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Lachenmeier equips Ash Grove Packaging to ‘stretch’ throughput nearly 50 percent

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Located outside Salt Lake City, the Draper plant is the largest of seven Ash Grove Packaging operations and one of three licensed for Sakrete brands. Wrapping from the top down, the PowerFlex T1 has helped boost output from 22 to 30 loads/hour, easily pacing the plant’s palletizers. With small footprint and automated functions, Lachenmeier equipment brings the plant improved space utilization and crew productivity.

Overland Park, Kan.-based Ash Grove Cement Co. operates seven plants across the U.S.; with nearly 9 million tons of annual production capacity, they are among the industry’s most efficient and best maintained. From its early days of supplying cement in simple hand-sewn sacks, Ash Grove has grown into an organization offering a full array of products designed for commercial, residential and industrial use.

Beyond traditional bulk accounts, Ash Grove Materials Corp. and subsidiary Ash Grove Packaging have helped bring the producer’s portland and masonry cement to a broader range of loyal customers. As a premier source of portland and masonry cement in the United States, Ash Grove puts as much care into clinker milling and finishing as it does to ensuring its bagged materials arrive to customers in optimal condition. Supporting that goal in the largest Ash Grove Packaging facility is a new pallet wrapping system equal to meeting customer demand, improving warehouse efficiencies, and reducing film consumption.

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Most Ash Grove Packaging products are bagged and stacked on standard pallet loads. To avoid shifting or tipping during transport, pallets are typically stretch wrapped. As materials are packaged in paper bags, it becomes important for plants to place a top sheet of stretch film on the load to avoid tears from pallet stacking or moisture seeping from the top and destroying product. Initially, Ash Grove Packaging incorporated two rotary arm stretch wrappers. The process involved two crew members—one driving the forklift, the other tying film to the load and holding it in place for the first revolution. A separate top sheet was also applied. 

Looking for ways to improve and optimize its process at the Draper, Utah, plant, Ash Grove Packaging turned to equipment partner Lachenmeier in early 2014. After reviewing the packaging line’s challenges and potential, the manufacturer suggested its Power Flex T1 stretch hood machine—well suited to packaged cements and dry mix concrete as it provides five-sided protection for outdoor storage and load stability. The machine removes the need for a top sheet because the stretch hood film creates a tight bag over the load. It likewise requires only one layer of film as opposed to multiple layers. 

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Like much of the Power Flex T1’s operation, film carriage loading can be performed by one crew member. The machine’s Unwind System gathers film at the corners; unwinds the plastic as it placed over the load; and, eliminates thin portions on load corners. A single, secure film layer affords product visibility and stability.

Under the old stretch wrapping method, notes Utah Plant Manager Engel Islas, “Products would shift, stretch the film and loosen the load. The Lachenmeier system gives us a clean wrap you can see through with the added advantage of a much more stable load.” 

Retailers have taken notice. With pallets stacked high on shelves, Ash Grove Packaging finds customers receptive to loads arriving secure and, in turn, providing staff and customers a safer store or yard environment.

SMALL PACKAGE, BIG RESULTS

Even though pallet stability was crucial, Ash Grove Packaging’s Draper operation still had high demand and limited space under roof. Size and speed were big factors to consider when switching to the Power Flex T1, whose footprint enabled placement in an area where most other equipment solutions would not fit. 

With the machine’s film carriage on casters, workers can simply unlock the carriage like a door and the forklift driver can enter without needing extra space. The Power Flex T1 requires only one person to operate as opposed to the two necessary with prior stretch wrappers. That cut costs on labor and limits the potential for employee injury.39 Lachiiia 267

Ash Grove Packaging was previously wrapping 22 loads per hour, whereas the Lachenmeier machine wraps 30 loads/hour. While the Power Flex T1 can wrap 120+ loads per hour, it is conditional on application and production. Draper palletizers can handle roughly 25 bags per minute. “We are now utilizing an area we never have before with a solution that offers us much more throughput,” notes Islas.

Ash Grove Packaging and Lachenmeier representatives had the Power Flex T1 deployed fairly quickly with little effort, he recalls: “From set up to training, it all went really smooth. We have had it running for months and it’s proved to be a very reliable, easy to maintain machine.”

The Power Flex T1 is designed with top-down features, enabling safer operation and access since the machine can be moved to floor level. Like all Lachenmeier stretch hood machines, its also comes standard with the patented Unwind System, which helps users optimally protect pallet loads while simultaneously reducing film usage 10–25 percent. The system gathers the film at the corners and unwinds it as the film is placed over the load. This process virtually eliminates thin and fragile film on load corners, a feature that is especially important for loads with sharp edges. Compared to other stretch hood systems, Lachenmeier engineers note, the Unwind System keeps film corners roughly 30 percent thicker. Users can safely incorporate up to 25 percent lighter film gauges without compromising load integrity.

39 Lachiiic 400“In our short time with the Lachenmeier system, we have already seen considerable film savings compared to other methods we have used,” Islas affirms. “Coupled with the important fact that we have increased throughout and product stability, I would say it has been a great investment thus far.”— Muller LCS, Douglasville (Ga.) Stretch Film Plant, 800/628-6787; http://lachenmeier.us