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A complete packing line designed and installed by Ishida Europe has enabled Gastro Star, a producer of fresh vegetables, salads and fruit, to increase capacity and efficiency.

The new packing line enables three to four operators to produce prepared salads at up to 40 trays per minute, while automating inspection and making every pack traceable to a stored X-ray image.

Gastro Star produces 30 tonnes of fresh products every day, including ready-to-use salad mixes under the Betty Bossi and Weight Watchers brands.

The new line was designed by Ishida’s Solutions Division, which installed it in November 2009 in conjunction with Itech, Ishida’s distributor in Italy and Switzerland.

It produces 200g and 250g packs and includes tray de-nesting, multi-head weighing, tray sealing, labelling, seal testing, a vision system, x-ray inspection, checkweighing and packing into crates.

The Ishida design enables crates of prepared leaves, which have been cut to size and washed, to be run via an elevator above the multi-head weigher, where the salad is tipped into an infeed system.

The tray sealer at the heart of the line is an Ishida QX-1100, which handles four trays at a time, flushing them with an atmosphere of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide and delivering a neat, economical seal with no protruding edges.

The new line has improved the efficiency of previously labour-intensive elements to the weighing and packing of products.

The stainless-steel contact surfaces and vibratory system of the 10-head Ishida RS-series weigher reduce the possibility of the clumping or sticking of leaves.

The need to manually rectify potential product-in-seal problems is largely eliminated by a distribution system that delivers the leaves to the tray in a neat and discrete batch via a feeder tube and dipping funnel, which gently tamps them to below the tray edge.

At the end of the line, the Ishida Packing System (IPS) pick-and-place solution not only automates what used to be the most labour-intensive part of the line but does it at high speed and with greater flexibility by picking individual packs rather than predetermined lots or layers.

The addition of a plastic cup containing product-specific additions, such as salad dressing, cheese or croutons, accounts for much of the small amount of labour involved.

The new Ishida line has been designed so that the weigher is mounted on wheels, to facilitate movement around the floor, and both the weigher and the infeed system can be raised and lowered for full cleaning access.

Together with the general Ishida policy of designing contact parts to be removable and replaceable without tools, this means that hygiene standards can be improved while man hours spent cleaning are reduced.

The Ishida Seal Tester integrated into the line can detect a 0.75mm hole or gap in the seal at high speed.

Mounted on it, and capable of using its rejection system, is an Ishida Vision System, which verifies that each label is appropriate and positioned correctly, as well as relating the overprinted data to the company’s information systems in order to check that dates, weights, prices and barcodes are correct.

Gastro Star decided to incorporate an X-ray inspection system into the line to ensure complete traceability for every pack of packaged salad.

The chosen X-ray inspection system is an Ishida IX-GA 2475, which can detect unwanted metal, plastic, glass, stone, rubber and bone and can also draw attention to under-filled or damaged packs.

The monitoring system can record the exact gas mixture received by each modified atmosphere pack and the temperature at which sealing took place.

It also provides the company with an X-ray image associated with the pack, which can be used in order to settle any dispute about its contents.

The 30-40 packs per minute achieved with the new line is double that of the former fastest line at Gastro Star, with product giveaway as little as one to two per cent, compared with 10 per cent.

Currently working no more than two shifts per day, Gastro Star calculates that the line will pay for itself within five years.

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