solutions, notes Kevin Roach, CEO, Harpak-ULMA.
“Our forward-looking strategy blends digital technologies that drive best-in-class performance with an unbeatable total cost of ownership value proposition,” Roach says.

Dave Favret, product manager, Harpak-ULMA, notes the cheese sector requires flexible packaging solutions that allow combining a traditional product with an attractive package for an excellent presentation.

“Much of what we’re doing is about convenience,” he says.

For example, Harpak-ULMA’s cracker cut packaging gives consumers portion-sliced, easy-to-present cheese slices in a recloseable format. The company also utilizes zipper packaging so consumers can use a portion of the product and then zip it up and put it back in the fridge.

Roach notes one of the company’s strengths is its portfolio breadth and depth.

“We can do a package that will hang on a peg with a zipper, we can do a deli-type package with thin material and we also can do rigid trays on a thermoformer that you hang on a peg,” he says.

The company also offers flow vacuum packaging — common in cheese wedges and chunks — as well as the ability to do shredded lines and cups, Favret says.

Jerry Rundle, vice president of sales for Harpak-ULMA, is quick to note that the company’s focus is not on selling packaging equipment, but rather working individually with customers to help them succeed in what they do.

“We can’t over-stress that we’re a hugely customer-centric supplier,” Rundle says. “Our customers know their product, but we help guide them to make good, intelligent decisions as it applies to packaging operations and efficiency. We help them to minimize their total cost of ownership and optimize the profitability they can gain from the ideas we impart as well as the systems we provide to them.”

Roach adds that because Harpak-ULMA has such a broad capability to produce various packaging styles, the company also offers package design and prototyping optimized to their selected platform so customers can understand their options.

“This is something we partner on in the early stages to help our customers decide what packaging they need in the future,” he says. “We’ve successfully leveraged our deep machine design experience to create innovative, pragmatic packaging designs that fully utilize the platforms’ capabilities.”

• Smart connected packaging platforms

Roach notes one of the key contributors to the company’s success has been its strategy to replatform Harpak-ULMA’s entire line of packaging solutions to Rockwell Automation’s Allen Bradley Integrated Architecture controls and components.

Harpak-ULMA also is executing a multi-year, multi-tier plan that drives not only increased packaging agility and performance, but resets expectations as to what is possible when it comes to solving some of the most difficult and costly challenges facing modern producers, Roach says.

“We want to educate the packaging world on the value of smart, connected machines,” he says. “Producers need every advantage they can muster today. Industry 4.0 technologies are literally changing the landscape by enabling innovations, such as Augmented Reality, that stand to reshape traditional labor concepts.”

He notes the company has completed the first phase of that plan (establish smart, connected automation foundation) and is well into the second phase (augmented reality tools for training and maintenance workflows).

“Both our ULMA and G. Mondini lines are available with complete risk assessment controls and components,” he adds. “This step was crucial to easily and cost effectively incorporate revolutionary advancements in augmented reality (AR) by PTC, Rockwell Automation’s software partner, in our lineup. AR virtually eliminates staff maintenance, operations and troubleshooting training curves — truly a bane of every manufacturer’s existence.”

In phase three, Harpak-ULMA will tie its devices into the internet, making sure machines have the ability to record time-controlled information and even using AR to look deeper into the machine.

In phase four (predictive analytics and performance benchmarking), Harpak-ULMA’s offerings will go beyond day-to-day plant operations and offer data for improving processes and analyzing performance
Favret says the company wants to provide solutions that not only address today’s problems but can continuously improve to continue providing the best solution.

“We believe in the machines getting better every year,” he says. “This approach truly has differentiated us from the competition — ‘status quo’ will not keep you in the game any longer.”

In the vein of smart solutions, Harpak-ULMA also offers a new generation of robots called “collaborative robots” (cobots), which are in demand by manufacturing and production facilities all over the world.

Cobots can supplement human workers — or work side by side with them — in close quarters to safely deliver increased cost reduction as well as improved process consistency.

“Cobots introduce extreme flexibility to production lines and require no safety guarding,” Rundle says. “Their minimum footprint makes them ideal for end-of-line automation.”

• Sustainable and safe

Harpak-ULMA recently announced the commercial availability of an automated tote management system for food producers. This approach to reusable secondary packaging is just one more aspect of the company’s sustainability efforts launched a year ago under the global #ULMAweCare initiative, which targets new approaches to mounting sustainability concerns.

Durable plastic totes are easy to clean, hygienic, resistant to water and chemicals, and are consistently sized, Harpak-ULMA says. Plastic totes also have been shown to reduce product damage by up to 96% while lowering costs by as much as 27% through more efficient, reusable distribution processes.

“An automated, reusable solution will often need to overcome complex issues, but they can deliver significant benefits in terms of labor and operating cost reductions, worker safety and productivity,” says John Weddleton, Harpak-ULMA automation manager. “The key is that anytime a packaging component makes multiple journeys, the number of cycles it can be used will have a big impact on a company’s sustainability ROI.”

The company’s tote management system increases reliability and throughput, reduces long-term costs and provides ergonomic improvements that enhance workplace safety.

“Since totes are available in a variety of types and open/stackable configurations, we recommend tote loading robotics with flexible, customizable end-of-arm tooling that can be tailored to handle unique tote requirements,” Weddleton says. “This particular solution employs a 4-axis tote-packing robot that operates at up to 80 trays per minute. We also designed a buffer system to optimize palletizing equipment performance for either robotic or mechanical palletizers.

“Don’t underestimate the importance of tote automation,” he adds. “Sans automation, manually feeding the line would require staff to pull the top layers off a 7-foot tote stack, as well as endure a lot of lifting, bending and placing — which opens up the possibility of worker injury.”

Sustainability has become an important factor in total cost of ownership today, Roach adds.

“We know producers are under pressure to make improvements, and it’s our job to offer innovation that can not only make a real difference, but do so in pragmatic ways that preserve the bottom line,” he says. “That philosophy carries over into every aspect of Harpak-ULMA’s solutions.

He notes another example is the extreme importance the company places on hygienic or sanitary design.

“You can’t understate the importance of food safety today and also proactively making things better whether a customer is asking for it or not,” Rundle says. “The reality is what is a regulation tomorrow may not be a regulation today. So we’re proactively looking at the future big picture. Where can we be thought leaders? Can we offer up new designs or ideas? That way, when we put a fully integrated system together for a customer, we not only deliver the expected components of a solution, but also the unexpected aspects that delight and surprise our packaging partners.”


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