Smith’s Chips were first manufactured in Australia in 1931 by Frank Smith and George Ensor. Throughout the lifetime of the company, there have been several changes in ownership as well as numerous new products added to the original line of potato chips such as Nobby’s Nuts, Burger Rings, Twisties and Parker’s Pretzels. In August 1998, The Smith’s Snackfood Co. was purchased by PepsiCo, Purchase, NY.

Today, this division of PepsiCo employs 2,100. The majority of Smith’s Snackfood’s products sold in Australia are manufactured at its Adelaide, South Australia, plant, which produces 500 tonnes of snacks per week. Most raw materials such as potatoes, corn and wheat flour, as well as packaging materials, are sourced from within Australia.

The Adelaide plant recently responded to a shift in consumer demand from whole cases of a single snack flavor to shelf-ready half cases of various flavors. This trend presents a conveyance challenge as plants must increase throughput while maintaining the same tonnage. In order to respond to the challenge, the Adelaide facility sought help from conveyor producer Intralox LLC, Harahan, LA, to find a solution that would increase case-handling capacity.

The packing hall of the Adelaide plant had a single main line conveyor with several conveyors feeding into it. All bag makers provided cases to a general conveyor that fed onto a loop and, in turn, supplied the main line conveyor. There were many bottlenecks at the merge points where there was no space for other cases to be pushed into. Consequently, merge points further down the line were unable to push the cases out into the packing hall.

Corners were another problem area in the previous packing hall layout. The cases could not be manipulated, so the spacing required for the cases to negotiate turns comfortably was not possible. As a result, the cases would be crushed, and a jam would quickly result. The result of these frequent jams was a steady production loss that made it difficult for the facility to meet demand.

PepsiCo evaluated several options for a new packing hall layout that would deliver greater efficiency. Although PepsiCo had not previously worked with Intralox, its officials had seen videos of the new Activated Roller Belt (ARB) technology for the back end of the plant and were able to see that the Perpetual Merge solution in particular could solve the facility’s problem of jams at merge points.

Intralox helped redesign the packing hall of the plant, along with an ARB-licensed original equipment manufacturer who was awarded the project. Using modular plastic belting and ARB technology in merging, switching and sorting applications, Intralox comprehensively upgraded the plant’s packing operations. “We installed Intralox belting as part of a complete rethink of our packaging hall conveying operations,” said David Randell, technical manager, PepsiCo.

Since the upgrade, the facility has exceeded its goal of 65 cases per minute. In fact, the Intralox technology allowed it to increase packing capacity from 52 to 82 cases per minute. Cases can now be packed on the belt, so the labor previously required to walk cases to case sealers is no longer needed. As a result, the plant has experienced an 18% improvement in packing efficiency and has been able to significantly reduce labor costs.

The plant now benefits from fewer jammed cases per shift, and in most instances, zero jams are reported. Because the Perpetual Merge solution employs continuous motion, no stop-starts are necessary, and thus accumulation is used only to keep the system clean. Plant personnel have just enough accumulation to clear the different applications so that the system can be restarted without any recovery time. In this sense, the Perpetual Merge has made the operation a more instantaneous system. If a jam does occur, it takes much less time to clear. As an additional benefit, the packing hall upgrade will help the plant meet packing capacity needs for the next five years. “Not only has our conveyor handling capacity increased, but it is now more flexible,” Mr. Randall said. “Unique and simple solutions such as the Perpetual Merge allowed us to create a continuously flowing system with few stops and starts, achieving high throughput with fewer jams and no bottlenecks. Belts are easy to keep clean, and the issue of tape wrapping around rollers has been eliminated. While it is still in the early stages, it is proving to be a reliable system and is likely to become the benchmark for future PepsiCo carton conveying installations.”

PepsiCo’s site project engineer Andrew Davies agreed, “Since the upgrade, the Adelaide plant is considered to be PepsiCo’s model plant and other plants are looking to learn from it in order to improve their conveyor systems and enhance efficiency.”

Finally, the upgrade provided increased worker safety and reduced occupational health and safety costs. The system was designed to meet Australian safety requirements, and the plant reports that operator safety greatly increased, particularly in manual handling, where work-related injuries have been reduced.